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Khudafarin Bridges and related sites

Date of Submission: 15/07/2021
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Azerbaijan to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Jabrayil region
Ref.: 6621

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The Khudafarin bridges are located on the Araz River and link the Jabrayil region of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Khoda Afarin County of East Azerbaijan province, Islamic Republic of Iran. The Khudafarin bridges are composed of an 11-span bridge and a 15-span bridge located over the Araz River between the villages of Khudafarin and Gumlakh. There is a distance of 750 m between the bridges: the 11-span bridge is in the west and 15-span bridge - in the east. In the Azerbaijani inventory of historical and cultural monuments of world significance, these monuments have been inventoried with numbers 12 and 13, respectively. Both bridges represent valuable examples of the Azerbaijani construction culture in the Middle Ages.

The bridges are located in the Khudafarin gorge - one of the most convenient crossings, which has large natural rocks in the expanding riverbed. The presence of river rocks to support the structure has played the decisive role in the construction of the bridges. Support pillars, breakwaters, built on powerful rocks, served as a guarantee of the strength of the bridge through which masses of people and heavy caravans pass. The presence of large river rocks in the Khudafarin gorge made this place very beneficial for bridge construction. 

There are different opinions about how the Khudafarin bridges were constructed. The 14th century historian Hamdallah Mustawfi Gazvini mentions in his work “Nuzhat al-Qulub” that a Khudafarin bridge (most likely, the 15-span bridge) was built by the Arab General Bakr Ibn Abdullah, one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, on the Araz River near the Zangialan area in 15 AH (636 AD) during the campaign of the Arab army in the Eastern Transcaucasia. In the same work, the author, when speaking about the trade city of Gargar (Karkar) located in the territory of Karabakh, mentions that close to the city a bridge had been built on the Araz River, by Diya al-Mulk Nakhchivani. However, modern historians doubt that the Arabs were able to wage war and build a bridge at the same time. It is believed that, most likely, Mustawfi had in mind the organization of the crossing of the Arab army across the Araz River using natural rock outcrops. The construction of the 15-span bridge, therefore, was attributed to a much later period – the 12th century.

Referring to the work of Ahmad ibn Lutfullah Munajjimbashi (17th century) “Jami ad-Duval”, the Russian Orientalist V. Minorski writes that the Shaddadi ruler Fazl ibn Muhammad ordered the construction of a large and solid bridge over the Araz River in 418 AH (1027-1028 AD). There are also opinions that the bridges were built on the basis of more ancient constructions which were demolished and rebuilt several times in the Middle Ages.

A. Sadikhzade was the first Azerbaijani scientist to study the bridges on the spot and perform their visual measurements, publishing the results of his research in 1963 in the “History of Azerbaijani architecture”. For the first time in 1974, a special scientific expedition was sent by the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences under the leadership of prominent scientist Salamzade to study the Khudafarin bridges. In the same year and later - in 1978-1979, a complex expedition led by R. Goyushov and G. Ahmadov conducted research around the bridges, on the occasion of the preparation for the construction of "Khudafarin" and "Maiden Tower" water junctions on the Araz River. Along with archaeologists, architects, epigraphers and ethnographers also took part in these expeditions. 

Located on important caravan routes and being a part of the itineraries of the Great Silk Road, the bridges have played an important role in the economic relations between the East and the West, and later on in the wider area – linking the Caucasus and the Northern territories with Iran, Turkey and the Middle East. The Khudafarin bridges have been used for centuries not only for sustaining domestic, but also international relations. The bridges directed the migration of different peoples and communities at different times, being at the junction of strong seasonal flows of migration from the south to the Aran and Karabakh regions every year. Although the Khudafarin bridges have lost most of its former economic and political significance, they carry outstanding universal value for humanity as historical and architectural monuments, representative of the spiritual wealth and symbolizing the culture and history of the entire region. The Khudafarin bridges are one of the most magnificent and famous bridges in the Middle East.

As for the function of the Khudafarin bridges, researchers consider two main purposes: commercial or military. There is no doubt that, as in other historical periods, the bridges have had military and strategic objectives behind them. However, the fact that the bridges are not only solid, but were built in a particular architectural style, shows that they have served trade, economic and cultural ties for centuries. 

As a result of occupation in 1993, the two bridges fell into disrepair and became unusable, as they have never been restored ever since. Located on the Azerbaijani bank of the river, the Khudafarin village was also completely destroyed during the years of occupation. The Khudafarin bridges and the left bank of the Araz River being a part of the Jabrayil region of Azerbaijan were liberated in October 2020. 


Fifteen-span bridge 39°09'02.9"N 46°56'24.9"E

The largest of the two bridges has 15 spans and dates back to the 11-12th centuries, although it is generally believed that the foundations of the bridge were laid in ancient times. The bridge has been repeatedly repaired and restored to arrive to the appearance it has today. While written sources indicate that the foundations of the bridge were laid in the 7th century, the current 15-span bridge (the number of spans is the same as when the bridge was constructed), based on its elements, is considered a monument of the 11-12 centuries. As the piers of the bridge arches are built on natural foundations (over the rocks), the arches are of different sizes and freely arranged. Built of baked brick and river stone, the fifteen-span bridge rests on arches. The bridge is 200 meters long, 4.5 meters wide, and reaches 12 meters above the river level; its largest arch is 8.70 meters high, the smallest - 5.80 meters. The bridge can still be used today.

Built of a mixture of baked brick and river stone, the 15-span bridge reflects a high level of construction culture. The width of its crossings varies. The piers, which protect the bridge and increase its strength, are made of river stones and are triangular in shape. The back of the supports is semicircular and reinforced with buttresses about 3 meters high. The breakwaters protecting the bridge abutments are triangular in plan and are built of river cobblestone. On the reverse side, the breakwaters have a semicircular shape.  The binding solution of the 15-span bridge was made of clay with an admixture of milk. Architects used river cobblestone (breakwaters and arches) and square baked brick (parapet of the upper part) to build the bridge. Only natural rock outcrops were used as bridge abutments. The bridge spans have different sizes. Following the terrain structure, the bridge is not straight in the plan, but has a certain curvature. The bridge is relatively intact.

The bridge has been destroyed several times. A serious destruction falls on the Qajar era - the period of the formation of khanates in the north of Azerbaijan. According to A. Bakikhanov, “when Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar in 1795 wanted to conquer Karabakh, he restored the Khudafarin bridge destroyed by Ibrahim Khalil Khan” (Khan of the Karabakh Khanate). Iranian historian Z. Mansuri also confirms that Ibrahim Khalil Khan destroyed the Khudafarin bridge in order to prevent an attack by the army of Agha Mohammed Khan Qajar: “The Shah ordered the restoration of the old bridge. The people of Ibrahim Khalil Khan could not destroy the foundations and only demolished the arches of the bridge. Shah ordered the bridge to be reconstructed using only the highest quality building materials”. The first contemporary description of the 15-span bridge was given in the work "the Art of Iran" published in 1938 under the editorship of A. Pope. The work also includes a schematic drawing of the bridge.

Eleven-span bridge 39°09'25.3"N 46°56'14.0"E

The 11-span bridge is located 750 meters west of the 15-span bridge. Researchers believe that this bridge was rebuilt in the 13th century, during the reign of the Elkhanids (Hulakus), on the remains of a bridge related to the ancient period. It is about 130 meters long, 6 m wide and 12 m high above the river level. The three middle arches of the bridge survived, and the coastal arches were destroyed in the 1930s by presumably a joint decision of Iran and the Soviet Union. Since then, locals have referred to this bridge as “a broken bridge”. Researchers have found carved and circular stone decorative plaques on the eleven-span bridge, which looks more monumental in terms of construction material and architectural forms.

The 11-span bridge was built of stone only and covered with well-hewn stone slabs. Its supports are also built on the rocks in the riverbed. Spans are designed in the form of arches. The abutments of the 11-span bridge were also built of rock outcrops. In the middle part of the river, the spans are longer and, consequently, higher, and closer to the banks. The spans are smaller in both width and height.

The 11-span bridge was restored in the 13th century during the Ilkhanate era due to the movement of huge masses of people in that period. The northern bank of the Araz River used to be a battlefield between the Ilkhanate and the Golden Horde, which required to transport a considerable number of troops.

Other component parts

The area studied around the Khudafarin Bridges has revealed a number of component parts directly linked to the bridges and their function. Being an important transition on the routes of international trade caravans, the bridges were protected by nearby military units, as well as a series of fortified monuments around, which were discovered or considered by archaeological research. For example, according to R. Goyushov, the Maiden Tower located on a high mountain peak southwest of the bridges “was undoubtedly built to protect the Khudafarin bridges”. During the initial research in 1979, material remains of the 11th-13th centuries were found here. Opposite the Maiden's Tower, one can find a similar fortress called Galajiq and belonging to the same period in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The magnificent Albanian fortress Tri (Tiri, Diri), which appeared in the early Middle Ages at the confluence of the Hakari and Araz rivers, and existed until the 16th-17th centuries, for hundreds of years have also controlled the banks of the river, including the Khudafarin bridges.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Khudafarin gorge was one of the most convenient crossings in the Araz riverbed. Both banks, linked by the bridges, are places of beautiful mountainous landscape. Organically included in this natural context, the bridges are a successful example of human interaction with the environment. At the same time, the constructive features of the bridges embody the high level of construction art in Azerbaijan. Along with their great constructive stability, Khudafarin bridges bear a strong artistic expression. They also unite around them other historical and archaeological monuments on both banks of the Araz. Their long history, the events they have witnessed, organic unity with a beautiful landscape, high architectural-engineering solutions and many other aspects make the Khudafarin bridges are not only valuable examples of Azerbaijani architecture, but also prominent monuments of economic, cultural and architectural traditions of a huge geographical region.

While all the arches of the bridge are made of brick, the main construction material is the river stone. The wall masonry on the top floor is made of brick, which is typical for the Arran School of architecture. The combination of these two materials gives the bridge a unique artistic and architectural look.

The Khudafarin bridges are a testimonial, in time and space, of the history of the region. They are symbols of reconciliation, intercultural exchanges among diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities. They represent a part of the collective memory of the local communities.

Criterion (ii): Located in a place of geostrategic and economic importance, the Khudafarin Bridges and related sites bear witness to important cultural and trade exchanges, significant caravan routes linking countries along the Great Silk Road, as well as remarkable military campaigns over the long course of history. The use, maintenance, restoration and rebuilding of the bridges at different periods of history involved authorities of different states, such as the States of Elkhanids, Kara Koyunlu, Agh Koyunlu, and the State of Safavids. In the 18th -early 19th centuries, the bridges connected the Garadagh and Karabah Khanates. Since the early 19th century, the bridges have linked Iran (later on - Islamic Republic of Iran), from one side, and the Russian Empire, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Soviet Union and finally the Republic of Azerbaijan from the other.

Moreover, the Khudafarin Bridges illustrate the apogee of construction of medieval bridges in Azerbaijan, where the size and significance of the bridges directly reflected the well-being of the states at that time. The architectural style of the Bridge also demonstrates interactions between the Arabic and local technologies of bridge building and decoration, where combination of structure and colours of the elements create specific tectonic structure and unique artistic identity. The technologies applied for building and reconstructing the Khudafarin Bridges have undoubtedly served as models for bridge building in the region until the late 19th century.

Criterion (iv): The Khudafarin Bridges and its related sites are outstanding examples of an architectural ensemble, which have maintained their traditional form since their last reconstruction (18th centuries for the 15-span bridges; 13th century - for the 11-span bridge). The Bridges are an outstanding example of the Arran School of architecture in Azerbaijan with its arch-bridges building technique. The Bridges are an outstanding example of the Arran School of architecture in Azerbaijan with its arch-bridges building technology, where vaulted span structures are supported by heavy stone volumes of breakwaters and solid abutments. This sufficiently reliable technology allowed passing of a large number of people and military cavalry and was used by architects of Azerbaijan until the time when metal and concrete constructions started to be applied for bridge building in the late 19th century. 

Organically built into the relief of the Araz River and the surrounding mountains and hills, both bridges now constitute a part of the natural and cultural landscape of this part of the state border between Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan. The bridges represent a remarkable architectural testimony serving not only as physical monuments, but also as bridges of cultures and different epochs of history, especially those of the States of Shaddadids and Elkhanids, whose achievements mark an important stage in the history of mankind.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


Despite the historical processes in the region, destruction of the bridge elements in the past, the bridges have retained sufficient authenticity to enable the appreciation of the architectural coherence and to express the Outstanding Universal Value that they represent. This is thanks to various restoration and reconstruction initiatives that enabled the bridges to keep their primary functions and use for many centuries.

Authenticity is also supported by the similar construction techniques for both bridges and continued use of local building materials. In the latest reconstruction of the bridges, architects used clay with an admixture of milk, as well as river cobblestone (breakwaters and arches) and square baked brick (parapets of upper parts).

The related sites on both banks of the Araz River located in surrounding mountains are also in their authentic state, although some of them were partially destroyed in the past. While the 11-span bridge is partially destroyed with only three spans remaining, the conservation and restoration works of the 11-span bridge are planned in collaboration between the two states. The restoration of the bridge and (where possible) the related sites will take into account the overall authenticity and integrity of the place, which will be achieved by following the pre-destruction appearance and features of the structures to maintain vertical and horizontal dimensions, forms, scale and construction materials.

The 15-span bridge has preserved its authenticity, while it requires full assessment of its status in terms of reinforcements needed and natural hazards to which it continues to be exposed. There is therefore a need for a conservation plan, adoption of special regulations and recommendations for restoration of the bridges which will support further the maintaining of the architectural authenticity of the property, as well as safeguarding the authenticity of its functions and use.


The 11 and 15-span Khudafarin Bridges and related sites in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran bear the outstanding universal value in their integrity, as important parts of one whole. The natural landscape of the Khudafarin Bridges has advantageous natural and climatic conditions, which have made it possible for the bridges to stand for centuries. The water, the riverbed, the natural landscape, the row of mountains and hills enclosing the bridges, represent not only natural-geographical component features, but also hundreds of years of identical use of the bridges as important elements of trade, migration and military campaigns and conquests, making the bridges unique examples of people living in harmony with nature and natural landscape. 

Both bridges unite around them cultural monuments and natural landscape on both banks of the Araz River. The integrity of the property is based on geological, hydrological, geo-morphological, as well as regional and cultural historical characteristics. Unfortunately, as a result of occupation, both bridges could not be accessed for the last twenty-seven years from the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which prevented the authorities to monitor the state of conservation of the Khudafarin Bridges and the related sites and address impacts of erosion or structural damages.

The historic architectural features of the 15-span bridge have been preserved up to now without any significant changes. The bridge is still operational and has kept traditional purposes and character of the construction elements. The bridge has retained its overall architectural style, despite the assaults and destructions it has undergone in the course of history.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Khudafarin bridges are one of the major historical and architectural edifices on the Aras River, which stretches for 1072 kilometers from West to the East. In the 12-13th centuries, a number of other bridges were built in the Republic of Azerbaijan and in the region. These include the 4-span Broken Bridge in Gazakh (Red Bridge, 12th century), 3 bridges over the Ganja River (remains; 12th-13th centuries). The Giz bridge over the Qezel Ozan River near the city of Mianeh in the Islamic Republic of Iran (Maiden's bridge, 12th century) also bears a number of similarities. Similarly, the Panj Cheshmeh bridge in the Islamic Republic of Iran, constructed in order to facilitate communications between Tabriz and Maku, as well as the Gavmishan, Pol Ajori, Pol Dokhtar and Shapuri bridges of the Lorestan province of the Islamic Republic of Iran bear similarities with the Khudaferin bridges, in terms of the use of vaulted span structures supported by heavy stone volumes of breakwaters.

The Khudafarin Bridges can be compared to the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad (Bosnia and Herzegovina) - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the Khudafarin bridges have been constructed much earlier and have a different combination of values and attributes, as they used to serve the whole region through activities of trade, facilitated migration and military campaigns. The exceptional character of the nomination lies in the fact that the property has facilitated these processes since at least the 11th century, while it has linked two countries crossing over a state border since the early 19th century.