Silk Roads: The Routes Network of Chang’an Tian Shan Corridor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014.
This is 5,000 km long stretch of the Silk Road (Silk Routes), running from central China to the Zhetysy region of Central Asia. It goes through three different countries – China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – and encompasses many individual sites of great historic interest, including two Buddhist sites in China that were already UNESCO World Heritage Sites prior to 2014. The Mogao Caves had already been inscribed in 1987 and the Longmen Grottoes in 2000. When the Chang’an Tian Shan Corridor was approved, a total of 33 new sites were added: 22 sites in China, 8 sites in Kazakhstan and 3 sites in Kyrgyzstan.
Collectively, the 33 sites cover an area of almost 165 square miles (over 425 km²). Many different types of sites are included, such as ancient paths, mountain passes, trading settlements, posting houses, beacon towers, fortifications, sections of the Great Wall of China, religious buildings, tombs, palace complexes, and capital cities.
The 33 sites
The 22 sites in China
The 22 sites in China are found in three different regions: Central China, the Gansu Province and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Sites in Central China
Central China, including the Central and Guanzhong Plains, is where we find several ancient imperial capitals and also important religious heritage sites. There is also the notable Hangu Pass, a pass separating the Wei valleys (the cradle of Chinese civilization) from the fertile plains of Northern China.
The twelve sites in Central China:
- Luoyang City of the Eastern Han to Northern Wei
- Dynasty, Luoyang, Henan Province
- Dingding Gate, Luoyang City of the Sui and Tang Dynasty, Luoyang
- Hangu Pass, Xin’an County, Henan
- Shihao section of Xiaohan Route, Sanmenxia, Henan
- Weiyang Palace, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province
- Daming Palace, Xi’an
- Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an
- Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an
- Xingjiao Temple, Xi’an
- Bin County Cave Temple, Bin County, Shaanxi
- Tomb of Zhang Qian, Chenggu County, Shaanxi
- Maijishan Cave Temple Complex, Tianshui, Gansu Province
Sites in the Gansu Province
These four sites form a part of the Hexi Corridor in the Gansu Province, connecting China Proper with the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwest.
The Hexi Corridor, also known as the Ganus Corridor, is a narrow stretch of traversable plain flanked by the much more elevated and rough terrains of the Mongolian and Tibetian Plateaus. Historically, the Hexi Corridor was a part of the Northern Silk Road, and it includes a string of oases dotted along the northern edges of the Qilian Mountains and the desolate Altyn-Tagh range. At its western end, the Hexi Corridor splits into three paths – one going north of the Tianshan Mountains and two going south on either side of the Tarim Basin.
The four sites in the Gansu Province:
- Bingling Temple Grottoes, Yongjing County
- Yumen Pass, Dunhuang
- Xuanquanzhi Posthouse, Dunhuang
- Suoyang City Ruins, Guazhou
Sites north and south of the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjang
These sites are found north and south of the Tainshan Moutains in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, at the crossroads of East Asia and Central Asia. The most well-known route of the Silk Road ran through Xinjang from east to northwest. Today, Xinjang is still a crossroads territory, bordering Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, Pakistan, and India.
The six sites in Xinjang:
- Qocho (Gaochang) City Ruins, Turpan
- Jiaohe Ruins, Turpan
- Beshbalik (Beiting) City Ruins, Jimsar County
- Kizil Gaha Beacon Tower, Kuqa (Kucha)
- Kizil Caves, Kuqa
- Subash Buddhist Temple Ruins, Kuqa
The eight sites in Kazakhstan
The eight sites in Kazakhstan are found in the Zhetysu Region of the Ili and Talas Valleys in the south-eastern part of modern-day Kazakhstan. In the Kazakh language, the name of the region literally means “seven rivers” but the actual meaning is more close to “abundance of water”, as the rivers that flow through it and into the huge Lake Balkash creates an environment which contrasts sharply against the vast tracts of dry steppe land for which Kazakhstan is famous.
The Kazakh territory was a key constituent of not just the Silk Route network, but also of the much older Steppe Route; a roughly 10,000 kilometre long trans-Eurasian trade route which preceded the origins of the Silk Road by at least two thousand years.
The eight sites in Kazakhstan:
- Site of Kayalyk, Almaty Region, Kazakhstan
- Karamergen, Almaty Region, Kazakhstan
- Talgar, Almaty Region, Kazakhstan
- Aktobe, Jambyl Region, Kazakhstan
- Kulan, Jambyl Region, Kazakhstan
- Akyrtas, Jambyl Region, Kazakhstan
- Ornek, Jambyl Region, Kazakhstan
- Kostobe, Jambyl Region, Kazakhstan
The three sites in Kyrgyzstan
The three sites in Kyrgyzstan are all located in the Chüy Valley in the northern part of the country. This valley, which extends from the river gorge Boom in the east to the desert of Moiynkum in the west, is one of the most fertile and densely populated regions of the country. The northwestern part of the Chüy region is flat, which is a rarity in Kyrgyzstan, and the river makes irrigation possible.
The three sites in Kyrgyzstan:
- City of Suyab (Site of Ak-Beshim), Chüy Region, Kyrgyzstan
- City of Balasagun (Site of Burana), Chüy Region, Kyrgyzstan
- City of Nevaket (Site of Krasnaya Rechka), Chüy Region, Kyrgyzstan
UNESCO initiated a study of the Silk Road in 1988 and in 2006 UNESCO and China co-sponsored a conference to coordinate applications. At this conference, China and five countries in Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan – agreed to make a joint application in 2010. In the following years, India and Iran also submitted suggestions for Silk Route sites for consideration as world heritage sites.
The vast scale of the Silk Road – both geographically and historically – meant that the effort to create a unified World Heritage Site ballooned into a huge undertaking, which included both land routes and marine routes. In late 2011, UNESCO therefore suggested that the project should be divided into corridors and each corridor handled individually.
Before the end of 2011, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan agreed to make a joint application for a corridor stretching from Central China across the Tian Shan, a system of mountain ranges in Central Asia. (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan began preparations to apply for another corridor.)
The application for the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor was submitted in 2013, containing 22 sites in China, 8 sites in Kazakhstan and 3 sites in Kyrgyzstan that were not previously designated World Heritage Sites.
The application was approved on June 22, 2014, at the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar and the Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor was declared Site No. 1442.