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The Silk Road/Route

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Author Solivagant
#1 | Posted: 25 Aug 2010 16:23 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Following Assif's question under the topic of "New in 2011" as to where the Silk Road nomination stands I thought it worthwhile trying to trace the history of the project to achieve inscription, both for future reference and to try to assess the current situation. It would appear that the project has some major issues and may well not be that close to formal nomination! I have started a new Forum topic so that we can record further discoveries and views about this subject.

The entire concept seems originally to have been very much UNESCO-initiated and supported, commencing as long ago as 1998 with a so called "Integral Study of the Great Silk Road - the Road of a Dialogue". A resumee of some of the early events, workshops etc is here

This all seems to have culminated with a UNESCO mission in Aug 2003 – perhaps to try to move things along more substantively!! The Report was published in May 2004 and sets out a recommended approach for identifying and nominating sites

Among interesting aspects are
a. The splitting of the entire route into 3 parts – "Oasis Route", "Steppe Route" and "Maritime route"
b. The suggestion that The Oasis Route in China running from Xian to Kashgar should be given priority – other countries could come along later with their own "clusters"
c. UNESCO was interested in "taking the Chinese section of the Silk Road as a case study, and thereby facilitate the identification and nomination of other Cultural Routes in different parts of the world to the World Heritage List". The Inca Road is mentioned. The hope is expressed of "Cultural routes" becoming a widely adopted type of inscribed site in much the same way as "Cultural Landscapes"
d. The need to include "support sites" and those providing "physical setting" as well as the "pearls" in order to provide context and continuity
e. The management problems of such widely spread sites and how these might be solved.
f. The need to include both Xian and Kashgar. N.b in particular the comment "It is difficult, therefore, to perceive a nomination of the Oasis Route, which doesn't include both these cities."

Notwithstanding the proposal in the UNESCO Mission Report that China should take the lead in developing its own national nomination as a first step, a multinational conference took place in Turpan in Aug 2006 which produced an agreement for an "Action Plan for Multinational Application for Silk Road in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List". I have been unable to find out anything more. Here is the Report
Note the comment :- "China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan .... are expected to make the joint application" and the suggested timescale for this of "3 to 5 years"! All the involved countries agreed to take action to preserve their elements of the route as an "initial step of the multi national application". In particular "China began this year a comprehensive protection plan for more than 20 key historical sites along sections of the Silk Road in Xinjiang. Investment for these projects is estimated at 420 million yuan (US$52 million)."

So what has happened since then?
Well first of course both Kyrgyzstan (2009) and Tajikistan (2010) have achieved the inscription of their first sites - but neither is really Silk road-related, whilst Kazakhstan achieved its third site in 2008. Uzbekistan hasn't been active with new nominations but faces pressure regarding its poor record in preserving Samarkand which has been placed under "reinforced monitoring". Not exactly an indication of a lot of action from those countries on Silk Road matters! I have searched the Web but haven't been able to find anything.

Conversely, Iran achieved inscription for the Tabriz Bazaar, which has significant Silk Road connections – but Iran hadn't, as far as I can discover, been involved in the earlier discussions. It does however have a Silk Route site on its T List , added in 2008 ( )
Furthermore this Iranian link ( ) rather surprisingly claims that "China planned to register the road on the list without regarding other countries located on the route, but the UNESCO World Heritage Center rejected the country's application, because a large part of the Silk Road passes through Iran".

And what about China's own "Silk Road" sites? In 2008 it added a selection of some 48 sites to its T List within a single entity titled "Chinese Section of the Silk Route". This contains 12 locations in Xingjiang – but the only one in Kashgar is the Mehmud Qeshqeri Tomb. It also includes Jiaohe city - a ruined Silk road city in Xingjiang deferred by the WHC as long ago as 1994 and 2 sites described as being part of "the Sea Route of the Silk Road" - thus going beyond the "Oasis Route" identified for progressing back in 2004. So, despite the comments in the 2004 UNESCO Mission Report it appears that China is intending to progress without "Kashgar" in any significant element of its part of the Silk Road. See r-kashgar-destruction . And this is hardly surprising! In 2009 the province of Xingjiang was the location for significant ethnic conflict after years of growing discontent - with Uigurs fearing being overwhelmed by Han. Moreover China has embarked on a massive demolition/reconstruction job in Kashgar (around 60% of the old town!!) causing considerable disquiet about its motives and the effect, both on the local population and on the historic value of the city :- "Now the old city itself is coming down, with only a zone to be rebuilt "in Uighur style" for the million tourists who visit Kashgar in search of silk road romance. They will be shown what a local official calls "an international heritage scenery"." (The Guardian May 2009).

And what of Xian? Having left out one end of the Silk road China could hardly ignore the other and the T List Silk Road site contains around 6 sites within Xian (in addition the Walls are on China's T list in their own right!). So China has embarked on a typically MASSIVE "restoration project for Daming Palace" ('-undergoes-major-restoration- national-relics-park-created ) for completion in Oct 2010. But the creation of this rather worryingly titled "National Relics Park" might well run into authenticity problems!! "The project is a perfect integration between [the] preservation of ancient cultural heritage and [the] construction of ecological landscape,...It is hoped to be a "masterpiece," that makes the most of the building's aesthetic features, while also fulfilling more utilitarian goals such as accommodating citizens' needs of recreation, residence and environment, and mirroring the international standards for improving the humanistic ambience and building up [of] new urban districts." Hmmm.... And here too there have been problems. See

So it is not surprising to find this rather pessimistic report dated July 2009 and titled "The Silk Road Unravels" which seems to encapsulate the latest reality -
Note these 2 quotes from UNESCO's Giovanni Boccardi (Dir WH Centre E Asia)
a. "As far as UNESCO understands, Kashgar is for the time being not part of the intended nomination."
b. "the complex nomination [of the Silk Road]... might be proposed in more than one stage, by successive extensions" [or, more conventionally], "as two or three self-standing World Heritage properties, under the overarching theme of the Silk Road."

There would certainly seem to be quite a long way to go, if ever, before any "Transboundary" Silk Road nomination could emerge and UNESCO sits uncomfortably between a desire to stimulate preservation actions, its vision of a trans-boundary site encompassing the Silk Route's geographical spread and pressures for National inscriptions!

Author Khuft
#2 | Posted: 26 Aug 2010 15:31 
Wow! Impressive summary.
Do you know how India's Silk Road Tentative Site came about, though? For me, it's mostly a bunch of ancient Buddhist or other Indian sites - relevant maybe, but Silk Road related?

Author Solivagant
#3 | Posted: 26 Aug 2010 16:12 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Hi Khuft!
Yes I seem to remember us commenting earlier this year on this very strange T List entry for India's "Silk Road" site.
I think it must take the prize for the most comprehensively described T List entry- it just goes on and on ..... and on....!
I can't decide if it just my lack of historical knowledge about the "Silk Road" but much of it seems at first sight to have very little to do with the subject as I believe it is normally understood. Am I missing something?
Much of it seems to relate to very early Buddhist sites. Now of course, one of the significant historical aspects of the Silk Route was the transfer of Buddhism from the sub continent through Afghanistan and along the Gansu corridor into China etc. Is it on that basis that India seems to have identified many of its proposed sites?

The trouble is that almost any location on any trade route in Asia and beyond can get itself badged as "Silk Route"! UNESCO will need to do more to place geographic and temporal boundaries on the concept

Perhaps I am being over suspicious but do I sense a nationalistic agenda in the sub text of the Indian T List description - all that human knowledge and understanding being transferred to China from the subcontinent!

Author Solivagant
#4 | Posted: 28 Aug 2010 12:47 | Edited by: Solivagant 
I have been doing some "Homework" on the Indian "Silk road" and can, I believe, now shed some (but not total) light on the proposed sites and their (possible) relevance to the Silk route!!

There were, in the time of the Buddha and before, already 2 major trans-regional Routes in India.
a. The Northern Trade Route or Uttarapatha
b. The Southern Trade Route or Dakshinapatha

This link has a nice map of Indian trade routes showing a number of the places included in the T List definition rce=bl&ots=xccy0MeSmI&sig=XPFaXW9K1tcZIHbecxgQKjwrC-s&hl=en&ei=DTF5TNr4FtCL4QaA172
The text of the article mentions "In Buddhist texts people on the move include the Buddha and his disciples ..... professionals, kings, soldiers and traders. All these travellers must have travelled along broadly similar routes and the accounts of their journeys give an idea of the routes of travel, communication and trade" - hence the frequency of very early Buddhist sites in the Indian list!

Another relevant route is the Kamboja- Dvaravati Route. This "was an ancient land trade route that was an important branch of the Silk Road. The route dates from the Indus Valley period in the 3rd Millenium BCE and was a major trading pathway through to the 1st millennium CE. It connected the Kamboja Kingdom in today's Afghanistan and Tajikistan via Pakistan to Dvaraka (Modern Dwarka) and other major ports in Gujarat India permitting goods from Afghanistan and China to be exported by sea to southern India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Ancient Greece and Rome. The road was the second most important ancient caravan route linking India with the nations of the northwest." See

A further seemingly important reference source is the "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea". This 1st Century text describes the links from Greece/Rome/Middle East to India etc. Again some of the places included in the Indian T List are mentioned in this text. See

Whilst all this stretches the definition of "The Silk Road/Route" it does provide background to demonstrate that trade and communication routes in India linked through to China and the more traditional "Silk Road" as well as on to the Middle East/Africa and Europe. Though whether the sites chosen by India for its T List entry represent a coherent and worthwhile set is another matter! They do seem rather scattered" in terms of geography and period

For current and future reference I list below the 12 sites from the table at the start of the "Silk Road Sites in India" Web page. In summary I have identified their location, era, and major aspects to avoid reading the full and very detailed text for each! Also a link where I have found something "useful". They break into
a. 9 sites in N India – mainly the Gangetic plain and north to Punjab/Kashmir. Most were cities but some seem to have been just Buddhist sites. Nearly all date back at least to the time of Buddha through to early CE centuries but mostly didn't really survive actively through to more recent times – though 1 (Indrapastra) also has links to Chinese trade through to the 16th Century. At least 5 were visited by Xuanzang -"demonstrating" a Silk route connection? 3 of them (Vaishali, Shravasti, Kaushambi) are shown on the map of Indian trading routes and all 3 on the Periplus map,
b. 3 Ports – 1 on the West coast with links to Greece/Rome/Africa/Middle East and 2 on the East (Kaveripattenam/Puhar and Arikamedu) which presumably link to SE Asian trading routes. 2 of these (Sopara and Kaveripattenam) are shown on the map of Indian trading routes.

1. Ancient Vaishali – Bihar Gangetic Plain. Ancient city from 6C BCE. Later, Buddha preached his last sermon there. Also a significant Jain site. Asoka pillar, visited by Xuanzang in 6C CE when in ruins. Also previously by Fa xian c 400CE.
2. Vikramsila University – Bihar Gangetic Plain. Founded 8/9C CE. "Buddhist university". Tantric tradition – close connection with Tibetan Buddhism.
3. Kushinagar – UP Gangetic Plain. Mentioned in Ramayna. At its peak 3C BCE -5C CE. Buddha died there. Major Buddhist pilgrimage site. Chinese Buddhist travellers such as Xuanzang visited it.
4. Sravasti - UP Gangetic Plain. Mentioned in Ramayana. One of 6 largest cities in India in Buddha's time – he spent much of his monastic life there. Was in ruins when visited by Xuanzang.
5. Kaushambi – UP Gangetic Plain. Visited by Buddha. Ashoka pillar.
6. Ahichhatra – UP Gangetic Plain. Renowned Jain site. Dates back to 6C BCE. Final period as a major Gupta city 6C CE. Visited by Xuanzang.
7. Sanghol – Punjab. Archaeological remains going back to Harappa 17C BCE through to 2C CE (Buddhist stupa).
8. Arikamedeu – Nr Pondicherry, SE India. Chola port involving bead making and trading with Rome. Menioned in the "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea".
9. Kaveripattinam – Tamil Nadu - Port town on SE coast now called Puhar. Mentioned in Tamil literature as a major port town from 3C BCE. Once a Chola capital. Destroyed c500CE (Tsunami??).
10. Harwan – Kashmir. Site of Buddhist Stupa from c 300CE. Terracotta tiles are said to show depictions of Central Asian people. Xuanzang visited the area.
11. Buru Kot/Sopara – Maharastra. In ancient times was India's largest W coast port trading with Mesopotamia, Egypt, Arabia, E Africa from 3C BCE to 9C CE. Same as "Ophir"?? Jain site.
12. Indraprastha – Banks of Yamuna nr modern Delhi. Described in Mahabharata. Excavated as Purana Qila ("Old Fort"). Relics from Mauryan (c300BCE), Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, post-Gupta, Rajput and Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal periods – including Chinese/ C Asian porcelain etc from 14th/16th C. and,_Delhi

Author Assif
#5 | Posted: 24 Sep 2010 20:29 
Does anyone know of any pressure from Unesco on the Chinese government concerning kashgar΄s destruction?
I personally find this plan horrendous.

Author Solivagant
#6 | Posted: 24 Sep 2010 23:07 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Have you seen this Assif
Note the comment "One foreign official who refused to be identified for fear of damaging relations with Beijing said the Old City project had unusually strong backing high in the government."

The link in the article to the "Beijing Cultural Heritage Centre" is broken (I wonder why??) but the organisation does still exist and I found its section on Kashgar here
This link shows "propaganda" signs in Kashgar stating that UNESCO "supports" the old town development plan!!!
UNESCO is "urged" to counter such propaganda by lodging a protest with China!! But, if UNESCO is doing anything to prevent/mitigate the Kashgar "development", it would appear to be entirely below the public radar.

It would be interresting to know more about the prime movers within the Beijing Cultural Heritage Centre ("a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China"). It isn't totally clear how many of them are non Chinese and how much funding comes from outside China. Nevertheless it would appear that, despite being a pressure group which will inevitably come up against internal government units, it is apparently allowed to continue its work. Whether this would continue if its makes "International waves" as well time will tell!

Author Solivagant
#7 | Posted: 7 May 2013 16:02 
Silk Road Corridor Approach

The Asgabat Agreement of May 2011 appears to have been an important socument which has set the framework as to how the Silk Road is to be progressed.

It was preceded by an Icomos "Thematic Study" which apparently proposed what is being called "The Heritage Corridor Approach". Unfortunately i have (so far) been unable to find this document - it would seem well worth trying to get hold of if we are to understand better the approach being taken!

Author Solivagant
#8 | Posted: 2 Jun 2013 03:08 | Edited by: Solivagant 
This article about the degradation, "distribution" and possible complete destruction of the Silk Road city of Mes Aynak might be of interest, both for the insight it provides about the archaeological site and also for the geo-political aspects (railways from China, potential Chinese influence on the situation in Afghanistan etc) -

Here is the Wiki entry for Mes Aynak -

The ARCH link given in Wiki seems to be a useful resource for all sorts of subjects but the near 5 minute video on Mes Aynak is worth viewing for this issue and puts a more positive slant on the potential future of the site "IF" ........

Hardly surprisingly, Mes Aynak is NOT on Afghanistan's T List - either as a nomination in its own right or as part of any wider Silk Road nomination! Afghanistan WAS a signatory of the Ashgabat Agreement on the Silk Road Nomination (see previous post) but doesn't figure in either of the 2 "Heritage Corridors" currently being progressed -

Author elsslots
#9 | Posted: 13 Jul 2013 04:43 
"The Heritage Corridor Approach".

Here's a bit more about it, applied to the two separate Silk Road nominations next year (2 corridors): wards-a-serial-transnational-world-heritage-nomination-pdf-d460069700

Author Durian
#10 | Posted: 21 Aug 2013 20:29 
A news for a site in China which is part of the silk road. Bingling Temple

Author Durian
#11 | Posted: 11 Sep 2013 04:51 
Another possible proposal but this time by Russia Mongolia and China

The route in the report called "The Ten-Thousand-Mile Path of Tea" but I believe it is the "Siberian Route" plus some extension to Fujian

Author elsslots
#12 | Posted: 11 Sep 2013 12:06 | Edited by: elsslots 
Another possible proposal but this time by Russia Mongolia and China

This is a proposal for the list of Intangible Heritage ( )

Author Durian
#13 | Posted: 16 Sep 2013 04:27 
Intangible Heritage

Oh! at first I just think it is another Chinglish to explain the cultural landscape under UNESCO WH.

Author Durian
#14 | Posted: 1 May 2014 22:51 
Durian: Chinese Silk Road part is only for Tianshan Corridor
This includes several sites in Xi'an and Luoyang, the most Eastern portions of the route. Check the map and list of sites. The AB document even mentions Chang-an and several of the sites within modern day Xi'an. So good news!

Thanks, I cannot download the ICOMOS english report, don't know why its say the file is corrupted, after many attempt I have to read french version instead (my french teacher must be really happy now). Yes indeed the silk road sites turn out to be better than I think! The site selection was very surprising. I never heard the very popular big and small goose pagodas will be parts of the nomination, and what happen with the Great Mosque of Xi'an? Also seem that Longmen Grottoes, Mogao Caves, and Great Wall get double inscription under Silk Roads!

Author elsslots
#15 | Posted: 2 May 2014 00:03 | Edited by: elsslots 
and Great Wall get double inscription

Which location will be double? I don't see it

These are the Chinese section sites:
1. Weiyang Palace, Chang'an City, of the Western Han Dynasty (2nd century BC – 1st century AD)
2. Daming Palace in Chang'an City of Tang Dynasty (7th -10th century AD)
3. Great Wild Goose Pagoda
4. Small Wild Goose Pagoda
5. Xingjiaosi Pagodas
6. Bin county cave temple
7. Zhang Qian tomb
8. Luoyang City, from the Eastern Han to Northern Wei Dynasty (1st – 6th century AD)
9. Dingding Gate, Luoyang City of Sui and Tang Dynasties
10. Longmen grottoes (already inscribed on the World Heritage list)
11. Han'gu pass
12. Shihao section of Xiaohan route
13. Maijishan cave temple complex
14. Bingling cave temple complex
15. Xuanquan posthouse
16. Suoyang city
17. Mogao caves (already inscribed on the World Heritage List)
18. Yumen pass
19. Qocho City
20. Yar City Site of Bashbaliq City
21. Kizil cave temple
22. Subash Buddhist temple
23. Kizilgaha Beacon tower
24. Bachbaliq city

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