Caspian Region Gets New UNESCO Listings
On September 18, Unesco unveiled 27 new World Heritage features including three in the Caspian Region countries, plus the extension of another in Azerbaijan.
The World Heritage Committee has being meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with representatives of 21 member countries gathered to choose candidate entries from a list of global nominations. And to assess progress with the status of existing sites: after all their protection is the whole ethos underpinning the idea of listing sites in the first place.
The headline announcements carried most widely by the world’s press so far have tended to focus on the committee’s decision to classify Kyiv’s St Sophia Cathedral and the historical city core of Lviv (both in Ukraine) as UNESCO sites at risk, due to the perils of the Russian invasion. The historic centre of Odesa had already received this status in January. However, Monday’s happier news included the first batch of new World Heritage Sites. With the meeting due to continue until September 25, it’s probable that to the 27 so far announced, several others will be added.
In the Caspian Region countries there are three completely new entries.
Central Asia’s Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor
The “Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” is a 866km stretch of the classic Silk Road through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan described as following the ancient caravan roads crossing the Karakum Desert to the Merv Oasis as well as along the Zarafshan River, parts of it through rugged mountains and uninhabitable desert creating a “melting pot of ethnicities, cultures, religions, sciences, and technologies”. The catch-all category would appear helpful in providing interest in preserving lesser known archaeological sites along this route which don’t benefit from the obvious tourist potential of higher profile Silk Road cities like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.
Caravanserais were the motels of the medieval era. When trade moved slowly using pack animals, safe overnight accommodation required large enclosed courtyards in which both merchants, animals and cargo would be safe from marauders, human or wild. The Caspian Post has described at some length the caravanserais of the Caucasus and there were plenty more in Central Asia but many of the classic caravanserais to have been well preserved are in the desserts of Iran. UNESCO’s announcement includes 54 of these that are “considered to be the most influential and valuable examples… revealing a wide range of architectural styles, adaptation to climatic conditions, and construction materials” across many different historical epochs.