GO UNESCO: New Sites for 2014
In 1978, a newly-formed UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) named the first 12 World Heritage Sites. On June 25, 2014, as the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee ended, the number of protected sites hit – and passed – the 1,000 mark. This year 26 new sites were named to the list. Five of them are in MIR’s destination countries.
That first list of 12 properties included two from MIR’s destinations – the medieval Old Town of Krakow, and the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mines, both in Poland. Hidden behind the Iron Curtain until 1991, Poland has since then become a favorite of our travelers.
Here are this year’s MIR UNESCO Sites:
Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor
The addition of a 5,000 km (3,000 mi) segment of the Silk Road highlights sites in three of MIR’s countries: China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Weiyang Palace, ChinaWeiyang Palace, built in 200 BC, was the biggest imperial palace the world had ever seen, encompassing almost seven times the area of today’s Forbidden City. Taking shape on the high ground on the southwest side of Chang’an, modern-day Xi’an, the enormous complex played host to several dynasties, including the Western Han and the Western Jin. Its 7,000-foot walls of rammed earth remain, outlining traces of more than 11 monumental buildings in what was once the most iconic of China’s imperial palace complexes.Suyab, KyrgyzstanSuyab was an important Silk Road center inhabited by Turks and Sogdian Silk Road merchants from the 5th to the 10th centuries. Demonstrating its importance as a crossroads of cultures, the 74-acre archaeological site contains two Buddhist temples with courtyards and statues, Turkish bal-bals (carved stone figures used as monuments), Zoroastrian ossuaries and Christian churches. Benefitting from the lively bazaars and the wealth of trade goods, the city boasted paved streets, tiled water channels and fine houses.Kayalyk, KazakhstanNortheast of Almaty rather near the Chinese border is the little town of Antonovka, which plays host to the site of a formerly flourishing medieval Silk Road trade center called Kayalyk. Historians and archaeologists have determined that the city was an important center of the Turkic Karluk tribes that ruled here from the 9th to the 13th centuries. It was one of the northernmost Silk Road commercial towns, and its walled ruins include a Buddhist temple, a Christian church and a mosque as well as a Turkish bathhouse and the mansion of a rich merchant.
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, ChinaOne of the most extensive engineering projects attempted before the Industrial Revolution, China‘s Grand Canal was begun in the 5th century BC. By the 13th century it connected Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south, linking five Chinese river basins and greatly enhancing trade and agriculture.
Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex
The Russian Federation adds another UNESCO Site, bringing their total to 26. This one is a Tatar site, along with its neighbor, Kazan.
Bolgar, RussiaAbout 70 miles down the Volga from Kazan, the modern town of Bolgar is the administrative center of the Spassky region of Russia’s Tatarstan. But 1,300 years ago it was the political and cultural center of the Volga Bulgars, who ruled the area from the 7th century to the 13th, when the Mongols of the Golden Horde overran it. The Volga Bulgars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people who settled along the Volga and converted to Islam in 922. Bolgar’s bazaars were an important link between Russia and Asia.
When the Golden Horde finally conquered the area, they designated this their capital until about the 15th century. The Bulgars and Mongols intermarried and eventually became the Tatars. The remaining evidence of these medieval civilizations, including mosques, mausoleums and fortifications, can be admired on a day trip from Kazan.
Bursa and Cumalıkızık: The Birth of the Ottoman Empire
Bursa and Cumalikizik, TurkeySeated at the base of wooded Mt. Uludag, Bursa is Turkey’s fourth-largest city and is considered the birthplace of modern Turkish culture. The first capital of the Ottoman State, the city’s historic center is dotted with examples of early Ottoman civic life, including public baths, schools, the religious complexes called kulliyes and Islamic architectural monuments such as Ulu Cami Mosque. Built at the end of the 14th century, the mosque has 20 domes held up by 12 columns and fronted by two elegant minarets. The columns and concave surfaces of the domes are graced with curvaceous Islamic calligraphy rendered by the most skilled calligraphers of the time.
Stepping into the old Ottoman village of Cumalikizik is like stepping into living history. Here the timbered two-story houses are still home to Turkish families and the stone-paved streets still have a gutter down the middle where wastewater used to run. Included in the 2014 UNESCO Site, the village is an example of the rural support system that the Ottoman Empire had in place 200 years ago.
Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape
Pergamon, TurkeyAbout 16 miles inland from the Aegean Sea, Pergamon was the cultural center of the rich and powerful Attalid Dynasty during the Hellenistic era, after the death of Alexander the Great. Pergamon’s terraced acropolis, the ruins of which survive today, included a 10,000-seat natural theater and a Temple of Dionysus, a famed library, palaces, aqueducts and fountains. There is also the “Red Basilica” complex, built by Emperor Hadrian and, across the valley and visible from the heights, the Asclepion, an ancient healing center. Pergamon is mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Revelations as one of the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor.”
(Top photo credit: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. A view of Pergamon in Turkey.)
PUBLISHED: July 8, 2014