Central Asia is the cross-roads of civilisation. Back in its heyday, it was the buzzing hub of the Silk Road, with the blue-tiled city of Samarkand as its trading and cultural centre. While many view Central Asia today as being in the middle of nowhere and as a cluster of former Soviet states, it’s easy to forget the historical and cultural grandeur of the region. In order to prove Central Asia’s worth, and some of the very reasons why we’re crazy about it at the Central Asia Rally, here are the UNESCO Sites in Central Asia.
The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi
In the southern part of Kazakhstan, Turkistan can lay claim to housing Kazakhstan’s most beautiful monuments, especially the unfinished Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. The 14th century monument can be counted among Timur’s architectural legacy, with a blue tiled wonder comparable to those found in his principle city of Samarkand. The Sufi teacher and poet died in the 12th century and his tomb was already place of pilgrimage before Timur built a grander resting place.
Petroglyphs of Tamgaly
Set in a canyon filled with lush and green vegetation, the petroglyphs in Tamgaly are perhaps the most spectacular in the region. There are more than 4000 separate carvings dating back to the Bronze Age or earlier. The carvings include depictions of gods, the cycle of life, sacrifice and hunting scenes. The site was used as far back as 3000 years and is definitely one of the more interesting places to visit in Kazakhstan.
Historic Centre of Bukhara
Bukhara is Uzbekistan’s holiest city, and one which contains monuments that will date back a thousand years. With its towering minarets and colourful medressas, along with a market that captures the spirit the Silk Road, it’s easy to see why Bukhara’s historic centre is so unique. Bukhara’s protected historic centre includes the mulberry shaded pool known as Lyabi-Hauz and historic covered bazaars, but monuments of specific interest include Ismail Samani’s tomb, which is a masterpiece of Muslim architecture from the 900s.
Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz
This small town just south of Samarkand might not seem like much at first, but hidden round each corner you’ll find ruins dating back centuries. This is Timur’s hometown, where most of the current attractions were built by Timur as an extended family monument.
Khiva’s old walled city is an open air museum that captures the essence of this once thriving Silk Road city. This city set in the heart of the Uzbek desert was once a hive of barbaric cruelty and an active slave trade. Today, the museum city is quieter and some even say it’s lifeless by comparison to Uzbekistan’s other cities. The walled city, home to the famous, unfinished Kalta Minor Minaret, number of mosques and medressas as well as the Kunha Ark.
Samarkand is an icon of Uzbekistan, with its blue tiled buildings around the famed Registan and its Silk Road legacy. Samarkand was once a central hub on the historic trade route and Timur’s former capital. The city’s status in literature and history not only contributed to its UNESCO status, but its monuments, mosques, medressas and bazaars are ubiquitous with Uzbekistan.
Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain
Located just outside the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan, Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain was once a place of both Muslim and pre-Muslim pilgrimage. Rising up above the plains of the Fergana Valley abruptly, this mountain is both a natural wonder as well as a sacred place. According the Qur’an, Solomon/Sulayman is a prophet and the shrine up in the hill marks his grave, and according to UNESCO, it’s the “most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia.”
Proto-urban site of Sarazm
This ancient town in the north-western part of Tajikistan dates back to the 4th millennium BC. Around 5000 years ago it was one of the largest metallurgical centres in Central Asia, and was abandoned in 2000BC. The city was excavated in the 1970s and got UNESCO status in 2010.
The Pamir National Park
This spectacular national park is located in the eastern part of the country and home to some of the world’s highest mountains and is the meeting point of the highest mountain ranges on the Eurasian continent with some of its peaks measuring up to over 7,000 metres high. The Tajik National Park covers more than 2.5 million hectares! The park also boasts the longest valley glacier outside the polar region and a numerous and mixed population indigenous flora and fauna, not to mention the amazing Pamir Mountains.
The ancient city of Merv might be in ruins today, but it was once one of the greatest Islamic cities of its time – a centre of religious study and a hub on the Silk Road. The city was laid to ruin by Genghis Kahn, and today you’ll only find ruins made up of towering fortified walls, brick foundations and shards of pottery. It might not be a living city like Samarkand, but it’s still one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world.
This ancient town on the north-eastern part of Turkmenistan, very close to the Uzbek border, was once the capital of Khwarezm, a part of the ancient Achaemenid Empire. The city was deserted almost four centuries ago and has since become a ghost town with impressive archaeological remains.
Parthian Fortress of Nisa
Just outside the capital, Ashgabat, Nisa was once an ancient governing seat for the Parthians in the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. The cultural elements of this site combines a mix of Hellenistic and Roman styles, revealing an eclectic mix of rich architecture, not to mention it was also once an important trading centre.