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Seven Medieval sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List

Seven new sites that date from the medieval period have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The sites were added during a meeting of the World Heritage Committee, which was held last month in Doha, Qatar. Overall, 26 new sites were added to the list, bringing the number of World Heritage Sites to 1007.

The new medieval sites are:

Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex (Russia)

Black Chamber in Bolgar

This property lies on the shores of the Volga River, south of its confluence with the River Kama, and south of the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan. It contains evidence of the medieval city of Bolgar, an early settlement of the civilization of Volga-Bolgars, which existed between the 7th and the 15th centuries, and was the first capital of the Golden Horde in the 13th century. Bolgar represents the historical cultural exchanges and transformations of Eurasia over several centuries that played a pivotal role in the formation of civilizations, customs and cultural traditions. The property provides remarkable evidence of historic continuity and cultural diversity. It is a symbolic reminder of the acceptance of Islam by the Volga-Bolgars  in 922 AD and remains a  sacred,  pilgrimage destination to the Tatar Muslims.

Namhansanseong (Republic of Korea)

This fortress-city was designed as an emergency capital for the Joson Dynasty (1392-1910) , in a mountainous site 25 kilometres south-east of Seoul. Built and defended by Buddhist monk-soldiers, it could accommodate 4,000 people and fulfilled important administrative and military functions. Its earliest remains date from the 7th century, but it was rebuilt several times, notably in the early 17th century in anticipation of an attack from the Sino-Manchu Qing dynasty. The city embodies a synthesis of the defensive military engineering concepts of the period, based on Chinese and Japanese influences, and changes in the art of fortification following the introduction from the West of weapons using gunpowder. A city that has always been inhabited, and which was the provincial capital over a long period, it contains evidence of a variety of military, civil and religious and has become a symbol of Korean sovereignty.

The Grand Canal (China)

This is a vast waterway system in the north-eastern and central-eastern plains of China, running from Beijing in the north to Zhejiang province in the south. Constructed in sections from the 5th century B.C. onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Empire for the first time in the 7th century A.D (Sui Dynasty). This led to a series of gigantic worksites, creating the world’s largest and most extensive civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution. It formed the backbone of the Empire’s inland communication system, transporting grain and strategic raw materials, and supplying rice to feed the population. By the 13th century it consisted of more than 2,000 kilometres of artificial waterways, linking five of China’s most important river basins. It has played an important role in ensuring the country’s economic prosperity and stability and continues today as a major means of internal communication.

Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan)

A 5,000 kilometre section of the extensive Silk Roads network, stretching from Chang’an/Luoyang, the central capital of China in the Han and Tang Dynasties, to the Zhetysu Region of Central Asia. It took shape between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD and remained in use until the 16th century, linking multiple civilizations, and facilitating far-reaching exchanges of activities in trade, religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, technological innovation, cultural practices and the arts. The 33 components included in the routes network include capital cities and palace complexes of various empires and Khan kingdoms, trading settlements, Buddhist cave temples, ancient paths, posthouses, passes, beacon towers, sections of The Great Wall, fortifications, tombs and religious buildings.

Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat (India)

Rani ki vav - photo by Bernard Gagnon / Wikicommons

Located on the banks of the Saraswati River, Rani-ki-Vav  was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century AD. Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC. They evolved over time from what was basically a pit in sandy soil towards elaborate multi-storey works of art and architecture. Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsmens’ ability in stepwell construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions. Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality; more than 500 principal sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works. The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank of 9.5 by 9.4 metres, at a depth of 23 metres. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft, 10 metres in diameter and 30 metres deep.

Pyu Ancient Cities (Myanmar)

The remains of three brick, walled and moated cities of Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra located in vast irrigated landscapes in the dry zone of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River basin. They reflect the Pyu Kingdoms that flourished for over 1,000 years between 200 B.C and 900 A.D. The three cities are partly excavated archaeological sites. Remains include excavated palace citadels, burial grounds and early industrial production sites, as well as monumental brick Buddhist stupas, partly standing walls and water management features – some still in use – that underpinned the organized intensive agriculture.

Bursa and Cumalıkızık: The Birth of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) 

The city of Bursa and the nearby village of Cumalıkızık, in the southern Marmara Region. The site illustrates the creation of an urban and rural system establishing the Ottoman Empire in the early 14th century. The property illustrates key functions of the social and economic organization of the new capital which evolved around a new civic centre. These include commercial districts of khans, kulliyes (religious institutions) integrating mosques, religious schools, public baths and a kitchen for the poor as well as the tomb of Orhan Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty. One component outside the historic centre of Bursa is the village of Cumalıkızık, the only rural village of this system to show the provision of hinterland support for the capital.

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