Historic Routes of the Silk Road added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites

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Travellers and pilgrims rejoice: a portion of the Silk Road has winded its way into the list of the World Heritage Sites. The Silk Road has been a vital part of world history as a major connecter of trade, culture, religion, politics and much more. This month, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) added the network of routes of the Chang’an-Tian Shan Corridor (which now covers Kyrgyzstan, China, and Kazakhstan) to the World Heritage Site list. The list already boasts 1007 sites that have been marked as culturally significant or have special physical importance.
 
UNESCO maintains strict standards to determine which sites are included on the list. There are ten selection criteria and, in order for a site to be added to the Heritage list, the site needs to meet at least one of the ten categories. A few examples of what the sites need to qualify for are: ‘to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius’ or ‘to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared’, etc. (you can read all the criteria here).
 
Meeting these standards is an easy task for the great Silk Road. It has always been an organic, interconnected network of trade and diplomacy since antiquity. But it was the Han Dynasty that made the Road an official component of Chinese government policy from 206 BCE onwards. The eastern terminus was often Chang’an (modern Xi’an). Depending on the routes, the Road could extend all the way to Damascus, Istanbul, Rome, or the kingdoms of northern Europe.
 
Not only did the Silk Road aid in trading goods, but many religions, ideas, and cultures were able to move from India to China and beyond in the east and towards Europe in the west. Buddhism was one of the most legendary beneficiaries of the Silk Road’s East-West exchanges. But not all good things traversed the long road: it is rumored that the bubonic plague also weaved its way to new, unsuspecting countries, with immense consequences.

Being called a World Heritage Site is a true mark of the Silk Road’s very own journey. Spanning years, meandering through many countries and lives, and being touched by thousands of unique individuals… The Silk Road itself has seen millennia’s worth of changes. Its history has been analyzed and mythologized; yet the physical essence of it should be preserved as well. With the industrialization and rapid urban development of land, the significance of the Route can easily be lost. The trading beginnings in Asia should not be forgotten. The Silk Road is an iconic figure itself and now, as a Heritage site, it can be remembered less as a human ecology that brought about lasting changes still with us today.

Naushin Ahmed 
Source: enews.buddhistdoor.com (Jun 30, 2014)