WHS: Silk Roads: Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor, China-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan

The city of Xi’an is just packed with World Heritage Sites to visit besides the Terracotta Warriors, including four properties in the most epic transnational World Heritage Site of them all, a 5,000 km stretch of the Silk Road network from Central China to the Zhetsyu Region of Cental Asia — 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:

Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor

Daming Palace

The Silk Roads were an interconnected web of routes linking the ancient societies of Asia, the Subcontinent, Central Asia, Western Asia and the Near East, and contributed to the development of many of the world’s great civilizations. They represent one of the world’s preeminent long-distance communication networks stretching as the crow flies to around 7,500 km but extending to in excess of 35,000 km along specific routes. While some of these routes had been in use for millennia, by the 2nd century BC the volume of exchange had increased substantially, as had the long distance trade between east and west in high value goods, and the political, social and cultural impacts of these movements had far-reaching consequences upon all the societies that encountered them.

The routes served principally to transfer raw materials, foodstuffs, and luxury goods. Some areas had a monopoly on certain materials or goods: notably China, who supplied Central Asia, the Subcontinent, West Asia and the Mediterranean world with silk. Many of the high value trade goods were transported over vast distances – by pack animals and river craft – and probably by a string of different merchants.

The Tian-shan corridor is one section or corridor of this extensive overall Silk Roads network. Extending across a distance of around 5,000 km, it encompassed a complex network of trade routes extending to some 8,700 km that developed to link Chang’an in central China with the heartland of Central Asia between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD, when long distance trade in high value goods, particularly silk, started to expand between the Chinese and Roman Empires. It flourished between the 6th and 14th century AD and remained in use as a major trade route until the 16th century.

The extremes of geography along the routes graphically illustrate the challenges of this long distance trade. Falling to 154 metres below sea level and rising to 7,400 metres above sea level, the routes touch great rivers, alpine lakes, crusty salt flats, vast deserts, snow-capped mountains and ‘fecund’ prairies. The climate varies from extreme drought to semi-humid; while vegetation covers temperate forests, temperate deserts, temperate steppes, alpine steppes and oases…

There are 33 separate properties as part of this site; 22 in China, 8 in Kazakhstan and three in Kyrgyzstan.

Silk Roads Sites

In addition, you may recall from our Silk Road, Kazakhstan visit that there’s a further eight Tentative Site listings across seven countries that are collections of Silk Road properties!

Ten of those 33 properties are within a daytrip of Xi’an, and four are within city bus range:

So far, we’ve only got to drive by the Daming Palace after dark, as we were on a tight schedule to catch the Tibet train … but hey, if you get a shot of the sign, that counts as a visit we say!

Daming Palace


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Not much of a visit, mind you; once we get around to visiting at least one property from every inscribed and tentative site, the next bucket list will be to visit every property of every site. That should keep us busy for as close to “forever” as makes no difference!

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I go places.

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