Kazakhstan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites offer tourists unique history and nature

By Nazira Kozhanova

NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan is currently building part of its heritage tourism industry around the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Sites throughout the country.

A pilot project involving the Almaty, East Kazakhstan, Kyzylorda, Turkestan and Zhambyl regions was launched September 2018, said bnews.kz. With efforts to develop better tourist routes, the sites, as well as other historical and cultural spots, have become tourist attractions.

The Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yassawi in Turkestan, Southern Kazakhstan

“Kazakhstan has many historical and cultural sites that everyone should visit and some of them are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It all depends on the preferences of tourists – many are interested in traveling along the Silk Road, seeing ancient Taraz, visiting Turkestan and visiting the mausoleums of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi and Arystan-Baba and the ancient settlements of Otrar and Sauran. Others come to see the necropolises of Beket-Ata and Shakpak-Ata in the Mangistau region, the Tamgaly petroglyphs in the Almaty region or the Berel and Shilikty mounds in East Kazakhstan, as well as numerous ancient settlements and other religious buildings,” said Kazakh Tourism Board Chairperson Urken Bisakayev in his interview foprime-minister.kz interview.

Kazakhstan currently has three cultural and two natural UNESCO sites which are being developed as tourist destinations, reported nur.kz. The first, the mausoleum of Khoja Akhmed Yassawi in Turkestan, the South Kazakhstan Region, was built during the reign of the famous Tamerlan (Timur) at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. Architects employed a number of innovative solutions also used for the Timurid Empire capital in Samarkand to construct the incomplete building.

Today, the mausoleum, erected in honour of the famous seventh-century poet and Sufism preacher, is a vivid example of Central Asian architecture of the era. The word “Yassawi” translates as “coming from Yassa,” the ancient name of Turkestan. The city was known as the spiritual and political centre of the Turkic-speaking peoples of the vast region of Desht-i-Kipchak and served for more than two centuries as the capital of Kazakh khans.

In addition to the mausoleum, the complex includes a medieval bathhouse, underground mosque, the mausoleum of Timur’s granddaughter, Rabia Sultan Begim, and other monuments.

The second site, the Petroglyphs of Tamgaly, is in the gorge of the same name in the Anirakai Massif, located 170 kilometres northwest of Almaty in the southeastern part of the Chu-Ili Mountains.

The Petroglyphs of Tamgaly

The complex, discovered in 1957, includes approximately 5,000 cave paintings which scientists date to the period from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century.

Archaeologists have discovered many ancient burial sites in the gorge, including stone cyst boxes of the Bronze Age and tools from the Stone Age made from rocks and soil.

The largest number of cave paintings and altars is concentrated in the central part of the complex, an indication the place was used for ritual ceremonies.

The third site, the Great Silk Road, is a joint entry among Kazakhstan and five other countries. The entire project contains objects from China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, including 33 items from the Chinese Loyanado to the Zhetysu region in Central Asia.

Akyrtas Silk Road. Photo by Yakov Fyodorov

In 2014, eight Kazakh locations were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List as components of the site – the ancient Karamergen, Kayalyk and Talgar settlements in the Almaty Region and ancient Aktobe, Akyrtas, Kostobe, Kulan, Ornek and Stepninskoye settlements in the Zhambyl Region.

Cooperation with other Silk Road countries could help to add current Soviet Union legacy locations to the list of Kazakh cultural UNESCO Heritage Sites, said International Council on Monuments and Sites President Nataliya Turekulova in an interview with Vlast.kz.

“The legacy of the 20th century, particularly the objects of architecture of Soviet modernism, could be tried. But for this, most likely, there is a need to work with the countries of the former Soviet Union, identify the brightest potential objects and combine them into one nomination, as was done with the serial nomination of the Silk Road. This is one of the first and largest serial nominations in world practice; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have worked on it since 2004 and it took more than 10 years to prepare,” she said.

The Silk Road is so successful because its local sites have regional or national value. International sites, if presented together, can be unique and valuable for UNESCO.

“[This is] because in each of these countries there are architectural monuments of this period that are really outstanding, but in themselves many of them are only of national or regional value. Perhaps some, indeed, have outstanding world value, but this must be determined. Serial nomination on a common theme in such cases gives the chance for more objects complementing each other to become part of the World Heritage,” said Turekulova.

Kazakhstan’s entries on World Heritage Sites list includes the Kurgaldzhinsky and Naurzumsky nature reserves, which together measure ​​450,344 hectares, and the Tien Shan mountain system.

West_Tien-Shan. Photo: climberca.com

The reserves, composed mostly of wetlands, are the habitat of many migratory birds, some of which are endangered, including the curly pelican, long-tailed eagle and white Siberian crane. They are also the home of approximately half of the species representing steppe fauna, including saigas, whose population in recent decades has faced the risk of complete extinction.

The areas include two groups of lakes with salt and fresh water, which have determined the diversity of flora and fauna adapted to different types of environments.

The Western Tien Shan includes 11 sites that are part of seven specially protected natural areas (SPNA) in three countries. Kazakhstan is represented by Aksu-Zhabagly and Karatau state reserves and Sairam-Ugam National Park; Kyrgyzstan, by the Besh-Aral and Padyshatinsky state reserves and Sary-Chelek State Biosphere Reserve, and Uzbekistan, by the Chatkal Biosphere Reserve.

Wild relatives of plants cultivated by humans, specifically nut and fruit trees, grow in the Kazakh part of the Western Tien Shan. The Sievers apple tree, the progenitor of existing varieties of apples, can be found there.

Kazakhstan’s existing and upcoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites present exciting and diverse tourist opportunities offering unique experiences for local and international visitors.



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