The Silk Roads extended over 6500 km and connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world. It served as a historical network of interlinking trade routes, intercultural dialogue, exchange of traditions, sciences, art, religions, languages and human values.
The Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor is located along the Zarafshan river, its wider hydrological basin and the Karakum desert. It corresponds, in the Silk Roads ICOMOS Thematic Study, as the 4th and 5th corridors out of 54. It is linked to the Tien-Shan Corridor in the North, the Fergana Valley Corridor in the East, the Amudarya Corridor in the South and via the Southern Aral Sea to the Caspian Corridor in the West. It also connects via Merv to the Khorasan Corridor, also called the Great Khorasan Road in the early Islamic period.
The Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor starts in the east in Khisorak in Sogd province in the Republic of Tajikistan and ends in the west in Kushmeihan in Mary province in Turkmenistan. The length of the Corridor is about 866 km and it lies in the three Central Asian countries Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. It crosses seven geographical zones: the highland zone, piedmont zone, plains zone, artificial irrigation zone, oases zone, wormwood-steppe zone and desert zone.
The Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor consists of 31 component parts. In Tajikistan Khisorak settlement, Castle on Mount Mugh, Kum settlement, Gardani Khisor settlement, Tali-Khamtuda fortress, Mausoleum of Khoja Mukhammad Bashoro, Toksankoriz Irrigation System, Sanjarshah settlement, and Town of Ancient Penjikent. In Uzbekistan Jartepa II Temple, Suleimantepa, Kafirkala settlement, Dabusiya settlement, Kasim Sheikh Architectural Complex, Mir Sayid Bakhrom Mausoleum, Rabati Malik Caravanserai and Sardoba, Deggaron Mosque, Chasma-i Ayub Khazira, Vardanze settlement, Vobkent Minaret, Bahouddin Naqshband Architectural Complex, Chor Bakr Necropolis, Varakhsha settlement, and Paikend settlement. In Turkmenistan Amul settlement, Mansaf Caravanserai, Konegala Caravanserai, Tahmalaj, Akja Gala Caravanserai, Gyzylja Gala Caravanserai (Rabad al-Hadid) and Kushmeihan (Dinli Kishman).
In addition, there are five World Heritage properties related to the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor and its component parts. They are not included as component parts of this World Heritage nomination, as they are already listed World Heritage, but their attributes are highlighted throughout the nomination dossier. These are in Uzbekistan, the Samarkand-Crossroad of Cultures and the Historic Centre of Bukhara, and in Turkmenistan the Ancient Merv State Historical and Cultural Park. Samarkand has been the major city in this region from the 6th century BCE and Merv and Bukhara from the 3rd century BCE onwards.
All three of them possess archaeological remains from pre-Islamic period as well as outstanding architectural monuments of the Muslim time. Likewise, in Uzbekistan, the World Heritage property Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz, medieval Kesh, is also profoundly related, but it is located far south of the Corridor. Also, in Tajikistan, the Proto-urban site of Sarazm, World Heritage property, provides the number of analogies to the properties included in this nomination. Although it is located along the Silk Roads: Zarfshan-Karakum Corridor has not been included as it belongs to an older historical period. From the 2nd century BCE to the end of the 16th century, the acknowledged functioning period of the Silk Road, the Silk Roads: Zarfshan-Karakum Corridor had three vital periods of prosperity. The first period was during the blossom of pre-Islamic Sogdian culture, from the 5th century to the 8th century. This period was under the Hephthalite, Turk, Chinese and Arab rule, when the role of Central Asian merchants increased significantly. Especially the Sogdians merchants were the main intermediaries in international silk trade and used to be called the “Phoenicians of the Silk Road” by the 20th century scholars. Sogdians also developed a unique sophisticated culture in their motherland in and near the Zarafshan valley. The second period was between the 10th century and the 12th century, the period of the Samanids and later pre-Mongol dynasties. In this period cities and urban culture in Maverannahr, Transoxiana, actively developed and traded with the Muslim ecumene and outside. The last period was from the 13th century to the 17th century, in the time of Mongols, Chaghataids, Timurids and Sheibanids, when science, culture, urban planning and economics significantly developed.
The component parts of the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor serial transnational World Heritage nomination are principal examples of several outstanding characteristics of the history, economy, culture and art of Central Asia in this historic period. These component parts include an outstanding selection of long-lived cities; early Sogdian monuments; Sogdian cities, fortifications and palaces, and artworks; Sogdian sites in hostile mountain environment; sites during the Muslim conquest and Islamization; Islamic cities; Pre-Mongol and Post-Mongol architectural monuments; sacred sites; Muslim Sufi necropolises; water-management systems; infrastructure and facilities along the roads; and sites sustaining economic interactions between East and West.