Enclosed between the high mountains of the Hindu Kush in the central highlands of Afghanistan, the Bamiyan Valley opens out into a large basin bordered to the north by a long, high stretch of rocky cliffs. The Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley comprise a serial property consisting of eight separate sites within the Valley and its tributaries. Carved into the Bamiyan Cliffs are the two niches of the giant Buddha statues (55m and 38m high) destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, and numerous caves forming a large ensemble of Buddhist monasteries, chapels and sanctuaries along the foothills of the valley dating from the 3rd to the 5th century C.E.
In several of the caves and niches, often linked by galleries, there are remains of wall paintings and seated Buddha figures. In the valleys of the Bamiyan's tributaries are further groups of caves including the Kakrak Valley Caves, some 3km south-east of the Bamiyan Cliffs where among the more than one hundred caves dating from the 6th to 13th centuries are fragments of a 10m tall standing Buddha figure and a sanctuary with painted decorations from the Sasanian period. Along the Fuladi valley around 2km southwest of the Bamiyan Cliffs are the caves of Qoul-i Akram and Lalai Ghami, also containing decorative features.
Punctuating the centre of the valley basin to the south of the great cliff are the remains of the fortress of Shahr-i Ghulghulah. Dating from the 6th to 10th centuries CE, this marks the original settlement of Bamiyan as stopping place on the branch of the Silk Route, which linked China and India via ancient Bactria. Further to the east along the Bamiyan Valley are the remains of fortification walls and settlements, dating from the 6th to 8th centuries at Qallai Kaphari A and B and further east still (around 15km east of the Bamiyan Cliffs) at Shahr-i Zuhak, where the earlier remains are overlaid by developments of the 10th to 13th centuries under the rule of the Islamic Ghaznavid and Ghorid dynasties.
The Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley represent the artistic and religious developments which from the 1st to the 13th centuries characterised ancient Bactria, integrating various cultural influences into the Gandharan school of Buddhist art. The numerous Buddhist monastic ensembles and sanctuaries, as well as fortified structures from the Islamic period, testify to the interchange of Indian, Hellenistic, Roman, Sasanian and Islamic influences. The site is also testimony to recurring reactions to iconic art, the most recent being the internationally condemned deliberate destruction of the two standing Buddha statues in March 2001.
- Criterion (i): The Buddha statues and the cave art in Bamiyan Valley are an outstanding representation of the Gandharan school in Buddhist art in the Central Asian region.
- Criterion (ii): The artistic and architectural remains of Bamiyan Valley, an important Buddhist centre on the Silk Road, are an exceptional testimony to the interchange of Indian, Hellenistic, Roman and Sasanian influences as the basis for the development of a particular artistic expression in the Gandharan school. To this can be added the Islamic influence in a later period.
- Criterion (iii): The Bamiyan Valley bears an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition in the Central Asian region, which has disappeared.
- Criterion (iv): The Bamiyan Valley is an outstanding example of a cultural landscape which illustrates a significant period in Buddhism.
- Criterion (vi): The Bamiyan Valley is the most monumental expression of the western Buddhism. It was an important centre of pilgrimage over many centuries. Due to their symbolic values, the monuments have suffered at different times of their existence, including the deliberate destruction in 2001, which shook the whole world.
The heritage resources in Bamiyan Valley have suffered from various disasters and some parts are in a fragile state. A major loss to the integrity of the site was the destruction of the large Buddha statues in 2001. However, a significant proportion of all the attributes that express the Outstanding Universal Value of the site, such as Buddhist and Islamic architectural forms and their setting in the Bamiyan landscape, remain intact at all 8 sites within the boundaries, including the vast Buddhist monastery in the Bamiyan Cliffs which contained the two colossal sculptures of the Buddha.
The cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley continue to testify to the different cultural phases of its history. Seen as a cultural landscape, the Bamiyan Valley, with its artistic and architectural remains, the traditional land use and the simple mud brick constructions continues to express its Outstanding Universal Value in terms of form and materials, location and setting, but may be vulnerable in the face of development and requires careful conservation and management.
Protection and management requirements
The monuments and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley are public property, owned by the State of Afghanistan. However, large parts of the buffer zone are in private ownership. Many documents defining the ownership were destroyed during the decades of conflict and civil unrest, and are now being re-established. The State Law on the Protection of Historical and Cultural Properties (Ministry of Justice, May 21st 2004)is in force and provides the basis for financial and technical resources.
The management of the serial property is under the authority of the Ministry of Information and Culture (MoIC) and its relevant departments (Institute of Archaeology and the Department for the Preservation of Historical Monuments), as well as the Governor of the Bamiyan Province. The Ministry of Information and Culture has a provincial local office representative in Bamiyan. There are 8 guards specifically protecting the site against vandalism and looting, with additional resources provided by the Ministry of Interior in the form of a dedicated police contingent for the protection of cultural property (Police unit 012).
At present, the management system is provisional with help from the international community for the appropriate administrative, scientific and technical resources. Since 2003, UNESCO has been leading a three-phase safe-guarding plan for the property. Its focus has been to consolidate the Buddha niches, to safeguard the artefacts that survived the destruction of the Buddha statues and to render the site safe, notably by pursuing the complex de-mining operations at the site. A Management Plan for the property is under preparation with the objective to prepare and implement a programme for the protection, conservation and presentation of the Bamiyan Valley, to undertake exploration and excavation of the archaeological remains, and to prepare and implement a programme for sustainable cultural tourism in the Valley. The Governor of the Province is responsible for the implementation of a regional development plan, which includes rehabilitation of housing, provision of health and educational services, and development of infrastructure and agriculture.
In March 2011, it was concluded by Afghan officials and international experts at a meeting of the 9th Bamiyan Expert Working Group hosted by UNESCO that the World Heritage site is potentially ready to be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger by 2013, pending continued progress in addressing security risks, the structural stability of the remains of the two giant Buddha sculptures and their niches, the conservation of the archaeological remains and mural paintings and implementation of the Management Plan.
Top photograph: Mohammad Ali Sheida