In addition to its two properties that are officially inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List—the archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley and the Minaret of Jam—Afghanistan boasts a further four sites that are currently candidates for World Heritage status. At present, these sites are included on Afghanistan’s “Tentative List,” which is an inventory of properties that are under consideration for inclusion on the World Heritage List. Read on to learn more about what the Tentative List is and which Afghan sites are on it.
What is the Tentative List?
The selection and official designation of World Heritage Sites, which represent the most outstanding examples of natural and cultural heritage from all around the globe, follows a detailed set of formal procedures. Of these, the submission of the Tentative List is a very important step: it is essentially an opportunity for countries to introduce UNESCO to sites and properties they believe are deserving of World Heritage status.
To prepare a Tentative List, each country—working in collaboration with key stakeholders, including site managers, local communities, local and regional governments, and non-governmental organizations—identifies and compiles details about the sites or properties it is nominating, including their name, their location, and their qualities, and offers justification as to their exceptional universal value. The nations then submit their Tentative List to UNESCO’s World Heritage Center to be evaluated by the World Heritage Committee. If a nominated site meets the specific criteria for inclusion on the World Heritage List, the Committee inscribes the site on the list.
Note that the only entity allowed to place a site on a Tentative List is the country in which it is located. Further, only countries that are signatories to the World Heritage Convention can submit Tentative Lists (as of 2016, 193 countries had ratified the Convention). Tentative Lists are not considered to be fixed or exhaustive: indeed, the World Heritage Committee encourages countries to reevaluate and resubmit their Tentative Lists every few years. This is important as the Committee cannot consider sites for World Heritage status unless they have first been included on a Tentative List.
What sites has Afghanistan included on its Tentative List?
Afghanistan currently has the following four sites (three natural ones and one cultural one) on its Tentative List:
The city of Herat (nominated in 2004)—The regional capital of Western Afghanistan, Herat was once one of the most impressive cities in ancient Afghanistan and a center of great strategic, commercial, and cultural significance. Originally established around 500 BCE, Herat has survived several waves of destruction over the centuries. Today, the city is home to an exceptional collection of architecture and monuments that stand as a testament to its rich history. Most famous for the medieval Islamic buildings, including the extraordinary Great Mosque complex, that fill its historic center, Herat is also the site of some of Afghanistan’s oldest structural remains, including the ruins of a fort built in 330 BCE, after Alexander the Great captured the city.
The city of Balkh (nominated in 2004)—It’s hardly surprising to find Balkh on Afghanistan’s Tentative List, as many consider it to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Once a rival to the spectacular city of Babylon, Balkh, like Herat, suffered several periods of destruction and rebuilding under different dynasties. Contemporary visitors to Balkh can spot the layers of its history in the monuments that have fully or partially survived, like the traces of the earthen walls that surrounded the city in the 10th century CE or the remains of the Madjide Haji Pivada, one of the world’s oldest mosques. Balkh is also the reputed birthplace for some of the ancient Islamic world’s most notable figures, including the Sufi poet Rumi and the prophet Zoroaster.
Band-e-Amir (nominated in 2004)—Band-e-Amir is the only property on Afghanistan’s tentative list that is a natural wonder rather than a cultural one; and indeed, “wonder” is the word that most people use to describe this breathtaking collection of blue and turquoise lakes in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Band-e-Amir is what is known as a “travertine system,” which means that each of its six lakes is separated from the others by natural dams of hardened mineral deposits that built up gradually over time. Band-e-Amir may not be an official World Heritage Site yet, but a major step towards recognizing its value came in 2009, when it earned designation as Afghanistan’s first-ever national park.
Bagh-e Babur (nominated in 2009)—The largest public green space in Kabul, Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, has a history that stretches back more than 500 years. Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, created the gardens after he conquered Kabul in 1504. Designed in accordance with the principles of traditional Islamic gardens, Bagh-e Babur is one of the oldest surviving gardens of the Mughal dynasty. The gardens fell into decline following Babur’s death, but an extensive restoration program (launched in 2002 with the help of the Aga Khan Development Network) has beautifully restored the site to its former glory.