Otrar Tobe, or town, is the largest and most important of the remains of six mediaeval towns located in the Otrar Oasis in south-west Kazakhstan at the confluence of the Arys and Syr Darya rivers. The Otrar Oasis stands at a point where several of the historical "Silk Roads", a network of trading routes and pathways for cultural and technological exchange that traversed the region from the third century BC on, converged. It also lies between the traditionally sedentary south of the Central-Asian region and the nomadic north. For both these reasons, the oasis, with its outstanding archaeological remains and monuments, is crucial both to the cultural and historical understanding of Kazakhstan and to that of the region as a whole.

Otrar has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. However, unless conservation and safeguarding action is urgently taken, this important expression of the region's cultural heritage will be lost for ever.


The UNESCO Otrar project is financed by the Japanese Trust Fund for the Preservation of the World Cultural Heritage and will last for four years (2001 - 2004). The purpose of this project is to preserve the ancient tobe of Otrar for future generations and carry out emergency conservation work at the other tobes in the Oasis.

Otrar Tobe, kiln area, path and citadel, general view.
In addition, the project aims to:

  • Develop national and regional capacities in the conservation of the mud-brick architecture and earth structures, that exist throughout the region;
  • Develop technical materials on the site for use in similar projects elsewhere, including the publication of historical materials for a wider public;
  • Ensure the site's permanent management, preservation and conservation.


    The Otrar Oasis towns, the largest and most important of which is Otrar Tobe, (Tobe literally signifies "hill" or mound - the small hills or mounds which indicate where the towns were built up) were first excavated in 1969, revealing the spectacular mud-brick remains of large, typically Central-Asian settlements including central citadel, shahristan, or town area (palace and 2 mosques), rabat (suburbs, a bathhouse and kilns) and earthen fortifications. Since the towns, and particularly Otrar itself, flourished over a very long period (typically from the 1st to the 15th Century A.D.), it is possible to reconstruct the complex history of the region from studying their monuments and remains. But Otrar Tobe's mudbrick architecture and earth structures, which through these same archaelogical excavations have been thereby opened to the elements, are in danger of rapid erosion and deterioration. Preservation of the mud-brick and earth-structure towns of Otrar oasis poses very special technical problems. One is the severity of the climate - reaching a high of 40?C in summer and a low of -20?C in winter. It is also quite humid, with considerable snow, rain and wind at some periods in the year. This means that erosion occurs very quickly, and that techniques for mud-structure preservation, which are successful elsewhere in the region, have not been successful here. The growing number of visitors stepping on weak architectural elements also presents a danger. A visit to the site, in the absence of clear roads, signs, experienced guides and booklets, can be a haphazard experience, and one unlikely to lead to a full appreciation of the area. Through the UNESCO project, a visitor path, with explanatory sign boards and computer simulation will be established, along with a number of showcase conservation operations -the bath, the kilns, the mosque and palace, the city walls.

    All of this together will make the site, and indeed the whole oasis settlement phenomenon of Otrar, much more accessible and comprehensible to the visitor.


    Taking into account the climatic conditions, the work on the field is only possible during spring and autumn. Two international experts (British and German) have been given a mandate to carry out the site scientific documentation, research, and conservation. They work in straight link with Kazakh experts who are thus trained with the most advanced techniques of archeology.


    The Otrar conservation project is implemented in Kazakhstan in partnership with:

  • Ministry of Science and Higher Education
  • Ministry of Culture and Tourism
  • Institute of Archaeology and Institute for Scientific Research and Planning on Monuments of Material Culture
  • Otrar Conservation Authority and Otrar Museum

    For more information

    OTRAR Visit the current webpage on the UNESCO site (in English, photographs):

  • http://www.unesco.org/culture/heritage/tangible/kazakhstan/html_eng/index_en.shtml
  • http://www.otrar.unesco.kz/gallery


    Otrar Oasis is close to the ancient city of Turkestan, and its great monument, the Mausoleum of the Sufi Saint Hodja Akhmed Yassavi. An important place of pilgrimage, the mausoleum is one of the most famous and most visited of all Kazakhstan. Otrar oasis also contains the mausoleum of Hodja Akhmed's teacher, Arystan Bab, also an important pilgrimage site. http://www.unesco.org/culture/anniversaries/html_fr/turkestan.shtml
    Turkestan, Mausoleum of Hodja Akhmed Yassavi

    Contact For more information, please contact the Culture Officer, UNESCO Almaty. almaty@unesco.org Tel: (00) 73272 58 26 46 Fax: (00) 73272 69 58 63