There are 269 UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout Asia. Each of them offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of complex civilizations, empires, and religions. This series offers an in-depth overview of four of the most intriguing UNESCO World Heritage sites in Asia, including both well-known and lesser-known sites. Each lavishly illustrated program goes far beyond the typical tourist experience by incorporating the insights of the latest scholarship and research.
Justin M. Jacobs, associate professor of history at American University, acts as guide through the iconic monuments and cities of Asia. He is the author of several books, including The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures, and is currently producing a 24-episode series on UNESCO World Heritage Sites for The Great Courses.
Please Note: Individual sessions are available for individual purchase.
APR 2 The Mogao Grottos
The Mogao Grottos of China are often referred to as an “art gallery in the desert.” For more than a thousand years, untold numbers of kings, merchants, monks, and nuns called the nearby desert oasis of Dunhuang home. Not far from town they sponsored the excavation and decoration of nearly 500 caves, each of which was bedecked in paintings filled with Buddhist iconography, local folktales, and life along the Silk Road. Jacobs traces the history of the grottos, analyzes the wall paintings, and discusses the controversial fate of a secret “cave library” that was discovered in the early twentieth century.
APR 23 The Potala Palace
The towering white and red walls of the Potala Palace in Lhasa serve as both a symbol of the unique brand of Tibetan Buddhism that flourishes on the “rooftop of the world” and of the Tibetan nation itself. Since its construction in the seventeenth century, the Potala Palace has been home to ten Dalai Lamas and witnessed several traumatic encounters with the outside world. Jacobs uses the Potala Palace and its cultural treasures as a window into the history of Tibet, the institution of reincarnated lamas, and Tibet’s troubled history with China.
MAY 14 Samarkand
One of the oldest and most cosmopolitan cities in Central Asia, Samarkand is the urban crossroads of Eurasia. Over the past two thousand years, it has absorbed the wealth and labors of Sogdian merchants, Manichean priests, Islamic astronomers, Mongol khans, Timurid emperors, Russian tsars, and Soviet comrades, all of whom attempted to use Samarkand as a base from which to conquer all of Central Asia. Jacobs provides an in-depth analysis of the cultural achievements of each of these historical groups, with particular emphasis on the Sogdians and Timurids.
JUN 4 The Taj Mahal
The grief of a Muslim shah for his dead wife inspired the 17th-century construction of what would become the architectural jewel of the Mughal empire in India. The Taj Mahal, built as a tomb for the Persian wife of a male descendant of Chinggis Khan, showcases the splendid craftsmanship of South Asian artisans, the motifs of Persian-inspired Muslim art and architecture, and the political influence of Central Asian conquerors in India. Jacobs simulates the experience of a visit to the Taj Mahal complex, highlighting major historical themes and revealing architectural details along the way.
Take a look at “The Forbidden City” episode in the Indiana Jones in History documentary series produced by Justin M. Jacobs. It tells the story of the troubled history of the imperial treasures of Beijing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from the burning of the Old Summer Palace in 1860 to the wartime odyssey of the National Palace Museum collection.
Photo caption (upper right): From left to right: Mogao Grottos in Gansu province, China; Shah-i-Zinda necropolis in the city of Samarkand; Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet; and The Taj Mahal