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Globalisation is not a new phenomenon. From the time of the Roman Empire, east and west have been connected by a web of trade routes known as the Silk Road.
Stretching across the centre of Eurasia, from the Black Sea to the Himalayas, the Silk Road was the major artery of world trade, along which flowed silks and spices, gold and jade, teachings and technologies.
Cities on this route flourished from the extraordinary wealth of the merchants that passed through their caravanserais. Their magnificent ruins remind us of the vital importance of this route throughout history.
Here are 10 key cities along the Silk Road.
1. Xi’an, China
The Xi’an City Wall. Image Credit: Edward Stojakovic / Commons.
In the Far East, merchants begun their long journey along the Silk Road from Xi’an, the capital of ancient imperial China. It was from Xi’an that the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang set out to unify all the warring states of China into a vast empire in 221 BC.
Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Army, 8,000 terracotta sculptures of warriors which were buried alongside the first emperor in his vast mausoleum.
During the Han dynasty – which was contemporary with the Roman Empire – it was the site of the largest palace complex ever built anywhere in the world, Weiyang Palace. It covered an astounding area of 1,200 acres.
Pliny the Elder complained that the Roman elite’s appetite for silks from Han China was leading to a huge drain of wealth eastwards, which was the case for much of the history of the Silk Road.
The Mediterranean and the Near East was just one part of a much larger, interconnected ancient world. Professor Michael Scott discusses the immense age of the Silk Road and its importance to Imperial Rome.Watch Now
2. Merv, Turkmenistan
Camels grazing in front of the Kyz Kala fortress in Merv, Turkmenistan. Image Credit: David Stanley / Commons.
Situated by an oasis in modern day Turkmenistan, Merv was conquered by a succession of empires that tried to control the centre of the Silk Road. The city was successively part of the Achaemenid Empire, the Greco-Bactrian Empire, the Sassanian Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate.
Described by a 10th century geographer as the “mother of the world,” Merv reached its height in the early 13th century when it was the largest city in the world, with over 500,000 people.
In one of the bloodiest episodes in Central Asian history, the city fell to the Mongols in 1221 and Gengis Khan’s son ordered the massacring of the entire population inside.
Go out feeling like you can conquer the world (or at least large swathes of Asia and Eastern Europe) with our Genghis Khan cloth face covering.Shop Now
3. Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Registan Square, Samarkand. Image Credit: Bobyrr / Commons.
Samarkand is another city situated at the centre of the Silk Road, in modern day Uzbekistan. When the great traveller Ibn Battuta visited Samarkand in 1333, he remarked that it was,
“one of the greatest and finest of cities, and most perfect of them in beauty”.
It reached its peak four decades later, when Tamurlane made Samarkand the capital of his empire which stretched from the Indus to the Euphrates.
Dome interior of the Tilla Kori madrasa, Samarkand. Image Credit: LBM1948 / Commons.
At the heart of the city is Registan Square, framed by three exquisite madrassas, whose turquoise tiles gleam in the bright Central Asian sun.
4. Balkh, Afghanistan
The Green Mosque in Balkh. Photo taken in 1977. Image Credit: Mp11374 / Commons.
For much of its early history, Balkh – or Bactra as it was known then – was key centre of Zoroastrianism. It was later known as the place where the prophet Zoroaster had lived and died.
That changed in 329 BC when Alexander the Great arrived, having already overcome the mighty Persian Empire. After a difficult two-year campaign, Bactria was subdued with Alexander’s marriage to the the local princess Roxana.
When Alexander died, some of his soldiers stayed on in Central Asia and founded the Greco-Bactrian kingdom whose capital was Bactra.
For way too long we Westerners have been espying history through the lens of our own success. But truth is, Britain only had its moment because some trade winds blew our sailors in a favourable direction, and America was only discovered because Europeans were seeking the Indies.Watch Now
5. Constantinople, Turkey
The Hagia Sophia at sunset, Constantinople (Istanbul). Image Credit: Nserrano / Commons.
Although the Western Roman Empire fell to waves of barbarian migrations in the 4th and 5th century, the Eastern Roman Empire survived right through the Middle Ages, up until 1453. The capital of the Eastern Roman Empire was Constantinople.
The wealth of this magnificent capital was legendary, and luxury goods from China and India made their way across the length of Asia to be sold in its markets.
Constantinople represents the end of the Silk Road. All roads still led to Rome, but the new Rome sat on the banks of the Bosphorus.
6. Ctesiphon, Iraq
The ruins of Ctesiphon, pictured in 1932.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers have nurtured civilisations since the dawn of human history. Ctesiphon is one of numerous great capitals which have sprung up on their banks, along with Nineveh, Samarra and Baghdad.
Ctesiphon flourished as the capital of the Parthian and Sassanian Empires.
The Silk Road enabled the diffusion of many of the world’s great religions, and at its height, Ctesiphon was a diverse metropolis with large Zoroastrian, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Manichaen populations.
When Islam then spread out along the Silk Road in the 7th century, the Sassanian aristocracy fled and Ctesiphon was abandoned.
7. Taxila, Pakistan
Dharmarajika Stupa in Taxila, Pakistan. Image Credit: Sasha Isachenko / Commons.
Taxila in Northern Pakistan, connected the Indian subcontinent to the Silk Road. A diverse range of goods including sandalwood, spices and silver passed through the great city.
Beyond its commercial importance, Taxila was a great centre of learning. The ancient university based there from c. 500 BC is considered to one of the earliest universities in existence.
When Emperor Ashoka the Great of the Mauryan dynasty converted to Buddhism, Taxila’s monasteries and stupas attracted devotees from all over Asia. The remains of its great Dharmajika Stupa is still visible today.
British Museum Curator St John Simpson talks about the Sasanian empire, the Silk Road and new archaeological evidence for trade and movement across the frontiers of Late Antiquity.Watch Now
8. Damascus, Syria
The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.
Damascus has a rich history dating back 11,000 years and has been continuously inhabited for over four millennia.
It lies at a crucial crossroads of two trade routes: a north-south route from Constantinople to Egypt, and an east-south route connecting Lebanon with the rest of the Silk Road.
Chinese silks passed through Damascus on their way to western markets. Its crucial importance in this respect is illustrated by the introduction of the word “damask” into the English language as a synonym for silk.
9. Rey, Iran
Rey Castle in Tehran, Iran. Image Credit: Alireza Javaheri / Commons.
Rey is intimately bound up with the mythology of ancient Persia.
Its predecessor Rhages was one of the sacred places of Ahura Mazda, the supreme Zoroastrian deity, and the nearby Mount Damavand is a central location in the Persian national epic: the Shahnameh.
With the Caspian Sea to its north and the Persian Gulf to its south, caravans travelling from east to west were funnelled through Iran and Rey thrived on this trade. One 10th century traveller passing through Rey was so stunned by its beauty that he described it as “the bride-groom of the earth.”
Today Rey has been swallowed up by the suburbs of Tehran, the capital city of Iran.
10. Dunhuang, China
The Crescent Lake, Dunhuang. Image Credit: Sigismund von Dobschütz / Commons.
Chinese traders leaving for the west would have had to cross the vast Gobi desert. Dunhuang was an oasis town built on the edge of this desert; sustained by the Cresent Lake and flanked on all sides by sand dunes.
Grateful travellers would have been provided food, water and shelter here before setting off on their journey.
The nearby Mogao Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage site, made up of 735 caves cut into the rock by Buddhist monks over a period of 1,000 years.
The name Dunhuang means “Blazing beacon” and refers to its vital importance for warning of incoming raids from Central Asia into the heart of China.
Chinese watchtower on the Silk Road, near Dunhuang.
Featured Image: Ekrem Canli / Commons.
10 Key Cities Along the Silk Road - History
As China promotes the Belt and Road Initiative, cities long the ancient Silk Road linking ancient China and Europe have become hot spots for investment and tourism. Here are four of the most famous cities on the ancient route in China.
1. Xi'an, Shaanxi province
Indian Prime Minister visits a local museum displaying ancient terracotta warriors and horses of the Qin Dynasty in Xi'an of Shaanxi province, the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. [Photo/CFP]
2. Dunhuang, Gansu province
Tourists ride camels in the desert in the Crescent Moon Lake (Yueyaquan) and the Singing Sand Mountains scenic spot in Dunhuang city, Northwest China's Gansu province, October 3, 2012. [Photo/IC]
Visitors are most interested in the Crescent Lake and Mingsha Mountain. The mountain was named after the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes.
3. Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region
Kashgar is the westernmost city in China, bordering Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The city has a rich history of more than 2,000 years and served as a trading post and strategically important city on the Silk Road.
4. Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region
Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, was a major hub on the Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and developed its reputation as a leading center of commerce and Islamic culture during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It also has a
Cities on the Silk Road
During a trip to China last summer I was talking with a local Christian friend. &ldquoDo you think Xi Jinping is a Christian?&rdquo she asked me. As you can imagine, I was taken aback!
&ldquoWhat leads you to ask that question?&rdquo I queried.
&ldquoWell,&rdquo she said, &ldquohe has launched this new &ldquoOne Belt, One Road&rdquo initiative, which is perfect for spreading the gospel.&rdquo
I told her that I doubted he is a Christian, but even though spreading the gospel wasn&rsquot his purpose, it certainly is God&rsquos purpose.
Simply put, the &ldquoOne Belt, One Road&rdquo initiative is China&rsquos long-term plan to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between China and other nations in the region by pumping in large sums of development cash. The Economist puts it even more succinctly:
Launched in 2013 as &ldquoone belt, one road&rdquo, it involves China underwriting billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in countries along the old Silk Road linking it with Europe. The ambition is immense. China is spending roughly $150bn a year in the 68 countries that have signed up to the scheme.
The trade route that linked China with Central Asia (and beyond) in the ancient world was known as the Silk Road. It was along this &ldquoroad&rdquo that goods from China flowed west, and goods and ideas flowed east into China. Some of these ideas included Buddhism, Islam, and Nestorian Christianity.
This video, The Silk Road: Timelapses from Beijing to Samarkand, provides some beautiful images of various cities along the Silk Road, including the Chinese cities of Beijing, Xi&rsquoan, and Kashgar.
Regarding the issue of the potential impact of &ldquoOne Belt, One Road&rdquo on the spreading of the gospel, Brent Fulton says this:
The assumption is that Chinese business opportunities in the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, and beyond will create natural avenues for Christians from China to live and work in these regions. As a result they will be well positioned to have a Christian witness among peoples who have hitherto had little access to the gospel.
History has shown that the Holy Spirit may use a variety of means to move God&rsquos people forward in the accomplishment of Christ&rsquos redemptive purpose. &ldquoOne Belt, One Road&rdquo could potentially be another one of those means. But drawing a straight line between OBOR and the success of a new mission movement from China may be overly optimistic, to say the least.
Here are more resources for learning about &ldquoOne Belt, One Road&rdquo and the Silk Road.
By Cem Nizamoglu Published on: 25th August 2016
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Throughout history, trade routes played a central role in the transfer of goods and exchange of ideas between different parts of the world. The historic Silk Roads, which were a network of trade routes across land and sea that connected the lands from China across Asia to the Mediterranean.
by Matrakci (Source)
Note: Composed by Cem Nizamoglu and first published in 1001 Inventions website
The Silk Roads
Throughout history, trade routes played a central role in the transfer of goods and exchange of ideas between different parts of the world. The historic Silk Roads, which were a network of trade routes across land and sea that connected the lands from China across Asia to the Meditteranean, connected civilisations and peoples from different cultures, religions and languages with each other allowing the exchange of ideas, technical know-how and friendsip, creating a legacy of connectedness and cultural appreciation.
Along the Silk Roads, many cities flourished across China, Central Asia, Arabia, India, Persia and modern day Turkey. Trade brought wealth and richness that enabled excellence in industrial process including printing, glass and paper making medicine, philosophy, astronomy and agriculture. Cities became vibrant centres attracting intellectual polymaths and leaving a huge and fascinating mark on the consciousness of history.
Join us on a short journey to discover some of those amazing places:
1. Xi’an (Chang’an)
Potrail of one of Muslim Admiral Zheng He’s ships
Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics (Source)
Location: Xi’an is a major Chinese city. Formally known as Chang’an, it is an ancient imperial capital that saw the first Chinese missions leave to south-east Asia, central Asia and the Mediterranean marking the beginings of the Silk Road under the Han Dynasty in 141-87 BC (source).
Importance: From the 4 th century onwards, Chang’an was the capital city of the Chinese Empire, and entered its greatest period of development under the Tang Dynasty (618-904) and became one of the most civilised cities in the world.
“At the height of its glory in the mid-eighth century, Chang’an was the most populous, cosmopolitan, and civilised city in the world” (Richard B. Mather, forward to Xiong).
The Tang Dynasty West Market Museum is a privately-run museum in Xi’an and is situated on the original site of the 1000-year-old Chang’an City Tang Dynasty market (source).
Significant Features: Chang’an was a trading hub that was a melting pot of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Two important landmarks stood as witness to this glory:
- Chang’an Western Market: The city’s western market played an important role in the trade with the West along the Silk Roads to central Asia providing a hub for traders to sell and buy goods. Among the dominant figures in this era were Sogdian merchants from the region of Central Asia, who were vital agents in the transporting and trading of goods to China.
- Chang’an’s Great Mosque: The mosque still stands today and reflects how, uder the Tang (then later revived by the Ming), the city boasted an atmosphere of tolerance and was a key religious centre home not only to Buddhism and Taoism but also Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity and Islam.
Muslim Heritage: The Islamic Heritage in China: A General Survey by Anthony Garnaut
Chang’an’s Great Mosque’s (the Qingzhen Dasi) visible architecture dates from the late Ming period, although it was first built in 742. It’s located close to the western market that played an important role in th trade with the West along the Silk Roads (source).
Silk Road Cultural Street is situated at the original site of the Tang Dynasty West Market which thrived more than 1000 years ago in Chang’an City in the Tang Dynasty (source).
Location: An amazing city at the heart of Central Asia.. an important city on the Silk Roads strategically located between China and the Mediterranean.
Importance: For centuries it’d been a city of trade, renowned for its craft production and scholarly studies. Historical records show that from as early as the Han times (206 BC-220 AD), Samarkand’s merchants reached various places as far as China in order to trade precious metals, spices and cloth (Source). Then later, during the time of Tamerlane, Samarkand thrived as a great city when he made it his capital at the end of the 14th century.
Significant Features: Some of the significant features of the city came about at the times of two of its most prominent leaders Tamerlane and Ulugbeg:
- Central high street: One of Tamerlane’s achievements was to build a central high-street with shops to encourage trade and the development of merchant economy as part of his plans of making the city a global centre. (Source).
- Samarkan’s Observatory: Tamerlan’s grandson Ulughbeg, who was a great scientist, developed Samarkand as a scientific and cultural centre. He was keen to surround himself with scholars to debate scientific questions with him. In 1424 he founded one of the greatest observatories in Muslim civilisation (Source). It was a monumental building equipped with a huge meridian which became the symbol of the observatory.
Famous Scholars: As a cultural and prosperous hub, Samarkandencouraged and attracted prominent scholars including 15 th century Al-Kashi who devoted himself to astronomy and mathematics and was invited by Ulugbeg to join him at his school of learning in Samarkand together with some 60 other scientists like Qadi Zada who was also an accomplished astronomer and mathematician.
Muslim Heritage: The Scholars of Samarkand by Salah Zaimeche
Aleppo by Matrakci (Source)
Location: Strategically situated between the eastern mediterranean cost and the Euphrates Valley at the crossroads of several trade routes since the 2nd millennium B.C., Aleppo stands out as one of the key centers along the legendary Silk Roads.
Importance: Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and has been an enlightened centre of trade and industry over the centuries.
Significant Features: Aleppo’s ancient city is home to some amazing monuments that bear witness to the social, cultural and economic exchanges that flourished in the city during the Golden Age of the Silk Roads from the 12 th till the early 15 th century (source). Those include:
- The Citadel and Mosque: Overseeing the city of Aleppo from the top of the hill is the prominent citadel which is an important landmark. The city is also home to a beautiful grand mosque originally built by an Umayyad Caliph in the 8th century and later altered several times.
- The Bazar: The renowned Bazar extends over 13 km long. It has been the core of the city’s economic and social life for hundreds of years. Up until recent history, each part of the Bazar bore the name of trades or products such as the Wool Souq, the Copper Souq, the Tailor’s Souq, the Spice Souq etc. Various Khans (caravanserais) like Khan Al Harir and Khan Al Sabun and hammams supported this bustling Bazar through offering services to traders and travellers from around the world.
Famous Scholars: Aleppo attracted many famous scholars, scientists and poets. Those include Al-Farabi, a scholar and philosopher keenly interested in the relation between logic and language Al-Qifti Youssef al-Sibti, Al-Mutanabi, Al-Hamadani. (source and here and here)
Muslim Heritage: Aleppo Citadel: Glimpses of the Past
A city from Iraq by Matrakci (Source)
Location: Once a fourishing industrial and commercial city, Mosul, in today’s Northern Iraq and the north’s major center for trade, industry and communications, was once a thriving city on the Silk Roads.
10th-century Muslim geographer al-Muqaddasi, described Mosul as
|the metropolis of this region. It is a splendid city, beautifully built the climate is pleasant, the water healthy. Highly renowned, and of great antiquity, it is possessed of excellent markets and inns, and is inhabited by many personages of account, and learned men nor does it lack a high authority in the Traditions, or a celebrated doctor of the law. From here come provisions for Baghdad, and thither go the caravans of al-Rihab. It has, besides, parks, specialities, excellent fruits, very fine baths, magnificent houses, and good meats: all in all the town is thriving.”|
Importance: Under the Abbasid Muslim dynasty, Mosul became a major economic hub on the Silk Road. From that point forward, Mosul continued to develop incredibly advanced techniques in the arts and fine goods production. It has given its name to the fine textile “Muslin”.
The Blacas Ewer (629 AD), Shuja‘ b. Man‘a al-Mawsili. Jazira, Mosul. Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum, London
Key features: Beyond the Muslin weaving, Mosul also became famous for its fine metalwork and painting styles.. Those were only a few of the key industries that this great industrial centre was home to. Others included:
- Crude Oil Production: Sources record crude oil production in Iraq where there were seepages on the eastern bank of the Tigris along the road to Mosul. Muslim travellers reported that it was produced on a large scale and was exported.
- Textile Production: Mosul has always been celebrated as a weaving centre producing the finest of textiles. It’s textiles were especially famed.
(Sources and further reading 01, 02, 03)
Famous Scholars: Those included the philosopher Bakr Kasim Al-Mawsili who authored an epistolary philosophical work entitled Fi’ al-Nafs the 10 th century astronomer and mathematician Al-Qabisi and the infamous Opthalmologist Ammar Al-Mawsili.
Muslim Heritage: Mosul the Pearl of Northern Iraq
**Gyaur Kala, Merv (Source)**
Location: Merv, was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today’s Mary in Turkmenistan. In the early Islamic period, Merv was the capital of the province of Khorasan, and in the 12th century it was the largest city in the world.
Importance: Under the Abbasids, Merv continued to be the capital of the East. The great prosperity of Merv belongs to the period dating from the 8th to the 13th century. By the 11th century, Merv was a great commercial centre of the Oriental type with a bazaar, shops for artisans, money changers, goldsmiths, weavers, coppersmiths, and potters. It was an administrative and religious centre, containing mosques, madrasas, palaces, and other buildings.
- Textile Production: One of Merv’s trademarks was its textile products, silk produced in abundance. The region was also famed for its fine cotton and exports of raw and manufactured products were sent to different lands. Merv was one of the great emporia of the caravan routes between western and eastern Asia, including to China.
Famous Scholars: Merv produced one of the earliest and greatest scientists of Muslim Civilisation including Ahmad ibn ‘Abdallah al-Marwazi (Marwazi means from Merv) who was an astronomer under the Caliphs al-Ma’mun Al-Saghani, who was a mathematician and astronomer attached and the greatest of all – al-Khazini who became a mathematical practitioner under the patronage of the Seljuk court.
The Silk Road
For more than 1,500 years, the network of routes known as the Silk Road contributed to the exchange of goods and ideas among diverse cultures.
Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History
A tourist looks around the ancient city of Kharanaq, Iran. Towns such as these played a crucial role in the operation and success of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road is neither an actual road nor a single route. The term instead refers to a network of routes used by traders for more than 1,500 years, from when the Han dynasty of China opened trade in 130 B.C.E. until 1453 C.E., when the Ottoman Empire closed off trade with the West. German geographer and traveler Ferdinand von Richthofen first used the term &ldquosilk road&rdquo in 1877 C.E. to describe the well-traveled pathway of goods between Europe and East Asia. The term also serves as a metaphor for the exchange of goods and ideas between diverse cultures. Although the trade network is commonly referred to as the Silk Road, some historians favor the term Silk Routes because it better reflects the many paths taken by traders.
The Silk Road extended approximately 6,437 kilometers (4,000 miles) across some of the world&rsquos most formidable landscapes, including the Gobi Desert and the Pamir Mountains. With no one government to provide upkeep, the roads were typically in poor condition. Robbers were common. To protect themselves, traders joined together in caravans with camels or other pack animals. Over time, large inns called caravanserais cropped up to house travelling merchants. Few people traveled the entire route, giving rise to a host of middlemen and trading posts along the way.
An abundance of goods traveled along the Silk Road. Merchants carried silk from China to Europe, where it dressed royalty and wealthy patrons. Other favorite commodities from Asia included jade and other precious stones, porcelain, tea, and spices. In exchange, horses, glassware, textiles, and manufactured goods traveled eastward.
One of the most famous travelers of the Silk Road was Marco Polo (1254 C.E. &ndash1324 C.E.). Born into a family of wealthy merchants in Venice, Italy, Marco traveled with his father to China (then Cathay) when he was just 17 years of age. They traveled for over three years before arriving at Kublai Khan&rsquos palace at Xanadu in 1275 C.E. Marco stayed on at Khan&rsquos court and was sent on missions to parts of Asia never before visited by Europeans. Upon his return, Marco Polo wrote about his adventures, making him&mdashand the routes he traveled&mdashfamous.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Silk Road on history. Religion and ideas spread along the Silk Road just as fluidly as goods. Towns along the route grew into multicultural cities. The exchange of information gave rise to new technologies and innovations that would change the world. The horses introduced to China contributed to the might of the Mongol Empire, while gunpowder from China changed the very nature of war in Europe and beyond. Diseases also traveled along the Silk Road. Some research suggests that the Black Death, which devastated Europe in the late 1340s C.E., likely spread from Asia along the Silk Road. The Age of Exploration gave rise to faster routes between the East and West, but parts of the Silk Road continued to be critical pathways among varied cultures. Today, parts of the Silk Road are listed on UNESCO&rsquos World Heritage List.
A tourist looks around the ancient city of Kharanaq, Iran. Towns such as these played a crucial role in the operation and success of the Silk Road.
4. China Generated Wealth and Developed Economically
Silk and porcelain were the two bestselling products over the centuries of the Silk Road trade. Silk was the most valuable export on the Silk Road since it was light, easy to transport, and was said to be worth its weight in gold during the Roman era.
Porcelain was heavier and fragile. Though the Han and later empires were the world leaders in its manufacture, it wasn't until the Song Empire and especially the Ming Empire (1368–1644) that the porcelain industry reached its height in China. Those two empires engaged in Maritime Silk Road trade, built big factories that increased productivity, and exported porcelain on a grand scale. See more about How Porcelain Changed China's Development.
Control of the land trade helped to make the Yuan fabulously wealthy. Marco Polo described the size and wealth of Kublai Khan's empire extensively.
10 Key Cities Along the Silk Road - History
Silk Road Resources Traded Map
Silk Road Physical Features Map
Step 1: Print Your Student Map: Silk Road Student Map
Step 2: Physical Features - Label your map with the following physical features:
Hengduan Shan Mountains
Strait of Hormuz
Tien Shan Mountains
Step 3: Resources & Map Key - While you research the Virtual Tour, label the resources (artifacts/goods and ideas) you read about next to the corresponding location on your map. Create a map key (see map to right) with symbols for each different item.
Example Map Key (From an Environmental Map)
Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.
Silk Road, also called Silk Route, ancient trade route, linking China with the West, that carried goods and ideas between the two great civilizations of Rome and China. Silk went westward, and wools, gold, and silver went east. China also received Nestorian Christianity and Buddhism (from India) via the Silk Road.
What was the Silk Road?
The Silk Road was an ancient trade route that linked the Western world with the Middle East and Asia. It was a major conduit for trade between the Roman Empire and China and later between medieval European kingdoms and China.
Where did the Silk Road start and end?
The Silk Road began in north-central China in Xi’an (in modern Shaanxi province). A caravan track stretched west along the Great Wall of China, across the Pamirs, through Afghanistan, and into the Levant and Anatolia. Its length was about 4,000 miles (more than 6,400 km). Goods were then shipped to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.
What major goods traveled along the Silk Road?
Chinese merchants exported silk to Western buyers. From Rome and later from Christian kingdoms, wools, gold, and silver traveled eastward.
What traveled along the Silk Road besides goods?
Apart from material goods, religion was one of the West’s major exports along the Silk Road. Early Assyrian Christians took their faith to Central Asia and China, while merchants from the Indian subcontinent exposed China to Buddhism. Disease also traveled along the Silk Road. Many scholars believe that the bubonic plague was spread to Europe from Asia, causing the Black Death pandemic in the mid-14th century.
Is the Silk Road still used today?
Parts of the Silk Road survive in the form of a paved highway connecting Pakistan and the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in China. In the 21st century the United Nations planned to sponsor a trans-Asian motor highway and railroad. The Silk Road also inspired China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy authored by President and General Secretary Xi Jinping.
Originating at Xi’an (Sian), the 4,000-mile (6,400-km) road, actually a caravan tract, followed the Great Wall of China to the northwest, bypassed the Takla Makan Desert, climbed the Pamirs (mountains), crossed Afghanistan, and went on to the Levant from there the merchandise was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea. Few persons traveled the entire route, and goods were handled in a staggered progression by middlemen.
With the gradual loss of Roman territory in Asia and the rise of Arabian power in the Levant, the Silk Road became increasingly unsafe and untraveled. In the 13th and 14th centuries the route was revived under the Mongols, and at that time the Venetian Marco Polo used it to travel to Cathay (China). It is now widely thought that the route was one of the main ways that plague bacteria responsible for the Black Death pandemic in Europe in the mid-14th century moved westward from Asia.
Part of the Silk Road still exists, in the form of a paved highway connecting Pakistan and the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China. The old road has been the impetus behind a United Nations plan for a trans-Asian highway, and a railway counterpart of the road has been proposed by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). The road inspired cellist Yo-Yo Ma to found the Silk Road Project in 1999, which explored cultural traditions along its route and beyond as a means for connecting arts worldwide across cultures.
Silk Road of Different Periods
There are several important events during the history of Silk Road.
1. Ambassador Zhangqian&rsquos Visit to the Western Regions
BC114) was a brave explorer as well as a brilliant diplomatist. West Han Dynasty fought against Huns in northwestern China. The emperor Wu sent Zhangqian as envoy to ally Darouzhi. But Zhang was arrested by Huns. After 10 years, Zhang escaped away from Huns, then took his trip to Dayuan (today in Uzbekistan), Kangju (today&rsquos Uzbekistan), Balkh (today&rsquos northern Afghanistan). After the arduous trips, Zhang arrive in Darouzhi. But the emperor of Darouzhi refused the allying request of emperor Wu. Zhangqian returned back to Chang&rsquoan. Though Zhangqian failed to ally Darouzhi, he acquired much information about countries in Western Regions. Later, Zhangqian took his second trip to the Western Regions, and successfully united many alliances to fight against Huns.
Zhangqian&rsquos two trips to the Western Regions broke down the connections barriers between the ancient China, Western Regions and the central Asia, which built a great foundation to the trade also the culture exchange between China, Central Asia and Europe.
Popular Silk Route Tours:
2. Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great also made a great contribution to the development of Silk Road. Around 330 BC, he defeated Greece, Egypt, the Persian Empire and the northern India. During his conquest, Alexander the Great had founded many important trading cities which later became centers of Silk Road trade, such as the Alexandria, Khujand in Tajikistan, Samarkand.
Around BCE 200, envoys from both Alexander's successors and the Chinese court reached Kashgar which was the first contact between China and Europeans.
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3. Banchao Conquered the Western Regions
After West Han Dynasty, the Silk Road had been closed because of continual wars between Western Region (now Xinjiang and parts of Central Asia) countries. In East Han Dynasty, Banchao was firstly sent as envoy to strengthen the relationships beween Han and the Western Region. During his 31 years&rsquo administration in Western Regions, Banchao had conquered more than 50 small countries, and opened the Silk Road again.
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4. Roman Empire
In the first century in BC, the Roman Empire conquered Seleucid Empire and Egypt Empire. Through central Asia, intercontinental trade and communication became regular, and blossomed on an unprecedented scale. The Roman Empire built two ports in Barygaza and Barbarricum to trade with the Central Asian Silk Road. They traded spices, perfumes, and exchanged silk, porcelain, jades from China. The Romans were fancy about Chinese silk very much which became luxurious clothing materials for women.
Both Roman and China attached much importance to the international trade on the Silk Road. The Silk Road was under protection of Roman and Chinese armies.
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5. Tang Dynasty Reopens the Route
The prosperity of Silk Road reached its heyday in the Tang Dynasty (618
907). The Tang empire was the most powerful and prosperous country in the world. Its conquest over the West and central Asia ensured the trade along the Silk Road. The emperors of Tang carried out friendly diplomacy policy, and welcomed foreign envoys, merchants and travelers, which made Chang'an a cosmopolitan.
In Tang Dynasty, the Maritime Silk Route also were pioneered by Chinese. The envoys sailed through the Indian Ocean to Persian Gulf and Red Sea, to explore Persia, Egypt, Aksum and Somalia.
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6. Mongol Age
In 13th century, the Mongol launched a great expansion in the whole Asia, which brought a hundred years&rsquo stability to the Silk Road. Merchandise circulated well from China, via Central Asia, to Europe.
The Mongol sent a diplomat Rabban Bar Sauma who visited the courts of Europe in 1287
1288 and returned back to China with a detailed report about Europe. At the same time, the world famous traveler Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road to China, and met by the Mongol emperor. His tales, the Travels of Marco Polo, were fully read by Westerns, which helped Europeans learn much about East and China.
The Silk Road exchanged not only merchandise, but also disease. Some research shows that the Black Death may have reached Europe from Central Asia (or China).
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The city of Dunhuang, in north-west China, is situated at a point of vital strategic and logistical importance, on a crossroads of two major trade routes within the Silk Road network. Lying in an oasis at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, Dunhuang was one of the first trading cities encountered by merchants arriving in China from the west. It was also an ancient site of Buddhist religious activity, and was a popular destination for pilgrims, as well as acting as a garrison town protecting the region. The remarkable Mogao Caves, a collection of nearly 500 caves in the cliffs to the south of the city, contain the largest depositary of historic documents along the Silk Roads and bear witness to the cultural, religious, social and commercial activity that took place in Dunhuang across the first millennium. The city changed hands many times over its long history, but remained a vibrant hub of exchange until the 11 th century, after which its role in Silk Road trade began to decline.
The Silk Road routes from China to the west passed to the north and south of the Taklamakan Desert, and Dunhuang lay on the junction where these two routes came together. Additionally, the city lies near the western edge of the Gobi Desert, and north of the Mingsha Sand Dunes (whose name means &lsquogurgling sand&rsquo, a reference to the noise of the wind over the dunes), making Dunhuang a vital resting point for merchants and pilgrims travelling through the region from all directions. As such, Dunhuang played a key role in the passage of Silk Road trade to and from China, and over the course of the first millennium AD, was one of the most important cities to grow up on these routes. Dunhuang initially acted as a garrison town protecting the region and its trade routes, and a commandery was established there in the 2 nd century BC by the Chinese Han dynasty (206 BC &ndash 220 AD). A number of ancient passes, such as the Yü Guan or "Jade Gate" and the Yang Guan, or "Southern Gate", illustrate the strategic importance of the city and its position on what amounted to a medieval highway across the deserts.
The history of this ancient Silk Road city is reflected in the Mogao Caves, also known as the Qianfodong (the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas), an astonishing collection of 492 caves that were dug into the cliffs just south of the city. The first caves were founded in 366 AD by Buddhist monks, and distinguished Dunhuang as a centre for Buddhist learning, drawing large numbers of pilgrims to the city. Monks and pilgrims often travelled via the Silk Roads, and indeed a number of religions, including Buddhism, spread into areas around the trading routes in this way. There were some 15 Buddhist monasteries in the city by the 10 th century, and the latest caves were carved sometime in the 13 th or 14 th century. The city also lay on the pilgrim route from Tibet to the sacred Mount Wutai. The caves were painted with Buddhist imagery, and their construction would have been an intensely religious process, involving prayers, incense and ritual fasting. The earliest wall paintings date back to the 5 th century AD, with the older paintings showing scenes from the Buddha&rsquos life, whilst those built after 600 AD depict scenes from Buddhist texts.
The Mogao Caves illustrate not only the religious importance of Dunhuang however, but also its significance as a centre of cultural and commercial exchange. One of the caves, known as the &lsquolibrary cave&rsquo, contains as many as 40,000 scrolls, a depositary of documents that is of enormous value in understanding the cultural diversity of this Silk Road city. The earliest text is dated to 405 AD, whilst the latest dates to 1002 AD. The arrangement of documents in this library cave suggests that they were deliberately stored there, and it seems likely that the local monasteries used the cave as a store room. They provide a picture of Dunhuang as a vibrant hub of Silk Road trade, and give an indication of the range of goods that were exchanged in the city. According to these documents, a large number of imports arrived from as far away as north-east Europe. Interestingly, the scrolls that mention merchant caravans are usually written in Sogdian, Uighur, or Turco-Sogdian, indicating that they were produced by the foreign traders in the city. The range of imported goods included brocade and silk from Persia, metal-ware, fragrances, incense and a variety of precious stones, such as lapis lazuli (from north eastern Afghanistan), agate (from India), amber (from north east Europe), coral (from the ocean) and pearl (usually from Sri Lanka). Dunhuang was not simply a recipient of trade however, and had a very active export market too. The scrolls refer to a large number of goods that were produced in city and its surrounding regions and sold to merchants, including silks of many varieties, cotton, wool, fur, tea, ceramics, medicine, fragrances, jade, camels, sheep, dye, dried fruits, tools, and embroidery. This unique view of the imports and exports from the markets of Dunhuang illustrates the vibrancy of Silk Road trade along the routes into western China.
Additionally, although they were collected and stored by Buddhist monks, these scrolls shed light on the many different religions and languages in Dunhuang across the first millennium. In addition to Buddhist texts, Zoroastrian, Manichee, Eastern Christian, Daoist, and Jewish documents can be found in this collection, suggesting that communities of many different religions lived side by side in the city. Although the majority of the scrolls are in Chinese and Tibetan, there are also texts in Sanskrit, Khotanese, Uighur, and Sogdian, as well as one Hebrew prayer, folded and carried in a small purse and probably worn as a talisman by a traveller or merchant. These were all languages of the traders who travelled to Dunhuang from the surrounding regions, and their storage in the Mogao Caves suggests that these foreign trading communities were a vital part of the city&rsquos social structure and of the wider, cosmopolitan community.
Crafts and skills also moved along the Silk Roads as traders and craftsmen met and exchanged notes, and a small number of scrolls in the Mogao Caves illustrate the use of woodblock printing in Dunhuang, a technique that originated in China in the early 8 th century. The most famous text in the library cave, the Diamond Sutra, which dates to 868 AD, was made using this technique and is the first complete printed book in the world. Woodblock printing would later spread across Asia, as traders passed on knowledge and ideas that they had acquired whilst travelling the Silk Roads.