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History of the Silk Road

Extending almost 6,500km across some of the world’s most stunningly forbidding landscapes, the Silk Road is a remarkable network of routes used by t... Read more
History of the Silk Road

Extending almost 6,500km across some of the world’s most stunningly forbidding landscapes, the Silk Road is a remarkable network of routes used by traders from 130 B.C to 1453 A.D. This incredible web of trading passages connected China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe, and was responsible for the transportation of goods, culture, cuisine and religion throughout Asia and Eastern Europe for over 1,500 years. These historic trade meetings served as a coming-together of cultures, religions and ideas, which had an unfathomable influence on the modern world.



In 138 B.C. China’s Han Emperor Wu sent imperial envoy Zhang Qian to Central Asia to make contact with the western world and to seek possible partners in trade. Zhang Qian’s reports spoke of huge economic potential in Central Asia and in 130 B.C China officially opened trade with the West, marking the start of the Silk Road. The trade routes continued to expand and the number of trades grew until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire promptly cut off trade connections between the East and the West. 


Traded Goods

The Silk Road’s name derives from the lucrative trade of silk textiles that were produced almost exclusively in China, traded throughout Europe and Asia, and used to dress royalty and wealthy patrons throughout the region. Other sought-after treasures from Asia included cotton, porcelain, precious gems, gunpowder, tea and spices, which were traded in exchange for eastward-travelling goods such as glassware, textiles, horses, and manufactured goods. The introduction of horses to China bolstered the strength of the Mongol Empire, while the adoption of Chinese gunpowder revolutionised the dynamics of warfare in Europe and other regions.



As merchants crossed paths, The Silk Road’s widespread web of caravan paths allowed for religious beliefs and teachings to spread throughout Asia and Western Europe. As communities traversed landscapes, faith followed. Local traditions were forced to compete with larger religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam. From the 2nd century A.D. The Silk Road became a pathway for Buddhist teachings, originating in India and extending to China. In the 8th Century, Islam expanded its reach from the Middle East and found followers throughout Central Asia and western China. To this day, Asia and Western Europe is a melting pot of diverse religious beliefs, featuring a wide array of religious ceremonies and structures scattered throughout the region.



As tradesmen traversed the Silk Road, they carried with them their cherished traditional spices, ingredients and time-honoured cooking techniques. As a result, modern day Eurasian cuisine is a delightful blend of flavours and influence originating from the diverse Silk Road regions. Spices moved throughout the trade routes as frequently as silk and cotton, and soon pepper had become a regular crop grown in China thanks to its Indian influence. As the trade route expanded, the tea trade gradually extended its reach from China and Mongolia to encompass regions such as India, Turkey, and beyond. Noodles, rice, and bread variations are now enjoyed across the length of the Silk Road, with their origins tied to merchants introducing the flavours of their homelands to new destinations.



One of the great joys of visiting a country along the Silk Road is the incredible music that fills the streets. While traversing the trade route, merchants discovered new forms of music, which led to a beautiful fusion of sounds and melodies across the region. These trade meetings may well have hosted some of the first international jam sessions, with both parties showcasing instruments and melodies that they grew up playing. Music became a way for travellers to tell stories, share ideas and spread religious messages, and for both European and Asian merchants, the mesmerising sounds and exotic instruments must have been as fascinating and attractive to the tradesmen as the beautiful textiles and ceramics for sale. Many instruments found in Europe at the time, such as lutes and oboes, made their way along the caravan paths to China, Japan, India, and Indonesia and are now staple instruments in the musical traditions of these regions, enriching their cultural heritage.


The effect of the ancient Eurasian trade route can still be felt across Asia and Eastern Europe to this day. Aside from the breathtaking, snowy peaked mountain ranges and vast desert regions, a holiday along the Silk Road promises a smorgasbord of culture, religion and flavours.   

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