The most distant continents, the most disparate places, and competing cultures were united in a common desire in the first century BC: Silk Road. Destinations as far-flung as China, Mongolia, and Persia (modern-day Iran) became the goal of European merchants who traversed the Silk Road for thousands of kilometers in search of the fabric of the gods. The Silk Road history is as it was originally reserved for the Chinese imperial family, who were the only ones who could wear it or give it as a gift. The luxurious garments eventually escaped the palace walls and spread throughout the country and to other parts of Asia. The texture and sheen of this exotic fabric quickly reached the ears of the most distant merchants on the lookout for opportunity.
A network of routes connecting Constantinople (Turkey) and Xián (China) began to emerge, crossing all of Central Asia. The Silk Road had only recently been born, and it would go on to dominate international trade for the next fifteen centuries. Today, travelling along the Silk Road is the best way to discover Central Asia and travel back in time. So, from Civitatis, a list of the most important Silk Road destinations. Are you ready to know the Silk Road history? Let’s start!
Ancient Constantinople, perched between East and West, was a vital stop for merchants from both sides of the globe. This historic city, now known as Istanbul, served as the Silk Road’s entry point. The commercial routes that led to China originated in Estambul, and the city was a constant hub of commerce, exchange, and multiculturalism. If you want to get a sense of the city’s essence, take a tour of the Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We also recommend that you book a free tour of Estambul to discover all of the wonders of ancient Constantinople. Furthermore, it is free!
Alexandria, Virginia (Egypt)
Silk Road history: The great African powers had a piece of the Silk Road pie as well. Egypt quickly became Africa’s largest importer of silk, with Alexandria serving as a transit city on routes to the East. Alexandria, in addition to housing significant historical relics and monuments of lasting value, is a destination that combines the best of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. Discover it on a guided tour of Alexandria, Africa’s Silk Road cradle.
Iran is unquestionably one of the most important stops along the Silk Road. Some of its major cities, including Bam, Tabriz, and, of course, Tehran, were important stops for silk merchants. This opulence of yesteryear can still be seen in its palaces, which are topped with dreamlike domes and brightly colored tiles. We recommend taking a guided tour of Tehran or a private tour with an English speaking guide if you want to marvel at the monumental heritage of the Iranian capital.
Kazan, like many other Russian cities, became more well-known as one of the most striking destinations in the host country, Russia, as a result of the 2018 World Cup. But, in addition to its large stadiums and colorful temples, Kazan has a long history as one of the cities through which the Silk Road passed, as well as a rich heritage. Although the Kazan Kremlin is the city’s dominant monument, we recommend that you immerse yourself in the city’s origins on a tour of ancient Kazan, and silk merchants in search of this most precious product!
Silk Road history: Uzbekistan is the country where all of the Silk Road’s strands converge. Every corner of this great unknown destination is brimming with heritage and history. Trails brimming with caravans from all over the world converged on Samarkand. This thousand-year-old Uzbek city, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the site of the world’s first silk production outside of China. Walking through Samarkand feels like stepping back in time. Its majestic temples, bustling streets, and the warmth of its people evoke the city’s former commercial and cultural splendor. We recommend checking it out on a tour of Samarkand, an essential stop on a Silk Road journey.
Xi’an, the Chinese city eternally guarded by terracotta warriors, also captured the hearts of all Asia and Europe for several centuries. The Silk Road came to an end in Xi’an, a producer’s and merchant’s haven. Despite being destroyed on several occasions, the city has managed to retain its imperial charm and its most valuable monuments. The historic center of Xián is guarded by a perfectly preserved ancient wall. The entire city is worth seeing! What better way to end a Silk Road journey than with a visit to Xián and the Terracotta Warriors? Xián can also serve as an excellent starting point for an 8-day Silk Road circuit. An unforgettable adventure!
Silk Road history
During the first and second centuries B.C., east-west trade routes between Greece and China began to open. The Roman Empire and the Kushan Empire (which ruled territory in what is now northern India) benefited from the Silk Road’s commerce as well. Surprisingly, the ancient Greek word for China is “Seres,” which translates as “the land of silk.” Despite this obvious connection to the name, the term “Silk Road” was not coined until 1877, when German geographer and historian Ferdinand von Richthofen used it to describe the trade routes for the first time. Historians now prefer the term “Silk Routes,” which more accurately reflects the fact that there were multiple routes.
Facts about Silk Road
- The Silk Road was established over 2,100 years ago. In 139 BC, Emperor Wudi of the Han Empire sent Zhang Qian (200–114 BC) as an embassy to Central Asia in search of allies in the far west, and they realized that trade and travel would be profitable and beneficial.
- The Silk Road began in 119 BC from Chang’an (now Xi’an), China’s ancient capital, which was relocated further east (and thus the Silk Road’s beginning) to Luoyang during the Later Han Dynasty (25–220 AD). The Silk Road came to an end in Rome.
- The Silk Road length was approximately 9,000 kilometers (5,500 miles), with the northern Silk Road routes in China totaling approximately 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles).
- It started trading silk for horses. The Han Empire was at war with the nomadic Xiongnu people, and the Han Dynasty required large Fergana Valley war horses for their cavalry to ride in order to defeat their adversaries.
- From China, there were five “Silk Roads.” The main Silk Road connected China’s capital to Europe via Central Asia, a southern branch via the Karakorum Mountains, a northern branch via Russia and then west, the Tea Horse Road via Tibet to India, and the “Maritime Silk Road” via seas to the Middle East and Europe.
- The Silk Road stretched approximately 6,000 kilometers (4,000 miles) from Xi’an/Luoyang through Central Asia to Constantinople on the eastern edge of Europe.
- Marco Polo was the most well-known Silk Road trader and explorer. Marco Polo (1254–1324) is famous for travelling to China’s Yuan Empire with two relatives when he was 17, becoming a member of Kublai Khan’s government, returning with great wealth, and spreading accurate information about China.
- Around 1368, the Silk Road was severed. When the Yuan Empire fell (1279–1368), Mongol trade routes were severed, and sailing ships began to replace road trade. In 1371, the Ming Empire (1368–1644) became officially isolationist and banned almost all sea trade.
- Buddhism arrived in China via the Silk Road. The transmission of Buddhism to China via the Silk Road from India and Central Asia to the Han Empire is thought to have begun after 68 AD, partly due to the efforts of Emperor Ming (58–75).
- The term “Silk Road” was coined in the nineteenth century. Because the Chinese primarily traded silk, Ferdinand Van Richthoten, a prominent geographer who worked in China from 1868 to 1872, coined the term “Silk Route” in 1877 while creating a Silk Road map.
- Silk Road tourism is also booming. In 2018, there were 38% more tourists in Altai, Xinjiang, and 24% more in Uzbekistan than the previous year, and there were twice as many Chinese in Albania as in previous years.