Rediscovering the Silk Road

Silk Road map

Silk Road map

The Silk Road was never one long road. Rather, it was a series of smaller land (and later, maritime) routes, which formed an intricate network between the Occident and the Orient. It linked Europe, India and the Far East via Central Asia. Take a look at this map, and you’ll see that Somalia, Thailand and even Indonesia were en route. For over one thousand years, these ancient pathways were the most important and best-known route in the world, transporting not just silk but all manner of exotic goods such as pepper, jade, glass, oranges, peaches, crossbows, gunpowder and rhubarb.

Who traversed these trails through deserts, mountains, steppes and seas? Not just merchants but monks, scholars, clerics, artists, armies, musicians, plunderers and nomads. Unlike what we imagine, people rarely travelled the entire journey. Instead, goods and ideas would change hands and minds, multiple times along the way, before reaching their final destination.

While trade and commerce were the prime movers on these transnational highways, things of far more enduring value to us now were exchanged then. The silk roads advanced the movement of cultures, the exchange of ideas, beliefs and technology, from the invention of paper to the great religions of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Many artistic influences transited along these paths, leaving their distinct imprint at every station, gathering more ideas along the way, and often, returning transformed to their places of origin. Raku ceramic traveled from Japan to Turkey; Damascene silver-smithing from Syria to a celebrated small town, Bidar in South India, in the form of bidriware; miniature painters from Samarkand to the Mughal empire; martial arts from India to Korea, China and Japan. The list is as endless as it is fascinating.

Who would have thought that such profound and lasting connections were being made in the early first millennium AD. We consider transnational connectivity to be the prerogative of our age. Globalization is a 21st century phenomenon, right? Wrong. It’s time to rethink our hubris. Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist and the Artistic Director of the incredible Silk Road Project, calls the silk road “the internet of antiquity”. I am simply mesmerized by that idea. Aren’t you?

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

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