Tag Archives: silk road

Pomegranate: Icon of the Silk Road

A pomegranate trinket on my desk

It was my ten-year-old daughter who first alerted me to the iconographic importance of the pomegranate. At Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar she pointed out the myriad trinkets—ashtrays, paper weights, ampules, candles, vases, key chains, pendants—in the shape of pomegranates. (She really wanted a ceramic pomegranate for her window sill, and I obliged her.) I wondered why the pomegranate was so favoured by souvenir makers, whereas there was no trace of any object in the shape of, say, a pear or a raspberry.

I also recalled that last year, when I travelled to Armenia on behalf of Arastan, I had found that in this tiny country locked away in the Caucasus, the pomegranate is a much-loved, ubiquitous symbol that augurs fertility, abundance, and prosperity. It was everywhere, from friezes carved in medieval khachkars, to tabletop ornaments, to cheap fridge magnets sold at the airport.

Without trying very hard I began to notice the …

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Architectural Wonders in Baku, Copper in Lahij, Caravanserai in Sheki

Caravanserai 19th-century engraving

Baku is a metropolis that I can only describe as grand. Its buildings are grand, and its ambitions are even grander. A meticulously restored medieval citadel – a warren of quiet cobbled alleyways enclosed by stone walls – is surrounded by a stunning urban landscape of impressive neo-classical buildings, wide boulevards and a multitude of fountains, all dating from the end of the 19th century, when Baku experienced its first oil boom. Here too, every brick and cornice has been painstakingly restored to its full splendour. And beyond and above all this neo-classical elegance rise awesome and highly futuristic new structures of steel and glass – the fruits of the current oil boom.

Some of them, such as the Flame Towers and the Crystal Hall, are at the very cutting edge of contemporary architecture, rivalling the ultramodern hyperboles of Dubai and Shanghai. (Check out this enlightening list of the noteworthy architecture that is changing Baku’s …

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The Enduring Suzani

Suzani from Tashkent

No single artefact can represent the silk roads, their legacy and the Arastan journey, better than a Suzani. Arastan seeks out beautiful products with stories that often began on the fabled Silk Route. The suzani is one such perfect story of an enduring craft that has forever bound into every stitch and motif the hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears of its makers who lived in what was perhaps the harshest landscape in the world. See Arastan’s selection of vintage and new suzanis, or read on to discover more about the  culture and traditions behind this wonderful craft.

Suzani is a common term for embroidered dowry pieces (coverlets for the bridal bed, but also for made to decorate horses, tables, walls) produced for hundreds of years by the nomadic and settled women of Central Asia. Its roots are believed to be in the Fergana Valley that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan …

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The Carpets of Konya

Kilim Runner from Van, Turkey

Come, Come, Whoever you Are Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times Come, yet again, come, come.

Mevlana Rumi, Sufi Mystic and Poet whose tomb lies in Konya

And they did come … at the turn of the last millennium, travellers, traders, nomads, empires, swept into Iran and Anatolia from Central Asia and beyond.

Konya is one place they met and traded and settled right from the 11th century through to the 16th century.  The Seljuk Empire that dominated a huge swath of Eurasia during those centuries created a cultural melting pot that extended from Turkey to China. It was out of that melting pot, fuelled by continual exchange of commodities and ideas along the Silk Roads, that Konya, Bergama and other well known cities came into prominence and …

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Rediscovering the Silk Road

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 …

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Intriguing Berbers

Young Berber woman

Everything about Morocco is intriguing… especially to someone like me who has never been there. The gorgeous tilework, the latticed windows, the tadelakt lamps, the tribal kilims… ahhhh, I want to go there…. Now!!!!!!!

So, when Nisha pulled out piece after piece of stunning Moroccan Berber jewellery, I couldn’t bear it any longer. If I wasn’t going to be on next flight to Marrakech, I had to get there by another route. Feeling quite like the Ibn Battuta of Richards Town, I set off instantly… up the High Atlas mountains and through the stark Sahara, to finally come face-to-face with chiseled Berber men and gorgeous women bedecked, from head to toe, in silver jewellery…. So ok, Battuta didn’t go out in search of Berbers, but he did leave Morocco and ended up travelling the silk routes for 33 years, on foot and horseback. That was Ibn and it was the …

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South-east Turkey: Gaziantep and Urfa

Zincirli Bazaar, Gaziantep

Sorry, this post has taken a long time in coming. Lots happening, mostly good, so should be keeping up with things again from now on…!

And that was the end of my sourcing trip and the beginning of a short holiday. Mike and Tiya joined me in Istanbul and we all flew to Gaziantep (“Great” Antep). I was expecting a sleepy old town and was in for a bit of a surprise. Gaziantep is a buzzing city that is the machine-made carpet and pistachio capital of Turkey. It has its own unique handicrafts and whilst the copperware was excellent I didn’t much care for the thickish mother of pearl work. It is also famous for its food. We ate at the Imam Cagdas two nights in a row where the kebaps and pistachio baklava (they only make the pistachio filling in this town) were delicious – their website is in Turkish but …

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Day 4: In Margilon – the land of Ikats!

Women at work on their looms

Margilon (formerly known as Margilan) is the heart of the silk industry on the Silk Route. We made it to the town bright and early to see the entire process of weaving and to visit renowned weavers. While the town still maintains traditional methods of rearing, spinning, dyeing and hand weaving, mechanised looms have also emerged. As most of the fabric is exported out of the country, there is a growing emphasis on the revival of traditional patterns and use of only natural dyes.

We moved from a factory to a medressa and saw a lot of women involved in weaving ikats – and they were happy. They listened to upbeat Uzbek music on their tiny recorders, took their tea breaks and even played with their kids while they wove complex, intricate patterns.

As no-one was expecting “tourists” in the freezing winter, stock was all tucked away in storage. So Nisha pulled …

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Day 2: To the Fergana Valley

Kamchik Pass, Tian Shan Mountains

We left Tashkent this morning to drive to the Fergana valley. On our way, we dropped in at a contemporary ceramist’s studio. Over tea with macaroons and biscuits, he explained how his grandfather – a well known ceramist – had dedicated his life to documenting traditional motifs and ceramic techniques. Sections of his handwritten diaries could be seen in the family’s private gallery. This young man started learning from his grandfather when he was six years old. He said grandparents are more patient than parents! His own father is a renowned ceramist and had exhibited around the world. As we stepped into their gallery, we were introduced to many styles of ceramics – the Tashkent style, Steppe style, contemporary designs inspired by embroideries, traditional blue pottery and more. This ceramist clearly loved his work, spoke at an unhurried pace, and was rather tolerant as we gushed over his pieces.

We headed out to …

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Arastan is Born…

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The sights, sounds, smells of ancient trading routes…

the bustling bazaars and souks of ancient Constantinople…

the coming together of diverse cultures, peoples, traditions, crafts…

the colours of the deserts, the camel caravans traversing them…

the bridge between East and West through ancient cities: Chang’an, Dunhuang, Kashgar, Yarkend, Khotan, Herat, Almaty, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Merv, Nishapur, Isfahan, Babylon, Jerusalem, Damascus, Aleppo, Konya, Constantinople…

the art and architecture of majestic monuments: Daming Palace, Khoja Akhmad Yassavi mausoleum, Registan, Minaret Kalyan, Ichan-Kala, Buddhas of Bamiyan, Chogha Zanbil, Meydan-e Imam, Shirvanshahs’ Palace, Karatay Han…

the silks, the perfumes, the spices…

the gems: lapis lazuli, jade, cornelian, turquoise…

the embroidery, suzanis, carpets, kilims, dhurries…

the mosaics, patterns, designs…

Arastan is an endeavour to share the history and culture of the Silk Road through a range of exquisite handcrafted products including silks, gems, carpets and ceramics. These are made by artisans and master craftsmen following centuries-old traditions, …

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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.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

    Relive our travels and stories by browsing our articles and archives from the menus below.

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