Discover the legendary Silk Route
The legendary Silk Route takes its name from the lucrative silk trade which opened up commerce between the Far East and the West as early as 4,000 years ago.
Merchants would travel along portions of the route, which spanned all the way from China, over Central Asia and the Caucasus into Europe, to sell the highly sought after threads. This trade greatly enriched the countries along the route, creating economic, cultural and scientific connections between them as travellers swapped ideas and shared stories during their journeys. It’s a monumental journey spanning thousands of miles and, whilst few people still travel the route’s full length, we’ve gathered together a few of its top destinations which are well worth a visit due to their rich and fascinating history.
Start your Silk Route journey in the ancient city of Xian in central China, which has been a bustling hub of culture, business and politics since the 11th century BC. The origins of the silk trade can be traced back to this metropolis and it was under the Han dynasty that the fabric was first sold as a commodity. Whilst you’re in Xian be sure to visit the terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, a collection of life-like terracotta soldiers which were built to guard the grave of China’s first emperor.
Upon leaving the ancient city of Xian, head westwards to the cultural melting pot of Kashgar. Tucked away next to the border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the city is largely populated by people of Turkic ethnicity and is quite unlike the central and eastern regions of China. Scour the world famous Sunday bazaar, a weekly event since Roman times, and marvel at the array of weird and wonderful products on offer as you retrace the steps of the silk merchants.
On their way from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan, many traders would have braved the treacherous Tien Shan mountain range. After tackling high altitude and changeable weather they would arrive at the peaceful plains surrounding the Song Kol Lake, the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan. Today Kyrgyz nomads still reside on the shores of the Song Kol rearing cattle and living off the land, much like they would have done hundreds of years ago, It is nigh on impossible to remember the stresses of everyday life in this remote part of the world, and there are few things more peaceful than spending a few days hiking or horse riding through the breathtaking scenery.
Departing from the tranquil atmosphere of Song Kol, the glistening monuments of Almaty are the next stop. This former Silk Route city is now the modern hub of Kazakhstan and feels worlds apart from what it would have been like during the height of the silk trade. Marvel at its impressive architecture, explore the glitzy shopping malls where markets once stood, and stay in any number of state-of-the-art hotels. Almaty is certainly a forward-facing city and there seem to be few reminders of its history with the Silk Route. However, it is no less fascinating of a destination than its historic neighbours.
Finally, explore the striking blue domes and minarets which dot the landscapes of Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan. Samarkand is one of the world’s oldest cities and certainly the oldest in Central Asia. Its origins date back to well before the beginnings of the Silk Route. Visit Registan Square, the tomb of the famous Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur or the Bibi-Khanum Mosque. At the height of the silk trade, the Bibi-Khanum Mosque was the largest of its kind in the entirety of the Islamic world. Nowadays most of its original structure has been replaced through restoration but the building is still magnificent with intricate turquoise patterns decorating its surfaces.
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