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BellaOnline's Middle Eastern Culture Editor


What is the Silk Road?

Guest Author - Rachel Schaus

The Silk Road is not just one "road" but really a constant shifting route of caravan tracks threading their way across deserts, high mountain passes, ranging from China all the way to the Black and Mediterranean Seas. It flourished in name for at least 800 hundred years, starting around the end of the 2nd century BC.

Somehow, however, silk had already made its way to Egypt some time before, since Chinese silk strands have been found in Egyptian mummies dating to 1000 years before then. There are several legends telling how the silk cocoons may have been first smuggled out of China to make the luxurious silk fabric. One involves a Chinese princess who was leaving to marry a Khotanese king. She smuggled worms and cocoons out in her hair so that she could have silk made in her new land. The other story involves monks who hid the eggs in walking sticks as they traveled to Byzantium.

"The history of the Silk Road is neither a poetic nor a picturesque tale; it is nothing more than scattered islands of peace in an ocean of wars." (Luce Boulnois, Silk Road: Monks, Warriors,& Merchants on The Silk Road.

The Silk Road caravans made it possible for amazing goods to travel long distances, impacting cultures along the way. Probably the biggest impact has to do with religion and ideas, in one sense being one of the world's first "information superhighways." (p.55 Lonely Planet's Central Asia,.) This is why it is common to see numerous types of business establishments using the name "Silk Road" in their business name.

It is possible to see remnants of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other lesser known religions all over the Middle East and Central Asia, in places now almost completely known as Muslim areas.

Traffic that went to China on the Silk Road from the Middle East often carried with it special Mediterranean colored glass, fresh fruits and vegetables like cucumbers, walnuts, pomegranates, peaches, grapes, numerous spices, and much more. One of the most important cultural results of the Silk Road were the caravanserais - places to house and care for camels along the way.

Nowadays, it is common for travelers in the Middle East and Central Asia to take lodging in a "caravanserai", much like a bed and breakfast in Europe or North America. CaravanSerais can be of varying qualities and cleanliness, much like it was back in the days of the Silk Road!
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