The designation “Silk Road” was coined by the German geographer Ferdinand voice von Richthofen, in the nineteenth century, a translation of the German Seidenstraße. It corresponded to a set of interconnected trade routes across Asia, the Orient and Europe, creating the largest commercial network in the ancient world.
For millennia, the Chinese had learned and mastered the manufacture of silk (white fiber from the cocoons of the silkworm silk) and silk was used as a unique product of its time. However, with increasing trade, rumors started arriving in Europe of that soft and shiny fabric that only the Chinese knew how to fabricate. The manufacturing techniques of silk were one of the best kept secrets of the Chinese empire. The bright and soft tissue began appearing in Europe and quickly became an object of luxury, coveted by the wealthiest. The European bourgeoisie was willing to pay exorbitant sums for this relic. Thus began a mythical caravan route that ran across Asia, and supplied the European bourgeois with his new “desire.” This route seems to be earlier than 200 BC.
The Silk Road kept circulating products (especially silk but also many others), people, money and ideas, many of them responsible for the development and flowering of the great civilizations such as Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Persia, India and even Rome. Two seemingly distant worlds, East and West, learned from each other about culture, business and religion. Between 200 AD and the time of Byzantium, the route declined and returned only to flourish in the mid-sixth century. Apart from silk, products coming from the West (amber, coral, woolen fabrics, etc.) were essentially exchanged for spices, precious stones, ebony and pearls.
The traditional route linking Chang’an (now Xi-an), China, to Antioch (now Antakya in Turkey) in Asia Minor, as well as other locations, including Istanbul. In the city of Kashgar, in China, the route was divided into two main pathways: one through Karakoram, that led to Karashar and Turfan (via the north); other accompanying the basin of Tarim River (via the south). Both pathways joined subsequently and followed to Xi-an. The Silk Road in the west, subdivided into routes north and south. The northern route crossed the North Eastern Europe (including some cities in Bulgaria), the peninsula of Crimea (Ukraine), the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, coming to the Balkans (former Yugoslavia) and finally to Venice. The southern route ran through Turkmenistan, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. At this point, the route is divided into paths that lead to Antioch (in southern Anatolia, bathed by the Mediterranean) or to Egypt and North Africa.
When Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India in 1498, the Silk Road began to fade and when Marques de Pombal encouraged the culture of the silkworm silk, as well as the implementation of a manufacture of silk in Lisbon, the European market became satisfied from Portugal. It was the beginning of the end of an ancient route.
Throughout the ages many traveled the Silk Road, however, the majority did it partly by doing only some of its sections. However, a Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, in the thirteenth century, left Venice and traveled the Silk Road, returning to Europe many years later. It is this route that we will also try.