We arrived in Istanbul to celebrate a symbolic end to our Silk Road adventure. It has been an amazing journey where we have seen other cultures and experienced their food. We have met delightful people and been spoilt rotten by our numerous guides and drivers.
Our journey started on 31 August when we left Melbourne for Hong Kong. We picked up the “Silk Route” in Xi’an China, following it west in China then to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyrstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and ended in Turkey. We travelled by plane, train, boat and road (statistics will follow).
We learnt about ancient conquerers and their quest to keep the Silk Route open. We also learnt about Russia’s involvement in Central Asia since the mid-19th century, and the impact of the collapse of the USSR on these countries.
The “Silk Road” is not a road at all – in fact many routes were used, and in our travels we swapped from one route to another.
In Iran we travelled a highway that had ancient caravanserai (resting houses) beside it every 30 kilometers. This was a day’s journey for a camel train. The highway has been built on that route.
The term “Silk Road” is also modern, created by the 19th century German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen who
is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road(s)” or “Silk Route(s)” in 1877.
The journey has been made famous by Marco Polo, and there is much debate as to whether he brought noodles to Italy or spaghetti to China. He was not the first European to reach China,
but he was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience, recorded in Livres des merveilles du monde (Book of the Marvels of the World, also known as The Travels of Marco Polo, c. 1300)
A new project called the Black Sea Silk Route Corridor describes what the Silk Route really was.
The fabled Silk Road of lore was more than a trade route, it was a road of ideas, a throughway of culture. History’s first transcontinental “super highway” enabled commerce, science, arts, culture and ideas to course the empires and nation states that hugged its spine. Perhaps its greatest gift was not any of these, as important as they are. Still, it was a conduit of peace, for trade cannot travel across closed borders nor can it prosper in times of conflict. At its greatest, the Silk Road promoted tolerance and peaceful co-existence.