The Silk Road is one of the world’s most famous and evocative routes. Named after the trade which sprang up in response to the demand for Chinese silk, its origins can be traced back over 3,000 years.
For centuries, China held a monopoly on silk production, jealously guarding the secrets of sericulture. As a result, there was an insatiable demand for silk in the West, and Central Asian merchants were attracted by this lucrative trade, exchanging goods such as horses, furs, jade and ivory for silk. This in turn led to trading posts springing up along the route, which over time grew into wealthy and important cities, such as Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
At its full length, the Silk Road stretched from Xian in eastern China to Constantinople (now Istanbul), but its many branches stretched down to the Indian Subcontinent, South East Asia, across to the Middle East and there were sea routes to northern Africa. This was a truly global economy, with the exception of the Americas, although even they came into play in the 16th century when Spain conquered much of Central and South America, and brought tomatoes back to the West, another commodity which spread along the Silk Road. So imagine Italian cuisine without the Silk Road – no pasta, which came from China, or tomatoes, which came from the Americas...
Find out more about the history of the Silk Road with our infographic.
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