Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

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Ca'adai Ulus Mongol successor state that was based in western Turkistan and adjacent areas under the hereditary control of members of the house of Ca'adai. The area later became a base for the empire of Timur. See Chaghatay.

Camels The most famous camels of the silk road are the two-humped Bactrian camel. These camels which originated in Asia, are vital to desert travel. They are used in Mongolia for riding and as draught animals, and can carry up to 200 kg. Their milk is used to make curds and cheese. Camel wool is used for blankets and garments. The meat is not usually eaten. Wild camels in the Gobi Desert are dangerously decreasing in number. Given their importance, the horse and camel occupied a significant place in the literatures and representational art of many peoples along the Silk Road. The Bactrian camel was domesticated in the 3rd century BCE.

Canal Two of the largest and most important of the world’s canals are 1) the Suez Canal in Egypt, between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and 2) the Panama Canal in Panama, between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Both canals divide continents and enable vessels transporting goods to reduce travel by thousands of miles. After the discovery of new sea routes in the 15th century began to usurp the importance of Silk Road transportation routes, the emergence of canals, railroads, and highways further contributed to the means of rapid transport and communication after the 1800's.

Canal of China The longest canal built was the Grand Canal of China, which is still the longest canal in the world today. It is 1,794 kilometers (1,115 mi) long and was built to carry the Emperor Yang Guang between Beijing and Hangzhou. The project began in 605 and was completed in 609, although much of the work combined older canals. The oldest existing section of the canal is dated to be from c. 486 BC.  In ancient China, large canals for river transport were established as far back as the Warring States (481-221 BC), the longest one of that period being the Hong Gou (Canal of the Wild Geese), which according to the ancient historian Sima Qian connected the old states of Song, Zhang, Chen, Cai, Cao, and Wei. More...

Caravans Most trade was conducted with the help of pack animals, often consisting of camels in the form of caravans. A "caravansary " (caravanserai) served as an inn were merchants and caravans could stay. These places of rest usually provided baths and storerooms for the goods of Silk Road traders.

Central Turkey has one of the largest and best-preserved caravansaries along the former Silk Road, called the Sultan Han. Its enormous courtyard building gave shelter and food to traveling merchants. It is located near the Aksaray-Konya Highway and is the largest Seljuk caravanserai in Turkey, enclosing 4,900 square meters.

Caravanserai (or khan, also caravansary - Persian: كاروانسرا , Turkish: kervansaray) A caravanserai is a roadside inn where caravans rested (often a courtyard inn) along the Silk Road. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information, and people across the network of trade routes from Asia and North Africa, to South-Eastern Europe. Caravanserais were found frequently along the Persian Empire's Royal Road, a 2,500 km long ancient highway that stretched from Sardis to Susa according to Herodotus (the ancient Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC, c. 484 BC–425 BC).

Most typically a caravanserai was a building with a square or rectangular walled exterior, with a single portal wide enough to permit large animals, such as camels to enter. The courtyard was almost always open to the sky, and the inside walls of the enclosure contained stalls, bays, niches, or chambers to accommodate merchants, their servants, animals, and merchandise. Caravanserais provided water for human and animal consumption, washing, and ritual ablutions. Sometimes they contained elaborate baths. They also kept fodder for animals and had shops for travelers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, shops where merchants could dispose of their goods could be found.

The Aksaray Sultan Han Caravanserai, built in 1229, is an example of Seljuk architecture in Turkey.
The region of Aksaray was an important stopover along the Silk Road that crossed through Turkey for centuries.

As part of a series of caravansarais in Anatolia, the Sultan Han was built in 1236, located between Kayseri and Sivas in Turkey.

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine
(or Friar John of Plano Carpini, or Pian del Carpine, or Joannes de Plano, c. 1180 - 1252). In addition to Marco Polo, other lesser-known European explorers had travelled to China before Marco Polo, such as Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine. This traveler was one of the first Europeans to enter the court of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. He is the author of the earliest and invaluable Western account of northern and central Asia, Rus, and other regions of the Tatar dominion. He was the Serbian Primate and Archbishop of Antivari from 1247 to 1252. "Benedict the Pole," a Polish Franciscan friar and explorer, accompanied Carpine.

The group of Franciscan monks sent as envoys of Pope Innocent IV to the Mongol Khan, traveled through the dominions of Khan Batu (ruler of the "Golden Horde") to the vicinity of Karakorum, where they witnessed the proclamation of Güyüg as the new Great Khan. The Friar's account of his journey (titled "History of the Mongols"/Historia Mongalorum) is one of the first direct authentic descriptions of Asia, and one of the most detailed accounts of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. The writings are widely known in Europe through excerpts in an encyclopedia compiled by Vincent of Beauvais, the Speculum Historiale. (See Benedict the Pole) More...

Carthage (Tunisia) existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, becoming a large and rich city, and thus a major power in the Mediterranean. Its central location in the Mediterranean enabled it to control of the waters between Sicily (Italy) and Tunisia. Carthaginian commerce covered vast sea and land routes throughout the Mediterranean, far into the Atlantic, and by land across the Sahara desert. Carthage's massive merchant fleet, which surpassed even those of the cities of the Levant, visited every major port of the Mediterranean, Britain, the coast of Africa, and the Canary Islands. Merchants at first favored the ports of the east: Egypt, the Levant, Greece, Cyprus, and Asia Minor (Turkey). However, after Carthage's control of Sicily brought it into conflict with Greek colonists, it established commercial relations in the western Mediterranean, including trade with the Etruscans. Carthage traded in almost every commodity wanted by the ancient world, including spices from Arabia, Africa and India. Carthage also sent caravans into the interior of Africa and Persia, while its ships traversed the maritime trade routes.

According to Roman sources, Phoenician colonists from modern-day Lebanon founded Carthage in 814 BC (led by Queen Elissa, "Alissar," an exiled princess of the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre). Carthage was an international metropolis, and relied heavily on foreign mercenaries, especially in overseas warfare. The core of its army was from its own territory in north Africa (such as ethnic Libyans and Numidians). These troops were supported by mercenaries from different ethnic groups and geographic locations across the Mediterranean who fought in their own national units; Celtic, Balearic, and Iberian troops were especially common. The navy of Carthage was one of the largest in the Mediterranean. The sailors and marines of the Carthaginian navy were predominantly recruited from the Punic citizenry, unlike the multi-ethnic allied and mercenary troops of the Carthaginian armies. (See Saharan Trade) More...

Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. The earliest known map is a matter of some debate, both because the definition of "map" is not agreed upon, and because some artifacts that appear to be maps, might actually not be. A wall painting, which may depict the ancient Anatolian city of Çatalhöyük (previously known as Catal Huyuk or Çatal Hüyük in modern-day Turkey), has been dated to the late 7th millennium BCE. More...

Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth, commonly referred to as the world's largest lake, or largest inland sea. It has no outflows, and is bounded by northern Iran, southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and eastern Azerbaijan. The Silk Road crossed south of the Caspian Sea through the Caucasus into Anatolia (however, northern routes also were sometimes used by Silk Road traders). The main route of the Silk Road which was south of the Caspian connected with trading ships in the Mediterranean, whose routes stretched to Italy, along with land routes that went either north through Anatolia or south to North Africa. More...

During the Middle Ages, the Volga trade route connected Northern Europe and Northwestern Russia with the Caspian Sea, via the Volga River and was used to trade with regions on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, sometimes penetrating as far as Baghdad. More...

Cathay A medieval name for China, derived from Kitai (from Kitan, the name of an Altaic tribal and linguistic grouping). The word came to indicate China in both Russia and Persia, and spread on to Europe in a Latinized form as Cathay. The Kitan people, who were related to the Mongols, had established an empire in northern China during the 10th-12th centuries. A handbook on perfume, written in 10th century Egypt, demonstrates contact and trade between the Kitan Empire and Egypt. The search for fabulous Cathay was a principal incentive for the great discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

"Caves of a Thousand Buddhas" (also known as the Dunhuang Caves, and Mogao Caves/Grottoes). The 'Caves of the Thousand Buddhas', or Qianfodong, are situated at Mogao, about 25 kilometres south-east of the oasis town of Dunhuang in Gansu province, western China, in the middle of the desert. By the late fourth century, the area had become a busy desert crossroads on the caravan routes of the Silk Road linking China and the West. Traders, pilgrims and other travellers stopped at the oasis town to stock up with provisions, pray for the journey ahead or give thanks for their survival. At about this time wandering monks carved the first caves into the long cliff stretching almost 2 kilometres in length along the Daquan River. Over the next millennium more than 1000 caves of varying sizes were dug. Around five hundred of these were decorated as cave temples. When the Silk Road was abandoned under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), oasis towns lost their importance and many were deserted. Although the Mogao caves were not completely abandoned, by the nineteenth century they were largely forgotten, with only a few monks staying at the site. Unknown to them, at some point in the early eleventh century, an incredible archive - with up to 50,000 documents, hundreds of paintings, together with textiles and other artefacts - was sealed up in one of the caves (Cave 17). Its entrance concealed behind a wall painting, the cave remained hidden from sight for centuries, until 1900, when it was discovered by Wang Yuanlu, a Daoist monk who had appointed himself abbot and guardian of the caves. Dunhuang BM Tour

Travelling Monk

Evliya Çelebi 
(اوليا چلبى) Born in 1611, Evliya Celebi was a Turkish traveler who journeyed through the territory of the Ottoman Empire and neighboring lands over a period of forty years. He began his travels in Istanbul, taking notes on buildings, markets, customs and culture; in 1640, he started his first journey outside the city. His collection of notes from all of his travels formed a ten-volume work called the Seyahatname (Book of Travels). His writings are widely accepted as a useful guide to the cultural aspects and lifestyle of 17th-century Ottoman Empire. This Ottoman traveler is noted for having made commentaries on the languages spoken in each region. There are some thirty Turkic dialects and languages cataloged in the Travelogue. In the ten volumes of his Seyahatname he describes the following areas and journeys: Anatolia, Caucasus, Crete, Azerbaijan, Syria, Palestine, Kurdish regions, Armenia, Russia, Balkans, Hungary, Austria, Crimea, the Hajj to Mecca, Egypt and Sudan. He died sometime after 1682, it is unclear whether he was in Istanbul or Cairo at the time. UNESCO has added the 400th anniversary of Celebi's birth to its list of commemoration events for the year 2011. Celebi has also been recognized as a major historical figure who has played a significant role in bridging different cultures and civilizations.

Cengiz Han (See Genghis Khan)

Central Asia Cultures, conquerors, innovations and ideas have traversed the region of Central Asia for millennia. Central Asia's role as the conduit between cultures is symbolized by the "Silk Road," in particular the section of the Silk Routes which linked Central Asia to China, through which the civilizations of the East and West interacted. Central Asia is the heart of the largest landmass on earth  Eurasia. More...

Central Route (Silk Road) ran west along the southern foot of Tianshan Mountains, passing Loulan (now Ruoqiang), Turpan , Korla, Kuche (Kuqa), Aksu and Kashgar, then afterwards crossed over the freezing Pamirs to Mashhad via the Fergana Basin, Samarkand, Bukhara, and finally joined the Southern Route.

Chaghatay Turkic literary language of western Turkistan that emerged under the Timurid Empire and his successors.

Chang'an (modern-day Xi'an, see also Shaan)) The starting point of the famed Silk Road. Xi'an is the capital city of Shaanxi Province and has been the capital city of China for many dynasties spread intermittently over a 1,100 year period. The city has over 3,000 years recorded history, with thousands of artifacts brought to light from 4,000 ancient ruins and tombs.

Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture Situated in the center of Xinjiang in China, Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture is bounded on the east by Urumqi and Hami and Turpan to the south, while Mongolia lies to the northeast of the prefecture. The prefecture lies at the foot of the Tianshan Mountains on the southeastern edge of the immense desert in the Junggar Basin. The terrain in which Changji is situated inclines to the south and is part of the hinterland of Asia. The administrative division is made up of four counties (Hutubi, Manas, Qitai, Jimsar); one autonomous county (Mori Kazak Autonomous County); and two county-level cities (Changji, Fukang).

Ban Chao
In 73AD, the Han government sent a diplomatic mission of 36 people led by Ban Chao to Xiyu. His assistant Gan Ying arrived at Daqin (ancient Rome), on the Persian Gulf. Ban Chao (or Pan Chao), was known as the Chinese general who restored the Tarim basin under Han government's power, and maintaining entire control of the area as west as Kashgar. He sent out emissaries to the area west and beyond the Tarim basin, including the area of modern-day Iran and the Persian Gulf.

Gan Ying was the first Chinese envoy to Ta-Ts'in (the Roman Orient). Gan Ying, was a Chinese military ambassador who was sent  from Kashgaria in 97 AD on a mission to Rome by the Chinese general Ban Chao. In order to establish trade relations with Rome directly, Gan Ying was dispatched by Ban Chao to Da Qin (the old name of the Roman Empire), which was the farthest westbound travel and exploration. He set out on his journey from Qiuci (now Kuche or Kuqa). He finally reached the Persian Gulf by way of Tiaozhi (Iraq) and the Anxi Empire (Parthia). At that time, Anxi was a key transit station on the Silk Road. The merchants of Anxi monopolized the trade between China and Rome; and made a big profit selling Chinese silk to Romans. Therefore, the Anxi merchants exaggerated the hardships of crossing the sea and persuaded Gan Ying to give up his travel. As a result, Gan Ying followed their advice and returned to China. Although Gan Ying failed to finish his mission, he brought back more detailed and reliable information about Central Asia. In historical records, he is the Chinese who went the furthest west during antiquity and gathered information about regions to the west of China.

Hwi Chao
(713-741)  Korean monk who was raised in China. He traveled to India via a sea route, where he lived there for several years and visited various Buddhist kingdoms in India, Persia and Afghanistan. On his returning journey, he traveled to Kashmir, Kabul, passed the Pamirs and entered Xinjiang from Tashkurgan, then skirted around the Taklamakan desert from the northern towns, Kucha, Turfan and Hami. His account The Record to Five Indian Kingdoms provided valuable information on the Islamic and Buddhist distribution among the Central Asian kingdoms during the 8th century. The book had been lost since the Tang Dynasty until an incomplete copy was discovered by the French explorer, Paul Pelliot, at Dunhuang cave, in 1908.

John Chardin 
(c.1664-1677) A French Hugenot jeweler, Chardin spent significant time in the Caucasus and Persia and traveled to India. His is one of the major European accounts of Safavid Persia, whose value is enhanced by his good knowledge of Persian. Persecution of Protestants in France forced him to flee to England, where he was recognized as an expert on the Middle East.

Checkpoints As the monk Xuanzang and many other monk travelers attested to, there were many Chinese government checkpoints along the Silk Road that examined travel permits into the Tang Empire. Furthermore, banditry was a problem along the checkpoints and oasis towns, as Xuanzang also recorded that his group of travelers were assaulted by bandits on multiple occasions. Security and stability was provided along the Silk Routes in the middle of the 13th century when the family of Genghis Khan controlled Asia from the coast of China to the Black Sea. This period in which the Mongols were in charge of safe routes is known as Pax Mongolica.

Ch’en Cheng
A major mission which set out for Central Asia in 1413, was led by Ch’en Cheng, a Chinese civil servant with wide experience of foreigners. Two documents of Cheng’s relating to his journey survive. Central Asian envoys accompanied this mission back to China, bringing with them gifts, and a white horse for the Chinese emperor.

Cherchen Cherchen is a river oasis town along the southeastern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. It is the largest town east of Khotan in southern Xinjiang. This area has an ancient human history, based on the 3,500-year-old graves and mummies that have been found. Marco Polo visited the city in 1273.  More...

Chang Chien/
Ch'ien (or Zhang Qian) (d. 114 BCE) The Han Dynasty in China is credited with opening the Silk Road largely through the missions and explorations of General Zhang Qian (Chang Ch'ien), who can be considered the “Father of the Silk Road.” But credit must also be given to Emperor Wudi (Wu Di) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD 220), for it can be said that his outward vision was responsible for the birth of the Silk Road. In 138 BCE, the Emperor sent the imperial emissary Qian out as a scout. He traveled for years, gathering intelligence and trying to forge alliances for the Emperor. Qian went as far as the Pamir Mountains (in present-day Tajikistan), and upon his return provided reports about the peoples, and the magnificent Central Asian horses, he had seen on his journey. Other travelers followed in his footsteps and the Silk Routes began to thrive. Simi Quin is responsible for the "Record of the Grand Historian" which describes early Chinese history with an emphasis on Zhang Qian and other explorers.

Wudi's desire for making peace with the Western regions, and the two missions of General Qian (the first between 138-125 AD; and the second 119-115 AD) are known to have led to the establishment of not only diplomatic contacts and economic relations, but also to cultural exchanges between East and West. After the reports given to Wudi by Gen. Qian, concerning products and kingdoms in the West (such as the previously unknown kingdoms of Ferghana, Smarkand, and Bokhara), Wudi sought to develop further contact. Some items from the West that were brought back to China included Ferghana horses and furs. Later, kingdoms in Central Asia also sent their own emissaries to Chang'an in China.

His mission from Emperor Wudi aimed to recruit the Yueh-chih people to form an alliance against the Xiongnu (or Hsiung-Nu, a nomadic empire of the Mongolian Steppe, along China's northern frontier). During Chien's first trip (138-125 BCE) he skirted the Taklamakan desert via the northern route, passed the Pamir, then reached Ferghana. He returned via the southern route. His second trip (119-115 BCE), a mission to seek alliance with Wu-sun people, took him to Dunhuang, Loulan, Kucha, then the capital of Wu-sun kingdom in the Ili river. His missions to the West led to the formalization of trade, especially the silk trade, between China and Persia. In addition to traveling himself, Chien sent his assistant to visit the Fergana Valley (Uzbekistan), Bactria (Afghanistan), and Sogdiana (Uzbekistan), who gathered information on Parthia, India, and other regions.

It should be noted that King Mu of Zhou (Mu Wang), the West Chou king, is the earliest reputed Silk Road traveler (the dates of his reign are c. 976-922). His travels provide insight on China’s relationship with Inner Asia before the famous 138 BCE journey of Zhang Qian. His travel account Mu tianzi zhuan, was written sometime in the 5th - 4th century BC, and is the first known travel book on the Silk Road. (See also Wudi, and Zhang Qian) More...

China & the Silk Road

More than half of the network of main trade routes of the "Silk Road," which enabled communication, trade and travel between the vast distances stretching from China to Turkey, are located in the modern-day People's Republic of China. The Chinese section of the Silk Road includes: 1) Land routes in Henan Province, Shaanxi Province, Gansu Province, Qinghai Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as well as 2) Sea Routes in Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province and Quanzhou City, Fujian Provinc (from Western-Han Dynasty to Qing Dynasty). See list

Land Route of the Silk

Henan Province
Gongyi Stone Cave Temple - Luoyang City
Luoyang city of Han and Wei Dynasties - Luoyang City
Luoyang City of the Sui and Tang Dynasties - Luoyang City
White Horse Temple - Luoyang City
Han'gu Pass and Xiaohan Ancient Path in Han Dynasty

Shaanxi Province
Site of the Chang'an City of Han Dynasty - Xi'an City
Mao Imperial Mausoleum of Han Dynasty and Tomb of Huo Qubing - Xingping City
Tomb of Zhang Qian - Hanzhong City
The Dagoba of Kumarajiva - Xi'an City
Site of the Chang'an City of Tang Dynasty - Xi'an City
Xingjiao Temple Pagoda (Xuan Zang's Dagoba) - Xi'an City
The Underground Chamber of Famen Temple - Baoji City
Daqin Monastery Pagoda - Xi'an City
Zhao Imperial Mausoleum - Xianyang City
Qian Imperial Mausoleum - Xianyang City
Great Buddha Temple Grottoes in Bin County - Xianyang City
Xi'an Mosque - Xi'an City

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Historic City of Guyuan - Guyuan City
Cemetery of Northern Dynasties and Sui and Tang Dynasty in Guyuan - Guyuan City
Site of Kaicheng - Guyuan City
Mount Xumi Grottoes - Guyuan City

Gansu Province
Maijishan Grottoes- Immortal Cliff Grottoes - Tianshui City
Shuiliandong (Water Curtain Cave) Grottoes- Lashao Temple - Tianshui City
Bingling Temple Grottoes- Xia Temple - Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture
Site of Yunen Gate and Hecang City - Dunhuang City
Suoyang City Site and Tomb Complex - Jiuquan City
Camel City Site and Tomb Complex - Zhangye City
Guoyuan- Xincheng Tomb Complex - Jiayuguan City
Great Buddha Temple - Zhangye City
Mati Temple Grottoes- Jiata Temple and Qianfo (thousand Buddhas) Cave - Zhangye City
Yulin Grottoes - Jiuquan City
Xuanquanzhi Site - Dunhuang City

Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
Ancient City of Jiao River - Turpan City
Ancient City of Gaochang and Astana Cemetery - Turpan City
Taizang Tower - Turpan City
Buddha Subash Temple Site - Aksu Area
Ancient City of Loulan - Ba YinGuoLeng Mongolia Autonomous Prefecture
Niya Site - Hetian Area
Kizil Grottoes - Aksu Area
Kumtula Grottoes - Aksu Area
Simsem Grottoes - Aksu Area
Bezeklik Grottoes - Turpan City
Toyuk Grottoes - Turpan City
Mehmud Qeshqeri Tomb - Kashgar City

Sea Route of the Silk Road
Ningbo City
Quanzhou City

The Silk Road is the ancient trade route that starts in the old capital of Chang'an, the present-day Xi'an city and the center of politics, economy, and culture in a long period of ancient China. It refers to the overland commercial route connecting Asia, Africa and Europe, which goes over the Longshan Mountain, follows Hexi Corridor, passes Yumenguan Pass and Yangguan Pass, reaches Xinjiang, stretches along the oasis and the Pamir Plateau, enters the Central Asia, crosses Central Asia, Western Asia and Southern Asia, and then leads to Africa and Europe. It also served as an important trunk road where the economic, political and cultural exchanges between the Orient and the West were taking place. In its very first beginning the function of the trade route is to transport silk, the fine, delicate, elegant and portable goods, representing the civilization of ancient China which enjoyed advanced agriculture and well-developed handicraft industry. Therefore, when the name of "Silk Road" was first given by the German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen in the 1870s, it was widely accepted.

A large number of information in archeology and palaeoanthropology showed that the Silk Road had functioned as the main road for migration and communication before the Western Han dynasty (206 BC - 25 AD). But the well-documented and conscious communications and exchanges between the different civilizations of the East and the West started in the Western Han dynasty of ancient China. In the second year of Jianyuan (139 BC) and subsequently in the second year of Yuanshou (119 BC) of the Western Han dynasty, Liu Che, Emperor Han Wudi, dispatched Zhang Qian as his special envoy to the Western Regions (the areas west of Yumenguan Pass, including present Xinjiang and parts of Central Asia) so that the relations between the people of China's Central Plains and the peoples and states of Western Regions became closer. Such an unprecedentedly great undertaking contributed to the establishment and development of the Silk Road. As a result, the growth of merchandise trade and traveling changed the daily life of the peoples along the road greatly.

In Wei-Jin period (220 - 420), the Central Plains were plunged in war turmoil and thus the direct tour from the Western Regions to Chang'an was on the hazard. But the communications between the political powers of Europe, Africa, Southern Asia and Western Asia and those along the Hexi Corridor that took the responsibilities preserving the essence of Chinese traditional civilization remained unaffected. In fact, it was through the trade with the west that the political powers maintained their continuities. During this period, the Buddhism was introduced along the Silk Road on a large scale. In the areas of Xinjiang and Gansu it was, consciously or unconsciously, altered to suit the local societies in the process of popularization. In the period of the Northern Dynasties (386 - 581), with the strengthening of the unification tendency appearing in both the east and west ends of the Silk Road, and as the powerful empires emerged one after another, the traffic facilities, safety conditions and social order along the Silk Road had been improving continually. Thanks to these, the Silk Road reached its height of power and splendor.

After the Rebellion of An Shi (755-763), the regime of the later Tang dynasty gradually shank into the hinterland and Tubo (ancient name for Tibet) took up the middle section of the Silk Road. The communication between China and Central Asia, Western Asia and the rising Arab Empire, turned to increasingly growing sea route or made a detour through even more northern grassland. At that time the Silk Road entered the period of adjustment, but the friendly exchanges and the national amalgamation tended to be enhanced further. The emergence of Mongol Empire changed the relationship between Asia and Europe in the international arena greatly and objectively speaking, the passage between the East and the West was got through, which made the communications between different peoples more convenient for more options were offered. In this way the Silk Road was no more the only road to transport goods, so its strategic status was less significant.

After the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), the society and culture of China came into a stage of long-time adjustment and inward reflection while the world stepped into the process of modernization. During this process, the traditionally classical states gradually went into decline or desegregation. At the same time, the sea trade developed further and weighed more than the overland trade from both importance and scale. However, even in this period, the use of promoting cultural exchange of the Silk Road had not lost completely. A good example is Islam spreading to the east, which marked the most significant event during this period. Eventually ten Moslem peoples came into being in Xinjiang, Gansu and Shaanxi, ie, the eastern section of the Silk Road. After 1840, China was forced into joining the unfair international order set up by the Western European powers. And the peoples and states along the Silk Road suffered a series of invasions by capitalism powers to different extents. From then on, the Silk Road finished its historical mission finally.

The Silk Road had been playing the role of a bridge linking the economies and cultures between the ancient East and West as well as connecting the friendship of China and Eurasia. In the process of its formation and development, the major religions and cultures in the ancient world made plenty of communications, exchanges and amalgamations, which boosted the human being to create splendid and influential civilization and left behind valuable cultural legacy. Serving as a passage to connect the Eurasia together to exchange cultures, the Silk Road meets well the definition and requirements of the World Heritage Centre (WHC), reading "A cultural route is a land, water, mixed or other type of route, which is physically determined and characterized by having its own specific and historic dynamics and functionality; showing interactive movements of people as well as multi-dimensional, continuous and reciprocal  exchanges of goods, ideas, knowledge and values within or between countries and regions over significant periods of time; and thereby generating a cross-fertilization of the cultures in space and time, which is reflected both in its tangible and intangible heritage."

Since the Chinese section of the Silk Road associates with the vast areas of the following six provinces such as Shaanxi, Henan, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang, this section is located in the converging area where the civilizations of agriculture, grassland farming and the oasis meet and the cultures of the East and West intersect. Therefore, as a kind of precious cultural heritage, the Chinese section was characterized by the inseparability between the section and the whole road as well as the unique regional and folk flavors that were deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture.

Thereby, as the single world heritage, the Chinese section of the Silk Road also has the following characters:

1. Determined by its geographical location and natural environment, the Chinese section of the Silk Road becomes the key and the only section for presenting and preserving the historical process of the cultural exchanges and amalgamations between the ancient East and West in all aspects. The integrity of this section is a unique trait that other sections do not have.

2. The cultural connotation of the Chinese section of the Silk Road shows strong transition features. From the west to the east of it, how the other civilizations met, interacted and merged with the traditional Chinese cultural and how they became an integral part of the great Chinese civilization were clearly displayed.

3. The Chinese section of the Silk Road presents strong multinational characteristic and multicultural style. In history the ancestors living in this region created brilliant civilization in merging together the cultures of the nationalities of Han, Tibetan, Uighur and Qiang as well as the Western Regions.

4. The Chinese section of the Silk Road shows the historical truth and keeps the records of the dual functions of outputting and learning that the ancient China took during the course of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road. In this course, the great vigor and potentials of Chinese civilizations fully reveal itself by absorbing other cultures, adopting excellent things from them and adapting them to suit the Chinese situations.

To further read about the most representative parts in the cultural heritage of the Chinese section of the Silk Road and justification of outstanding universal value click here

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Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) By the middle of the 13th century, under the leadership of Genghis Khan (ca. 1162-1227), the Mongols controlled Asia from the coast of China to the Black Sea and west to the Mediterranean (the large sea located between Europe, northern Africa and southwestern Asia). After Genghis Khan's death, the Mongol Empire (1206-1368) was led by Kublai Khan who completed the conquest of China and established the Yuan Dynasty between 1271-1368. The unified Mongol Empire enabled the Silk Road to remain an important means of trade and communication. It was during this period European travelers arrived in China, and as a result of Kublai Khan's tolerance of religious diversity, a wide range of people settled in China and along major cities of the Silk Road. (See Genghis Khan)

Chola Dynasty also referred to as the South Indian Chola Kingdom, build a navy and conquered the islands of Sri Lanka, Java, and Sumatra, politically connecting India and Southeast Asia. The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia. Towards the end of the 9th century, southern India had developed extensive maritime and commercial activity. The Cholas, being in possession of parts of both the west and the east coasts of peninsular India, were at the forefront of these ventures. The Tang dynasty of China, the Srivijaya empire in the Malayan archipelago under the Sailendras, and the Abbasid Kalifat at Baghdad were the main trading partners. Chinese Song Dynasty reports record that an embassy from Chulian (Chola) reached the Chinese court in the year 1077. This embassy was a trading venture and was highly profitable, for they returned with "81,800 strings of copper coins in exchange for articles of tributes, including glass articles, and spices."

Christianity Like other great religions, Christianity thrived and was spread for hundreds of centuries along the Silk Road. Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New TestamentAdherents of Christianity are called Christians. After the rise of Manicheism (which originated in the 3rd century in Sassanid Persia, Iran) Christianity penetrated from the Near East to Central Asia, and further to China. The first eastward wave is connected with the activity of Nestorians. In the 13th century the Silk Road was the route for the new wave of Christian doctrine dissemination connected with the activity of Catholic missions. More...

Yeh-lü Ch'u-ts'ai
Great Kitan statesman and poet who became advisor to Genghis Khan and his successors. Traveled with Genghis Khan and his army to Central Asia in 1219. Journeyed to Altai, Ili valley, Talas, Samarkand, Buhara. His impression on the prosperous Bukhara can be read on some of his poems. Returned via Tienshan, Urumqi, Turfan, and Hami. His travel book Xi Yue Lu (The Travel Record to the West) is only available in Chinese.

Yilu Chuaci
From 1222 to 1223, Yilu Chucai, a famous poet in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), and the Taoist patriarch Qiu Chuji, toured the Silk Road and vividly described the local customs and folk culture in Xinjiang and Central Asia.

Qiu Chuji
  The Taoist patriarch Qiu Chuji toured the Silk Road, from 1222 to 1223, and described the local customs and folk culture in Xinjiang and Central Asia. (See Chang Chun)

Chang Chun
(Qiu Chuji) An eminent Taoist monk born in 1148 CE, Ch'ang Ch'un was invited by Genghis Khan in 1219 to travel to his court. The route went through the Altai and Tienshan mountains, the southern parts of today's Kazakhstan, through Kyrgyzstan, to Samarkand and then down into NE Iran and Afghanistan. He was accompanied by Li Chi Ch'ang, who wrote the Hsi Yu Chi, a detailed diary of the journey; which was published with an introduction by Sun si in 1228 and included in the Tao tsang tsi yao. Baltic German sinologist Emil Bretschneider views this account as occupying "a higher place than many reports of our European mediaeval travelers."

Circumnavigators are individuals who have travelled all the way around an island, a continent, or the entire planet Earth. the Portuguese born explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, is widely known as the first captain to sail around the world -- though he didn't complete the circumnavigation as he died during the voyage in the Philippines. The expedition of Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano (1519-1522), at the behest of the Spanish Crown, was the first documented world circumnavigation. Magellan was however killed in a battle in the Philippine island of Cebu in 1521. His second in command, the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano, completed the journey back through the Indian Ocean and round the Cape of Good Hope to Spain in 1522. Circumnavigators of the globe are people who have led voyages of exploration around the world which returned to the longitude of their starting point.

China, along with coastal cities linked to the Silk, Spice, and Incense Routes, and regions in the East such as Arabia, had a long history of navigation. After the Song Dynasty, voyages crossing the Indian Ocean to the eastern coast of Africa were made possible. During the Ming Dynasty, greater achievements in navigation were made by the Chinese Muslim navigator Zheng He, who completed seven voyages to the west and visited over 30 countries and regions along the western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Because the compass was introduced to Arab countries before its use spread to Europe, Muslim seafarers traveled along the coasts from East to West Asia. Once European navigators began to develop the use of the compass at sea and related technologies, exploration led to the discovery of new routes by circumnavigators, and to the exploration of the Western Hemisphere. After the discovery of new sea routes in the 15th century began to usurp the importance of Silk Road transportation routes, the period after the 19th century saw the emergence of canals (i.e. Suez Canal and Panama Canal), railroads and highways, which enabled goods to be transported more rapidly, safely, and with distances reduced by thousands of miles. Map More...

Citadel (a fortress for protecting a town, sometimes incorporating a castle) Central Asian architecture has its roots in the Parthian, Kushan and Greco-Bactrian desert citadels, whose structure was defined by the demands of trade, security and water. Iranian, Greek and Indian-Mughal art have also combined in 2000-year-old sites. Islamic art and architecture can be found throughout the Central Asian routes of the Silk Road, evidenced in mosques, madrahsas, mausoleums, minarets, tilework and patterned brickwork decoration. In addition, impressive secular architecture includes palaces, forts, caravansarais, hamams, shopping arcades, covered bazaars, city walls, and reservoirs. Architectural highlights include14th-15th century Timurid architecture, the Taj Mahal, the old towns of Bukhara, Merv, Konye-Urgench, Khiva, Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, and many UNESCO World Heritage sites.  More...

Civilization (See Cradle of Civilizations)

Ruy González de Clavij
and Alfonso Paez Ambassadors of Spanish King Henry III of Castile and Leon to Timur (Tamerlane). A third envoy, Gómez de Salazar, died en route. As ambassadors to the Timurid court, from that of Henry III of Castille, Spain, they traveled through the Mediterranean to Istanbul, into the Black Sea to Trebizond and then overland via Tabriz to Balkh, Kesh (Shahr-i Sabs) and Samarkand. On the return journey, they passed through Bukhara. Clavijo's account, written soon after his return in 1406, is a very important source for travel on the western part of the Silk Road. Clavijo left a detailed account of his mission, including a description of the reception of the Chinese diplomatic mission at Timur’s court. His description of Tamerlane's Samarkand is one of the fullest available and includes substantial detail on economic life, trade with India and China, and Timurid architecture. (The motive for the journey appears to have arisen after Timur returned to Spain of a number of Christian women liberated from Bayazit’s harem -- and hence, Henry III's response by seizing the opportunity to thank Timur and to cement good relations).

Cochin (now called Kochi) was a trading hub on the Kerala coast of south India since ancient times. It is believed that Jewish traders in the last centuries BCE settled in Kochi. Jews have a long history on the subcontinent, having settled in Mumbai, and other cities where distinct Jewish communities have been established. India's most prominent Jewish community—considered one of the oldest in the world east of Iran—remains the one in Kochi (although very few members of the community remain, most having long since emigrated to Israel). The Kochin Jews were an important part of the Kerala coast's spice trade, with huge warehouses containing mountains of turmeric, chilies, and pepper located directly below their family living quarters.

Colonial Era (Colonialism) is the building and maintaining of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. Colonialism, or the Colonial Era, normally refers to a period of history from the late 15th to the 20th century when European nations established colonies on other continents. Colonialism has been associated with profit and exploitation, expansion of power, as well as the spreading of the colonists' way of life, religion, political beliefs, culture, technology, etc. Imperialism is often used to refer to colonialism. More...

Historians have noted that Christopher Columbus was so inspired by the journeys of the Venetian traveler Marco Polo's description of the Far East, that he desired to visit those lands for himself. It can be said that the Silk Road indirectly inspired Columbus's voyages to the "New World," as there is evidence Columbus made handwritten annotations on a Latin edition of Marco Polo's book.

Handwritten notes by Christopher Columbus on a Latin edition of Polo's book.

Commerce The Silk Road entails part of the history of commerce, which can be defined as a division of trade or production which deals with the exchange of goods and services from producer to final consumer  Today, commerce includes a complex system of companies, profits, products, services, and markets  in what is called a "globalizing" world. Many institutions and debates focus upon the restructuring of the system of international trade and the development of the world economy.

Command Posts After a long section of great walls was built to protect the northern frontier, in 117 BC, military posts, like that of Dunhuang, were established by the Chinese. Two years later, the number of these command posts was doubled. Control of the Hexi Corridor and the oases route (the central segment of the Silk Route that connected China with the Mediterranean world) was the motivating factor in the incessant conflicts between the Chinese sovereigns and the nomads.

Compass A compass is a navigational instrument for determining direction relative to the earth's magnetic poles. The compass was invented in ancient China around 247 B.C., and was used for navigation by the 11th century.  More...

Confucius (c. 551 BC – 479 BC) was a Chinese thinker and philosopher from whose teachings Confucianism developed. Confucius was born in 551 BC in the Lu State (south of modern-day Shandong Province) in the later days of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (Chinese: 孔子 , 551–478 BC). It is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious thought that has had tremendous influence on the culture and history of East Asia. In Confucianism, human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor, especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. A main idea of Confucianism is the cultivation of virtue and the development of moral perfection. Some of the most important principals of Confucianism were established centuries before Confucius was born. More...

Dacheng Hall, the main hall of the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius

Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was the imperial capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city. The name of the city was officially made Istanbul after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The city lies on two continents: Asia and Europe. After crossing Asia from China to Europe, it was in Anatolia and Istanbul where the Silk Routes ended. Because Istanbul is located by the Bosphorus Strait, maritime trade with Europe, the Mediterranean, Arabia, and North Africa was actively pursued. See Istanbul. More...

Ambrogio Contarini
Venetian ambassador to Persia, who traveled through Central Europe, Ukraine, the Crimea and the Caucasus. In Persia he spent time in Tabriz and Isfahan, and returned home via Muscovy and Poland. Apart from what he relates about conditions in the Caucasus and Persia under Uzun Hasan, his narrative is of considerable interest for its material on Moscow in the important reign of Grand Prince Ivan III.

Niccolò de' Conti
(1385–1469) was an Italian merchant and explorer of the Republic of Venice, born in Chioggia, who traveled to India and Southeast Asia, and possibly to Southern China, during the early 15th century. After the return of the Polos, there is no record of Italian traders returning from China until the return of Niccolò de' Conti by sea in 1439. Niccolò departed from Venice about 1419 and established himself in Damascus, Syria, where he studied Arabic. Over a period of 25 years, he traveled as a Muslim merchant to numerous places in Asia. His familiarity with the languages and cultures of the Islamic world allowed him to travel to many places, on board ships owned by Islamic merchants. Niccolò's travels followed the period of Timurid relations with Europe. They also occurred around the same time and in the same places as the Chinese expeditions of Admiral Zheng He. His accounts are contemporary, and fairly consistent with those of the Chinese writers who were on Zheng He's ships, such as Ma Huan (writing in 1433) and Fei Xin (writing in about 1436). More...

Cradle of Civilizations The concept 'cradle of civilization' is the subject of much debate. The cradle of civilization is any of the possible locations for the emergence of civilization. China is the oldest continuous major world civilization, with records dating back about 3,500 years. The term "Cradle of Civilization(s)" is usually applied to Ancient Near Eastern culture, especially in the Fertile Crescent (Levant and Mesopotamia), however the use of the term may also extended to regions in Greece, the Persian Plateau, and other Asian cultures situated along large river valleys, notably the Indus River in South Asia and the Yellow River in China. More...

Crescent Moon Spring is an oasis in the Gobi Desert which lies 6 km south of Dunhuang, and is located between the famous sand dunes that make up the "Echoing Sand Dune" of Mingsha shan.

Crusades The Crusades were a series of religiously sanctioned military campaigns waged by much of Roman Catholic Europe and the Holy Roman Empire in order to restore Christian control of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. The crusades were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1272, but other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued into the 15th century. The Crusades were fought mainly by Roman Catholic forces against Muslims who had occupied the near east (although campaigns were also waged against pagan Slavs, pagan Balts, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites, Waldensians, Old Prussians, and political enemies of the various popes). The Crusades had far-reaching political, economic, and social impacts, some of which have lasted into contemporary times. The need to raise, transport and supply large armies led to a flourishing of trade throughout Europe. Roads largely unused since the days of Rome saw significant increases in traffic as local merchants supplied goods. The Crusades intensified exchanges between civilizations. Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe were through the transmission of knowledge from the Islamic world to Europe as the Crusades were ongoing. More...

Crusade Dates of Crusade Crusades Timeline of Events
First Crusade 1095 - 1099 The People's Crusade - Freeing the Holy Lands. 1st Crusade led by Count Raymond IV of Toulouse and proclaimed by many wandering preachers, notably Peter the Hermit
Second Crusade 1147 -1149 Crusaders prepared to attack Damascus. 2nd crusade led by Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III and by King Louis VII of France
Third Crusade 1187 -1192 3rd Crusade led by Richard the Lion Heart of England, Philip II of France, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. Richard I made a truce with Saladin
Fourth Crusade 1202 -1204

Fulk of Neuilly promotes 4th Crusade, French/Flemish advanced on Constantinople

The Children's Crusade 1212 The Children's Crusade led by a French peasant boy, Stephen of Cloyes
Fifth Crusade 1217 - 1221 The 5th Crusade led by King Andrew II of Hungary, Duke Leopold VI of Austria, John of Brienne
Sixth Crusade 1228 - 1229 The 6th Crusade led by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II
Seventh Crusade 1248 - 1254 The 7th Crusade led by Louis IX of France
Eighth Crusade 1270 The 8th Crusade led by Louis IX
Ninth Crusade 1271 - 1272 The 9th Crusade led by Prince Edward (later Edward I of England)
Northern Crusade 13th - 16th
The Crusades in the Baltic Sea area were efforts by mostly German Christians, organized in the Teutonic Order, to subjugate and convert the peoples of these areas to Christianity. These Crusades ranged from the 13th century, contemporaneous with the Second Crusade, to the 16th century.


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