Traveling the modern Silk Road is an experience that can’t be missed. The Great Silk Road is a 2,000 year old FedEx system used to connect China and the Western World, receiving its name from the silk the traveled its paths from China to the West during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE). However, silk wasn’t the only item to traverse its paths. Traders from both the East and West moved a variety of goods: exotic animals, gold, ivory, gunpowder, spices, glass, paper, jade, and musical instruments to name a few. International interaction of this magnitude also cultivated a massive exchange of ideas, philosophies, cultures, and religions. It was globalization at its core, face-to-face.
The pulse of the Silk Road can still be felt, hidden within the heart of Asia, waiting to be rediscovered. Here are 5 cities that continue to stand proudly along those trade routes to this day:
MERV, TURKMENISTAN (A Desert Oasis)
During the 10th century, Merv was one of the largest cities in the world, earning a reputation for being a religious, trade, and military hub. Bursting with life and possibilities, it was a major destination along Silk Road trade routes. Due to the relentless environment surrounding the city, it has been added to the World Monuments Watch List, labeled an endangered city. Soak in the sights of this desert oasis during your visit to the Silk Road.
KHUJAND, TAJIKISTAN (An Indestructible City)
Nestled next to the Syr-Darya River in Tajikistan is another major trade city, Khujand. Khujand is a practical phoenix, ripped apart by conquests and then pulling itself out of the ashes. This stop along the Silk Road is surrounded by staggering mountains and natural beauty. Explore this 2,500 year old city that epitomizes a fighting spirit.
TARAZ, KAZAKHSTAN (City of Craftsmen)
Taraz is one of the oldest cities in Kazakhstan (estimated at 2,000 years) and spearheaded trade during the glory days of Silk Road trading. Having a more pleasant climate and rich soil, this area attracted many farmers and stock-breeders. It was also famous for having some of the most skilled craftsmen in the area. This is a peaceful stop in your exploration of the Silk Road.
SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN (Diamond in the Rough)
Samerkand is most famous for being the capital city of Tamerlane’s expansive empire in the 14th century. Tamerlane, or Timur, was a ruthless conqueror, but a patron of the arts. He was rumored to have spared the lives of craftsman and artisans in order to bring them back to Samarkand to beautify his capital city. Also a center for Islamic studies, this extravagant city is home to many lavish and beautifully constructed mosques.
OSH, KYRGYZSTAN (A Modern Marketplace)
Visit Osh and get a true taste of a trader’s life. This 3,000 year old city claims to be older than Rome itself. Its kilometer-long bazar is one of the most picturesque in all of Asia and has been in operation for thousands of years, a modern grandchild of ancient Silk Road history.
Exposure to the Silk Road shouldn’t be limited to dusty old textbooks in school. Tours of the Silk Road are for the adventurous in spirit ready to conquer the same paths as Tamerlane and Alexander the Great. It’s where stories from the past come alive. It’s where fascinating cultures continue to thrive. Follow the trail of these ancient trade routes and uncover living history in a modern world.