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Following un Ancient Footsteps

One of the world's most ancient and historically important trade routes, the Silk Road conjures up exotic images of camel caravans, windswept deserts, and such legendary figures as Genghis Khan and Marco Polo. Extending as far as the Indian kingdoms in the west, to present-day Xian in China in the east, the Silk Road was already a crossroads of Asia by the third century B.C.

Skirting the edges of the harsh and inhospitable Taklimakan desert, the Silk Road actually had several different branches, each passing through different oases. All roads began in Changan (Xian). The northern route wound its way through places such as Turfan and Kuqa before finally ending at Kashgar. The southern route followed the lower fringes of the Taklimakan to eventually end up at the same destination. Numerous other routes were also plied throughout the ages, reaching all the way to Samarkand, Tashkent, India, and the Caspian Sea.

Silk was not the only commodity traveling the Silk Road. Other goods such as exotic animals, ivory, and gold were also transported along the route. It was silk, though, which fascinated the Romans. Agents were sent from Rome to explore the route and to obtain the material at a lower price. The Romans, however, did not give the Silk Road its name. The term was actually coined by the 19th-century German scholar Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen.

In spite of its name, silk was not the most important commodity traversing the Silk Road. That honor fell to religion. Along the northern branch of the route, Buddhism made its way from India to China in the fourth and fifth centuries. Christianity also made an appearance in the seventh century, when merchants carried the faith from northern Iran to Changan.

Not long after the Tang era (618-907), when trade along the Silk Road had reached its height, the fearsome Genghis Khan and his Mongol armies conquered a vast area spanning much of Central Asia. Accordingly, the Silk Road became an important communication route between different parts of the Mongol Empire. During the rule of Kublai Khan, more Europeans began venturing towards China along the Silk Road. The most famous of these travelers was Marco Polo, whose thoughts and adventures were later recorded and embellished by an Italian romance writer.

During the 14th century, with the disintegration of the Mongol Empire, the isolationist policies of the Ming Dynasty, and the development of the silk route by sea, the Silk Road was forced into decline. Renewed interest in it emerged only among Western scholars near the end of the 19th century. The existence of ancient cities excited them, and an archaeological free-for-all began. These days, those seeking out treasures of the Silk Road can find what they are looking for in such far-flung places as London, Delhi, and Berlin.


丝绸之路其实有数条支线,它们分别沿着环境恶劣、不适合人类居住的塔克拉玛干沙漠外缘,穿越不同的绿洲。所有的路线都是始于长安(西安):北线蜿蜒经过了吐鲁番、库车,最后到达喀什格尔南线沿着塔克拉玛干下缘前行,到达同一终点。其它的许多支线也是历代都通行的,通往撒玛尔罕、塔什干、印度, 及里海等地。

丝绸并不是丝绸之路上运送的唯一商品。其它货物如奇珍异兽、象牙,及黄金等也通过丝绸之路运输。 不过格外令罗马人着迷的还是丝绸。罗马派遣代理商探测这条路线,并以较低的价格购得丝绸。然而,“丝 绸之路”的名称并不是罗马人起的。这个名称是19世纪时一名叫Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen的德国学者首创的。

虽然名为“丝绸之路”,丝绸却并不是穿过该路线运送的最重要的“商品”。这项荣誉应归于宗教。 公元第四、五世纪时,佛教沿着路线的北支从印度传入中国。基督教也在公元七世纪时,由商人从伊朗北 部传到长安,首次在中土出现。


14世纪时,蒙古帝国瓦解、明朝实行闭关政策,加上“海上丝路”的发展,丝绸之路被迫走向没落。 直到近19世纪末,才有西方学者重新燃起了对丝绸之路的兴趣。古城的存在让他们兴奋不已,于是掀起了一阵考古热潮。现在,想在丝绸之路寻宝的人们,在伦敦、德里、柏林等许多地方,都可以找到他们想要的东西。

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