A Brief History

Throughout history, for almost two thousand years, the immensity of Eurasia was criss-crossed with communication routes and paths of trade, which gradually linked up to form what is known today as the Silk Road. The description of these routes as the Silk Road, however, is somewhat misleading. Firstly, no single route was taken; crossing Central Asia several different branches developed, passing through different oasis settlements. The main one of them travelled through China into Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. Secondly, the Silk Road was not a trade route that existed solely for the purpose of trading in silk; many other commodities were also traded, from gold and ivory to exotic animals, plants and spices, and various religions and philosophies also travelled along the Silk Routes.

Human beings have always moved from place to place and traded with their neighbours, exchanging goods, skills and ideas.

Chinese adventurers were among the first travellers who, often risking their lives, ventured onto these Silk Roads. Religion was another inspiration to travel along these routes. Buddhist monks from China made pilgrimages to India to bring back sacred texts. People travelled these routes in both directions. During the Middle Ages, European monks and traders travelled to the East for a variety of reasons. In the nineteenth century a new type of traveller was born: archaeologists and geographers from the West, enthusiastic explorers looking for adventure. One of them was  the German geographer and scientist Ferdinand von Richthofen who was the one to coin the term Silk Road in 1877 as these ancient routes, despite being thousands of years old, had no particular name until then.

The Silk Road represents an early phenomenon of political and cultural integrity due to the inter-regional trade; diplomatic relations were built up with several countries along the route and the choice of the route depended very much upon the political climate of the time. The silk routes have highlighted the unending dialogue between cultures and showed how the movement of people and the flow of ideas and values have served to transform civilizations. First created as networks for trade and communication, these routes have shaped the history of Eurasia, its languages, sciences, cultures and religions, and left a lasting intellectual and artistic legacy.

Warmly welcome by the world public is the decision of UNESCO to set up the international programme “The Great Silk Road” – a route of dialogue, mutual understanding and rapprochement of cultures. The Great Silk Road, like the Phoenix bird, is beginning its revival and the Silk Road Film Festival aspires to be part of it.

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