The ancient silk route has been one of the greatest trade routes connecting east and west Eurasia. The ancient cities in the ancient world have still retained their prominence in defining world trade across the land. The surrounding desert and large swathes of inhospitable lands make the Silk Road and its cities an ideal location for resting and trade with locals. Also, most of these cities are crossroads and junctions to travel to various locations. From the strategic and commercial point of view, we have listed here some cities that ruled the trade for thousands of years since the advent of civilization.
Now let us travel from east to west along the silk route and visit the important towns along the Silk Route, which has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Xi’an, at the far eastern end of the Silk Route, is one of the four ancient capitals of China. Xi’an is located strategically right at the centre of China and forms a junction of different religious and ethnic cultures of ancient China. Not to forget, Xi’an is still a major Chinese tourist hotspot and serves as a stop for tourists visiting anywhere in central and west China.
Delhi, the capital of India is right at the junction of crossroads in India. Delhi is also the crossroads of cultures in India where Mughal influence mixes beautifully with Rajput, Punjabi, Marwari, UP as well as pahari influence. It is also a major hub of tourism and is the administrative centre of India. Delhi is also one of the oldest cities of India, and the seat for various major kingdoms and empires in India. The nearby city of Mathura is also an important Silk Route city.
Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, is also a major trading hub connecting the Silk route between China and the Arabian Sea. The ancient university of Takshashila lies near the city and was an important stop for pilgrims from Central Asia. Today, Lahore is an important market city and a tourist destination visited by almost every tourist coming to Pakistan.
Osh is another city in the fertile Fergana Valley which served as a centre of trade since ancient times. Proximity to the border with Uzbekistan makes it a major centre of trade even today. Osh market is still one of the biggest in Central Asia, where a mixed population of Central Asians live.
Fertile lands of the Fergana Valley served as a major stop for Silk Route traders, and Khujand is one of the best-preserved sites among them. Khujand is not only a centre of travel but also is a centre of trade between Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries owing to proximity.
Turkistan lies in south Kazakhstan and was once an important trade outpost on the Silk Route. It still is a major tourist hub of tourists visiting Kazakhstan due to its historic monuments, including Khoja Ahmed Yassavi Mausoleum. Turkestan has grown as an important trading hub and a crossroad marketplace in the modern world.
The city of Samarkand, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest continuously lived cities in Central Asia. It gained importance for its strategic location and served as a crossroads of various cultures and ethnic groups for centuries.
The Registan, the squares, the markets, the mosques, the gardens, and most importantly, its hospitality and friendly people make it one of the most significant tourist destinations in the world.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city centre of Bukhara served as the resting station along the silk route. Bukhara is known for its carpet industry as well as the spice trade. The great minaret, the ark, the pond, and the main bazaar, all served as a centre of tourist attraction along the silk route.
The border town of Khiva is also the hotspot of tourist activity owing to its inner town or Itchan Kala, a World Heritage Site. Khiva is also an important stop along the silk route near the border with Turkmenistan which handles a significant land trade along the ancient Silk Route. Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva form the trio of jewels of Central Asia.
The ruins of Merv, one of the ancient capital cities and a major hub of trade, are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though the city has been abandoned and currently lies in ruins, it is still one of the best-preserved in the Silk Route. The nearby city of Mary serves as the main marketplace and commercial hub of trade in modern-day Turkmenistan today.
The capital of Iran, Tehran also lies along the ancient Silk Route. Ray, a suburb of Tehran has been found to contain ruins of an ancient city flourishing as a stopover of tourists. Tehran largely grew around the old city and is now the seat of the throne of the Iran kingdom. Tehran lies at crossroads to various historic and cultural places of Iran. It also acts as a bridge between the maritime routes in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
Erbil is inhabited since antiquity, since ancient Mesopotamian civilizations. The modern city of Erbil lies in the north-east part of Iraq, and is the main city of Kurdish people. Erbil continues to prosper owing to its importance in trade and tourism and its strategic location as a crossroad city. With time, Erbil has matched up with the modern society and is today on of the most modern towns of Iraq.
Damascus is possibly the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, inhabited at least 9000 BC. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, Damascus has never lost its importance as the cultural capital of the world. The large markets of Damascus, ancient architecture and its religious importance attracts millions of tourists each year. Being the capital of Syria, it is the seat of administration of modern-day Syria, though to many people Damascus is still the capital of the world.
Founded by Roman Emperor Constantine, Istanbul is strategically the most important city in the world. It lies on the Bosphorus Strait, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. The city lies in both Europe and Asia continents and serves as a bridge of trade activities. The Hagia Sophia and other mosques, the central market, and the historic city centre all are major tourist attractions in the world. Istanbul is still the biggest centre of cultural and trade activities not only for Turkey but also for major parts of the world.
Usually considered at the western end of the Silk Road, Rome was the capital of the ancient Roman Empire, and has seen growth during the medieval and modern era as an important centre of civilization. Even today, its importance as sharing cultural, economic and religious aspects has continued to grow, and is still one of the most popular tourist destination around the world. Rome and Italy are still an icon to the rest of the world in terms of cultural activities, architecture and paintings, and most importantly cuisine.
Which of these have you visited or you want to visit? Let us know in the comment section below.
Written by – Himadri Paul