112 images Created 4 Apr 2015
Great cities of the Silk Road, Part 1
“We travel not for trafficking alone / By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned / For lust of knowing what should not be known / We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.” - Flecker. The great cities of the Silk Road stretched east-west from China to Baghdad and beyond, and south to the Subcontinent, marking out trade routes that rose and fell with empires and carried goods, ideas, language and religion along its paths. For millennia, these routes were used in some form or other, but the Silk Road is most associated with the 1st-16th centuries. Different empires and regions dominated various periods, but for so many, the enduring images of the Silk Road are the Central Asian cities like Samarkand and Bukhara. What we see of them today really dates from the Turco-Mongol dynasties, with their Persian architecture, but these cities are far older and their histories far richer. And these are the cities that still remain. Many now lie as desolate archaeological sites, some surely yet to be discovered. I have long been fascinated with the Silk Road and have, over the last decade, traced it overland from China to Syria / Turkey, following as many routes as possible, visiting old caravanserai and markets, exploring the archaeological sites, crossing the deserts and mountain passes, meeting the people that now inhabit the cities and seeing the new version of trade that has replaced the old. It is a lesson in ancient history, economics, religion, culture, and geopolitics – as well as in the hospitality of a region where people have been accustomed to travellers for millennia. My first stop on the Silk Road was classic Uzbekistan, followed soon by Turkmenistan. While many archaeological sites are fascinating, they can be non photogenic, so the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva proved a great foundation for then re-imagining the glories of Merv, Konye-Urgench, and Dehistan. These are the images I share here, in Part 1. Samarkand is perhaps the most well known of the great cities, with a poetic name. Sogdian in its early days, it was conquered by a succession of empires from Achaemenids to Greeks to Sassanians to Turkic tribes and eventually the Mongols, before Timur (Tamerlane) made it the capital of the Timurid Empire. Buildings from that era remain today. Bukhara is another ancient city that grew in prominence in Persian times and today is a major historical site and modern city. Khiva, across the Kyzylkum Desert, capital of its khanate, was the main northern town after Konye-Urgench, former capital of the Khorezm Empire, was destroyed by Timur, leaving only a few buildings. Dehistan was a smaller city in the Khorezm empire, en route to the Caspian, and today lies as rarely visited ruins. Merv, perhaps most surprising of all the cities for its obscurity today, was potentially the largest city in the world in 1150 and a major Islamic centre of learning, but it was destroyed by the Mongols in a massacre of up to a million people and never rebuilt.