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长相“丝”守:丝绸之路话从头

2008-09-02 10:03

  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 .htmian 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.

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