About the Route

The Silk Road is an extensive network of trading routes extending across more than 4,000 miles (6,500 km) over land and sea from the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean. The various routes have been employed for trade for almost 3,000 years.  Covering many countries that no longer exist as well as countries that were not in existence until later periods, the trading routes moved, waxed, and waned according to resources, politics, war and climate changes.

Until the past century very few people traveled the full extent of the Silk Road, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean.  Most traders went from one trading post to the next and back again.  Some traveled further for politics, war, religion, wealth or knowledge.  Many explorers made their name by traveling more extensively risking life and health leaving a written account of their adventures.  Not only were unknown foods, climate, terrain, disease and threat of robbery an issue but cultural misunderstandings could be just as perilous for early travelers.

Today the Silk Road is as much an exotic idea as the 'old West', 'Arctic North' or the 'South American jungle'.  Many of the stories of Silk Road inspiration (Marco Polo to Indiana Jones, "Aladdin" to "The King and I" and "Rambo" to "Not Without My Daughter") are built on exotic Orientalist fantasy or stereotyping.

The regions of the Silk Road encompass deserts, jungles, plains, mountains, seas and swamps.  People of many religions, languages, traditions, folk lore, and shades of skin live there.  The history of the region is ancient and rich with innovations in government, science, art, literature, medicine and spirituality.

There is plenty of food for thought and many avenues of exploration to take along the Silk Road.


Modern Countries of the Silk Road
Amman Armenia Azerbaijan
Bangladesh Bhutan Bulgaria
Cambodia China Djibouti
Egypt Eritrea Greece
India Iran Italy
Israel Italy Japan
Jordan Kazakhstan Korea
Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Laos
Lebannon Malaysia Mongolia
Mynamar/Burma Nepal Oman
Pakistan Philippines Saudi Arabia
Sri Lanka Sudan Syria
Tajikistan Thailand Tibet
Turkey Turkmenistan United Arab Emirates
Uzbekistan Vietnam




Noted travelers of the Silk Road:

-959. King Mu (Mu Wang) who wrote the first Silk Road travel book which is no longer in existence but referred to in other ancient texts

-138 to -116. Zhang Qian (Chang Ch'ien) a Chinese general who opened the way for the silk trade between China and Persia

40-70. Anonymous author of "Periplus of the Erythraen" an Egyptian Greek who wrote about trade routes in East Africa and India

97. Gan Ying (Kan Ying) the first Chinese envoy to reach the Middle East

399-413. Faxian (Fa-hsien) a Chinese monk who brought Buddhism from India to China

629-645. Xuan Zang (Hsuan-tsang) Chinese Buddhist monk and travel writer who's life story and travel adventures became the stuff of Chinese legend

821. Tamim ibn Bahr, the earliest known Muslim traveler to leave a record of his visit to Mongolia

921-922. Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, as an emissary from Persia who is best known for his valuable description of a Viking (Rus) funeral on the Volga

1245-1247, 1249-1251. Andrew of Longjumeau, Dominican and papal envoy to the Mongols who traveled to Persia and Mongolia from Europe

1245-1247 John of Plano Carpini (Pian del Carpine) envoy to the Mongol Khan.  Friar John wrote "History of the Mongols"/Historia Mongalorum which is considered one the best European accounts of 13th century Asia as it is surprisingly unbiased.

1260-1269, 1271-1295. Niccolò and Maffeo Polo. The Venetian merchant father and uncle of Marco Polo traveled to North China.  Returning with Marco Polo in 1271, from whom we have the written travel accounts

1271-1295. Marco Polo, is the most famous European traveler of the Silk Road.  He did not keep a travel diary but dictated his account to a professional writer of romances while imprisoned on his return

1490s-1530. Babur. The great-great-great-grandson of Timur (Tamerlane), Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530) wrote a stunning memoir of his early life and struggles in Central Asia and Afghanistan before finally settling in northern India and founding the Mughal Empire.

*source information from Prof. Daniel Waugh (The University of Washington) and Adela Lee (The Silkroad Foundation)