enigmatically said, “I did not tell half of what I saw…” --
a marvelous line from the legendary story-teller and explorer, and
it was really through the tales of the Venetian traveler that
Europeans first heard about the romantic and beguiling Silk Road.
Global before globalization -- the famed Silk Road was in fact a
series of trading posts that stretched some 7,000 miles from China
to the Mediterranean, commercial and intellectual hubs that spread
knowledge through the exchange of goods and ideas.
The Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World,
is the new wonderfully interactive exhibit at the American Museum of
Natural History, (perfect we think for taking the children —they
even receive passports that can be stamped—and for grown ups who
can still delight in the museum’s dioramas!). Here you can
travel the old roads again, take turns trying to identify scents
by smell or calculate the time in Baghdad in the year 1,000 using
a replica of an Arab astrolabe which uses the position of the
stars as a basis for its calculations.
concentrates on four cities during the golden era of the Silk
Road, from 600-1200: the Tang Chinese capital of Xi’an; the lush
oasis known as Turfan; Samarkand and its lucrative caravan trade;
and cosmopolitan Baghdad—a center of both commerce and
intellectual inquiry. Precious gems, furs, spices,
dyes, feathers, glass, medicinal remedies: almost anything the
heart or pocketbook desired could be found at a Silk Road market.
But it was silk from China that was perhaps the most prized of
all, delicate and decorated, soft and luxurious, used even as
currency. The exhibit includes a small encasement of live
silkworms or Bombyx mori chewing on mulberry leaves.
The story goes that the secret of silk was carried Westward by
Buddhist monks (who were perhaps bribed by the emperor Justinian)
in the 6th century and who hid silkworm eggs in hollowed-out
walking sticks. The cities along the Silk Road became
sumptuous trading grounds where touch, smell, and visual beauty
years ago along the Silk Road, commerce was not only a means of
amassing wealth but of exchanging ideas and expanding one’s
knowledge of the world. And of course, it’s a road that many have
retraced. William Dalrymple’s
is an amusing account of his travels
as a Cambridge student in the footsteps of Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, just north of Peking, to the ruins of Kubla
Khan’s palace. And there is of course Italo
Calvino's marvelous classic,
where Marco Polo himself becomes a
character, telling Kublai Khan of the cities he has seen in poetic
vignettes and perhaps here in this lovely
dream-like book is the other half of what he saw!
Marco Polo’s accounts was Kublai Khan able to discern, through the
walls and towers destined to crumble, the tracery of a pattern so
subtle it could escape the termite’s gnawing...."
Silk Road, American Museum of Natural History
time to visit: Sunday afternoons, visitors will be treated to
live performances by musicians brought together by the Silk Road
Project, founded by Yo-Yo Ma.)
Travels, Marco Polo
Cities, Italo Calvino