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Images via AMNH


 

       

The Silk Road

 
 

Smooth Travel!

   

 

Marco Polo 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.  Traveling 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.

 

The exhibit 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 commingled.

 

A thousand 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 In Xanadu 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, Invisible Cities, 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!

 

"Only in 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...."

 

 

See: Traveling The Silk Road, American Museum of Natural History (best 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.)

 

Read: The Travels, Marco Polo

 

Read: Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

 

Read: In Xanadu, William Dalrymple

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

...astrolabes...

 

 

 

 

...peacock feathers...

 

 

 

 

...silks!

 

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