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Travelling The Silk Road

Posted On: 19/06/2014 @ 15:18:00 » Send your friend these details

Travelling the Silk Road
The Silk Road is an ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean. Its name is somewhat deceptive as this route was not a single road but a number of land and sea passages. Trade between China and the Mediterranean was done in a series of journeys, resulting in what seemed like an extremely long and complex game of pass the parcel! 

There were several factors in a merchant’s reluctance to travel the entire distance between China and the Mediterranean mainly the vast length of the trip and the threat of bandits along the way. Merchants would never stray too far from their home territory and would look for sparsely populated land to travel across in order to reduce the risk of being robbed. Detours were also taken to avoid taxes that came about when governments, cottoning on to the valuable trade passing through their territory, began to levy tax accordingly, meaning that the price of goods would increase at each of the several stops!

These route changes led to the Silk Road encompassing a number of countries, including China, Pakistan, India and Iran, which meant that the number of products being traded increased.

Marco Polo
In 1298 Marco Polo became involved in a naval conflict between Venice and Genoa; he was subsequently captured by the Geonese and thrown into prison. During his time in captivity he told a remarkable story of his journey to China that sparked the imagination of his cell mate: a writer of romances named Rustichello da Pisa. Rustichello wrote Marco’s story down and this would later become the famous book ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’.
Marco’s journey began in 1271 when he set off with his father and uncle with the purpose of delivering letters and valuable gifts from Pope Gregory X to the legendary Mongol emperor Kublai Khan.

They faced many hardships on their outward journey but they also beheld breath-taking sights including the mountains of Pamir, the jade of Kashgar and Hetian, and the frescoes and sculptures of the Mogao Caves.

In 1275 they arrived in Shangdu (modern day Beijiing) at the summer palace of Kublai Khan which would later provide the inspiration for the ‘stately pleasure dome’ in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium induced poem ‘Kubla Khan’. It was described by Marco as the ‘greatest palace in the world’ with its gold and silver walls and hall large enough to host 6000 guests. Marco said that the entertainment at the banquets would include musicians, singers, dancers, even lions and elephants!

According to Marco he became a favourite of the Emperor and remained in his service for 17 years. He claimed to have been sent on numerous important diplomatic missions to China, India and Burma and spoke about the places and people he encountered.

Marco’s description of the wealth and beauty of China piques the interest of European traders and ignited a desire to travel in many explorers. Marco Polo’s account of The Silk Road was not the first of any person from the west but his was the most widely read and his writings would influence future map makers, gradually making the Silk Road easier to travel.

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