Cotton fabric is comfortable to wear, yet the silk fabric has a different charm. The finest silks were first cultivated in China and exported to other countries of the world through the Silk Road. This is not a single route but a set of routes that connected the regions of China, central Asia, and the West for trade and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The route profoundly affected the cultures of the regions it connected. It is believed to have existed from the time of Alexander the Great. Though raw forms of the road existed even before that, it was during the reign of Alexander that the route expanded. The route stretched over 5000 miles of dangerous terrains, yet touched some beautiful civilizations along its path.
The Silk Routes started from Changan, a city in north China and the then capital of the country. It spread across the province of Gansu and reached Dunhuang on the edge of the desert Taklamakan, characterized by extreme temperatures and harsh conditions. Very few oases dotted the desert area then and travelers preferred to circumvent it altogether. From Dunhuang, the trade route spread to Kashgar, at the foot of the Pamirs. There were branches of the route that carried pure silk in to the Indian continent, stretched to the Mediterranean, and into Africa.
The Silk Road was used by the caravans and traders to bring the material silk, lacquer ware and porcelain from China. Chinese traders in turn got dates, pistachios, saffron, frankincense, aloes, myrrh, sandalwood and glass bottles. Though different varieties of silks were the main items of trade, gold, ivory, exotic animals and plants were also traded via the route. Of course, no one covered the entire stretch of the route. Merchants covered different sections of the route and didn’t travel much away from their own regions. But the goods traveled considerable distances as they were passed along.
Silk was a very popular and desirable object. Its popularity made the Silk Road a busy route for trade and commerce. Hence, it attracted the attention of savage tribes that looted and plundered the merchants on the route. Several Chinese emperors came forward to give protection to the traders. Walls and forts were built along the trade route.
Travelers and religious preachers used this route to explore new cultures and spread religious thoughts respectively. Trade in the silk fabric elevated the route to prominence during the Tang dynasty and the age of the Mongolian Empire. Thereafter, the route was used less and less as sea routes were established.