After a two-month trip to Brazil and a little break in Sardinia to collect myself, here I am, on the road again and back in Rome. First thing I indulged in in the eternal city has been a fascinating exhibition devoted to the Silk Road. I wanted to see if they would manage to increase my nostalgia levels of Asia, and I admit they did. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because I was already nostalgic of China, India, Iran, or because of all their hard work to put on display what I have seen in its context in the past two years. Whatever the reason is, it’s a fact that now after perusing this exhibition I want to travel to Afghanistan and Iraq too, to have a grasp of what was Baghdad cradle of civilization, before being torn apart by imperialist ambitions.
Obviously along the legendary Silk Road silk was not the only commodity to be traded, and gold, silver, rare objects, water clocks, paper, spices, healing herbs, essential oils were some of the other goods shipped from the Far East and mainly aimed at wealthy Westerners.
The tour started in Xi’an, a city in China that I haven’t visited but would certainly be my first stop next time, where the famous terracotta army rests and where much of the trade took off. Capital during the Tang dynasty, Xi’an was known to be a cosmopolitan city, where freedom of religion and a solid administration were the main traits. From here traders, pilgrims, royal representatives accepted to face the harsh Asian deserts and mountains to trade luxury goods, look for holy books and meet faraway civilizations.
From China, through its infamous Taklaman desert, via Uzbekistan, to India, Persia, up to the wonderful capital of Iraq, Baghdad. Founded in 762AD on the banks of the river Tigris, Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, and by the end of the Eighth Century it was the heart and soul of the Islamic world, where arts, science, literature and technology throve. In a nutshell, an ancient wonderland.
In Baghdad trading routes parted, southward caravans continued their journey toward the Persian Gulf, while by heading northwest travelers reached the Mediterranean Sea via Syria.
Soon land travel was replaced by sea travel, faster and safer. I couldn’t avoid thinking how truly adventurous those people were. Without seeking any excitement, nor inspiration, or even less relax, those traders made more enthralling experiences than any of today’s travelers. Traveling in the past wasn’t synonymous with holidays, and the fact that it was by land and sea certainly allowed merchants and pilgrims to better understand and blend in the hosting societies. Basically they traveled the way I would like to travel now and I don’t always manage to.
Apart from the main cities of the Silk Road and the main means of transportation, the exhibition also shows some of the products shipped to the West, such as silk, obviously, precious metals, paper and a spices and perfumes, to which a whole section is devoted. I lingered here smelling the most popular frangrances such as jasmine, musk, rose, patchouli, and watching and reading about the spices and herbs used as medicines in Asia, both in the past and present days.
Camels and vessels festooned the exhibition hall giving a vibe of what traveling was like at that time, and I can’t deny that picturing them venture into the unknown, discover places they hadn’t even heard about, be amazed at how many different worlds coexist in the planet did make me a little envious, as for as adventurous we can be now, pretty much all corners on earth have been explored by someone else before us and have already hit newspapers’ pages at least once.
If you happen in Rome by March 10th, do check out this exhibition at Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Nazionale 194, not far from Termini Station. Cost of the ticket is €12,50 and buys you access to all exhibitions in the Palace.
Taking photos is not allowed, so the featured picture is mine and was taken in China, just along the Silk Road.