Monday, 25 August 2008

Marco Polo's Silk Road

The Silk Road was a network of ancient caravan routes that opened commerce between the great civilisations of east and west. From the capital city of ancient China, Chang'an, the caravans crossed the deserts, mountains and steppes of Central Asia, all the way to the Mediterranean port cities of Byzantium (Constantinople) and Venice.

In addition to being a commercial trade route for silk and other curiosities, the Silk Route was also a means of spreading new ideas and religions as well as stimulating cultural and technological development.

The Silk Road reached its peak during the Monglian Empire in the 13th century, when China and central Asia were controlled by Mongol Khans. During the Middle Ages, the Venetians and Genoese controlled the bulk of Mediterranean trade, connected to the major trading centres of Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. The trading relationship between Europe and China was greatly strengthened by the voyages of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was born to a wealthy, privileged family in Venice in 1254 and became one of the most famous merchants to travel the Silk Road. At the age of 17, he set out with his father and uncle for the court of Kublai Khan, returning 24 years later with many fantastical tales to tell of trips to places such as Ceylon, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. He also reported on the incredible luxury and amazing wonders of the court of Kublia Khan, such as a palace built of marble and precious stones, a stable of 10,000 snow white horse, robes made entirely from gold thread and magicians who used spells to keep bad weather away.

On his return to Venice, Marco Polo was imprisoned during a war with Genoa, where he told fellow prisoner Rustichello of Pisa of his adventures in exotic lands. Rustichello published the stories in a book originally entitled Il Millione, but later named The Travels of Marco Polo. Later, as European powers developed their maritime fleets from the 15th century onwards, they put an end to the Arab control of the lucrative trade route and the ability of ships to transport commodities much faster and cheaper than camel trains resulted in the demise of the Silk Road by the 16th century.

We have a unique range of vintage silk scarf cushions at ShopCurious, some of which feature Venice - the 'Queen of the Adriatic' and major host to merchant ships of the Silk Route.

The cushions are beautifully handmade, each with an individual contrasting trim. These are great for the home in a fashion-meets-art-meets-furnishing sort of way and they also make a really unusual gift. Maybe you'll be inspired to invest in a piece of history?

Will you?

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