Thursday, 28 August 2008

Sailing by the Silk Route

When it comes to maps, I tend to get a bit enthusiastic. I don't often mention that I'm a geographer: hence my curiosity about global trading patterns over the past millennium or so. Long before that, probably around 139 B.C, the Silk Road started as a chain of caravans, transporting goods from China, across central Asia to mainland Europe.

The commodities traded included not only silk, but other rare and unusual offerings, such as gold for coins and jewellery, jade, tea and spices (reminds me of what's available at ShopCurious!) Since the capacity to transport these goods over long distances was limited, luxury goods were the main products that were traded (rather like today, except now it's fuel prices that are the main factor affecting the transfer of goods). It was during the Roman era that sea routes in the Mediterranean basin and India first became fashionable for shipping produce, which was then taken by camels inland to the Nile. River boats moved the goods to Alexandria, from where trading with the Roman Empire was carried out. Arab traders, who controlled the maritime routes, gradually took over from the original overland transportation along the Silk Route from the 9th century onwards.

Much larger quantities could be transported by ship, stimulating even more trading between the various nation states and territories of the time. The main maritime route started at Canton (Guangzhou) and passed through Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and on to Alexandria. There was also a trading route to the Spice Islands (Moluccas) in today's Indonesia.

The spread of religions such as Islam and diffusion of their principles also took place at this time. Many of the rules and ethics of commerce have their roots in religion. Meantime, the Europeans were developing their own maritime technology and from the 15th century onwards, they achieved sufficient power and influence at sea to overthrow the Arab control of lucrative trade: European style ships were simply able to shift commodities faster and cheaper ... and by the 16th century the Silk Road was already obsolete.

Nonetheless, exotic places along the route still make for stylish and unusual travel destinations today. And no doubt they now have their fair share of designer boutique hotels too. I'm certainly curious to explore some of them.

Are you?

No comments: