The Great Silk Road is the popular name given to the system of caravan trade routes that linked Eastern and Western civilization between the Ancient and Middle Ages. The main route of the Road passed through China along the Gan-Su corridor then through the Tarima basin and the highlands of the Pamir and Tian-Shan ranges into Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and still farther East to North Africa and Europe.
The Great Silk Road first functioned as a route between China and the capital of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century. It was about seven thousand kilometers long. To travel along this trade route from the Mediterranean Sea to China took about 3 years. The most valuable commodity from China was silk, thus giving this transcontinental trade route its name.
The Great Silk Road is a network of routes which played one of the main role in the lives of many people in Eurasia. It was an important artery in the Ancient and Middle Ages, a source of merchandise and information, point of many conflicts and wars. The geographical location of Kyrgyzstan had an important position on the Great Silk Road. The territory of ancient Tian-Shan and Pamir were right in the middle of the process of formation of economic and cultural phenomenon. Many of the caravan routes of the Road changed their destinations, but the region of the Tian-Shan and Pamir routes stayed as they were for many hundreds of years, because of their specific geographical factors. Three branches of the Great Silk Road ran through Kyrgyzstan.
The first, the Southern branch, ran from Termez via Samarkand to Dushanbe’s present location, along a tributary of Kyzyl-Su up to Alai and exited to the area of modern Irkistam where it switched direction towards Kashgar.
The second, the Fergana branch led from Samarkand via Hodjent to Isfara, Kokand and Osh. Osh was a major trading city and the main signpost from which the caravans continued further to Kashgar across the Torugart range.
The third, the Northern Chu branch was the most important and animated. Caravans traveled from Samarkand to Tashkent then along the Kyrgyz range into Chu valley. From there caravans travelled along the Boom Canyon to get to the Issyk-Kul area and China across the San-Tash range. Settlements, villages and “ayls” were situated along the road. Nevaket and Suyab were the biggest ones. The fair in Suyab was famous for it’s commodities in ancient times. The tradesmen gathered there from all over the area. The foreign tradesmen bought horses, sheep, camels, skins, hides, carpets, furs as well as silver vessels, guns and silver. In fact it was very difficult to pass by this trade route through the Tian-Shan. The camels carrying commodities and riders had to travel on narrow mountain paths and robbers often attacked them.
The Silk Road was of great importance until the 17th century when sea routes were discovered. After this the Great Silk Road lost its economic and cultural meaning and its decline began. Taking a trip to Central Asia is a chance to step back in time and experience the grandeur and rigors of the historical Silk Road.