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THE SILK ROAD is the world’s oldest, and most

historically important overland trade route. For

over 2000 years, traders and merchants travelled

the deserts of central Asia exchanging goods

between the Chinese empire and the rest of the

world. As a result, the oases of the desert sprang

up into dynamic cities. A vast network of interconnected

caravan routes that stretched for over 6,500

km, enabled the exchange of products and ideas

between China and Europe, Persia, Egypt, India

and Mesopotamia.

The Silk Road remains one of the world’s most

legendary journeys, full of dusty desert roads and

ancient towns immortalized in the accounts of

Marco Polo. Desert landscapes stretch out seemingly

endlessly along this ancient crossroads of civilization,

broken up only by occasional oasis settlements.

The legacy of this trade route has shaped

the region’s multiculturalism, home as it is to several

ethnicities, religions and languages.

The road got its name from the lucrative Chinese silk

trade along it, which began during the Han Dynasty

(206 BC – 220 AD) largely through the missions

and explorations of Zhang Qian, a Chinese official

and diplomat who served as an imperial envoy to

the world outside of China. He was the first official

diplomat to bring back reliable information about

Central Asia to the Chinese imperial court, then

under Emperor Wu of Han, and played an important

pioneering role in the Chinese colonization and

conquest of the region now known as Xinjiang. In

essence, his missions opened up to China the many

kingdoms and products of a part of the world then

unknown to the Chinese.

The Ancient Silk Road started at Changan (today

Xi’an) that was the capital at the time, then it reached

Dunhuang through Lanzhou, where it was divided

into three: the Southern, the Central Route and the

Northern Route. The three routes spread all over the

Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and then they

extended as far as Pakistan, India, Byzantine Empire

and even the Roman Empire.

The photographs that follow were taken in the so

called North Road i.e. Xian, Lanzhou, Dunhuang,

Turpan, Urumqi and finally to the last ancient oasis

town of Kashgar, the last place the ancient silk road

traders stayed before heading east across the brutal

Taklamakan Desert on their way to the Middle East

(or, for those traders heading the other way, Kashgar

was the first bit of civilization they’d seen in months

as they left the desert and arrived in China). Kashgar

was an important center that led to Samarkand, the

Caspian Sea and India.

Although maritime transport had an influence on

the route, many westerners, Chinese envoys and

caravans travelled along this ancient trade route.

However, the historically important route could not

contend with expansion in the field of navigation

which assisted its demise.

In history, many renowned people left their traces

on the most historically important trade route,

including eminent diplomats, generals and great

monks. They crossed desolate deserts and the

Gobi, passed murderous prairies and went over the

freezing Pamirs to finish theirs missions or realize

their beliefs. Many great events happened on this

ancient road, making the trade route historically

important. A great number of soldiers gave their

lives to protect it. These are some of the reasons the

road is still a time-honored treasure.


The Silk Road began around 329 BCE, when Alexander

the Great conquered all of the known world,

built the City of Alexandria Eschate and promoted

trade to the east. By this time, Persia had become a

cultural crossroads in Asia with influences from India

and the Greeks. Over time this region, just south

of Karakorum’s ranges, was conquered by various

armies, including those from Syria and Parthia.

Soon, the Yuezhi, from the northern border of the

Taklamakan desert, arrived, after being driven

out of their home by the Xiongnu, who came to be

known as the Huns. The Yuezhi came as converts to

Buddhism. They became known as the Kushan and

their culture was referred to as the Gandhara.

Their culture adopted not only the Buddhism of

the Peshawar region but also the introduced Greek

culture brought by Alexander’s army. Notably,

the Kushan were the first Buddhists to depict the

Buddha in human form.

To the east of the route, Qin Shi Huangdi unified

China to found the Qin Dynasty. Although the Qin

seemed to introduce brutal reforms, the Chinese

language began to become standardized. This

unified empire’s capital was Xi’an. Prior to the Qin

unification, the Xiongnu invaded from the north

more frequently. The northern Chinese states

attempted to thwart these invasions by constructing

walls. Post unification, the Qin worked to fill the gaps

in the various sections of the walls. This build up

signifies the beginnings of the Great Wall of China.

The Qin Dynasty lasted a mere fifteen years and was

succeeded by the Han Dynasty. The Han continued

the construction of the Great Wall. During this

time, the Han became aware that the Xiongnu had

driven the Yuezhi even further west. A recognizance

mission was arranged by the Han in the hope

of an alliance with the Yuezhi against the Xiongnu.

The Han delegations returned home with different

objects and artwork, especially religious art of the

Gandhara. Even then, some Chinese silk and other

goods were slowly reaching the Roman-conquered

Greeks. Most likely these goods were passed

through the hands of individual merchants.

Inevitably, where money can be made, nefarious

activity will develop. The Han soon found problems

occurring along the trade routes. Bandits took to

ransacking caravans as they passed along the Gansu

corridor. Defending their goods caused merchants

extra cost. As the caravans moved further from the

center of the capital, the Han faced the difficulty

of protecting its goods. Forts and walls helped to

bridge this security gap.

The Silk Road did not exclusively deal in silk. Many

goods were traded along the routes. Ivory, gold,

animals and plants were among other commodities.

Of course, silk was what amazed those in the

West. Silk naturally absorbs dye, so that the colors

come out vivid and deep.

Eastward headed caravans brought gold, ivory,

precious stones and metals to China. Westward caravans

carried ceramics, jade, bronze and iron. Most

of these materials did not follow a direct route. They

were often traded repeatedly between different

posts. The middleman controlled each small market

along the way, so that, by the time goods reached

their destination, the price was exorbitant.

Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in

the development of the civilizations of China, India,

Persia, Europe and Arabia. Though silk was certainly

the major trade item from China, many other goods

were traded, various technologies, religions and


The great story of the Silk Road is that Buddhism

travelled on it, from India. It is said that a Han

Emperor named Mingdi had a dream of a golden

figure, and his advisers said that the figure was the

Buddha - the God of the West. In 68 AD, Mingdi sent

Cai Yin to Central Asia to learn about this religion.

Cai Yin brought back Buddhist scriptures and two

Buddhist monks. Buddhism became popular, and

people built the big ancient Buddhist temple sites

associated with the Silk Road.

Christianity even saw an early growth along the

Silk Road. A sect known as the Nestorians was

driven out of the Roman Church in the 5 th century

CE. Its adherents settled in Persia. Within two centuries,

their faith spread to Changan. It survived until

the 14 th c.

The main traders during antiquity were the Indian

and Bactrian traders, from the 5 th to the 8 th century

the Sogdian traders and afterward the Arab and

Persian traders. The dry climate has preserved many

ruins, while many ethnic groups make their home in

this part of China, often still living a lifestyle like that

of their great grandfathers.

When Arabs attacked Central Asia in the 700s, Islam

replaced Buddhism as the major religion. The Silk

Road was into disuse after the Tang Dynasty fell in

the year 907. Then Mongolians conquered China

and most of Asia and established the Yuan Dynasty

(1279-1368) in China. In 1271, Kublai Khan established

a powerful Mongol Empire – Yuan Dynasty

(1271-1368) at Dadu (the present Beijing).

The Mongol Empire destroyed a great number

of toll-gates of the Silk Road; therefore passing

through the historic trade route became more

convenient, easier and safer than ever before.

The Mongolian emperors welcomed the travelers

of the West with open arms, and appointed some

foreigners high positions, for example, Kublai

Khan gave Marco Polo a hospitable welcome and

appointed him a high post in his court. At that time,

the Mongolian emperor issued a special VIP passport

known as “Golden Tablet” which entitled holders

to receive food, horses and guides throughout the

Khan’s dominion. The holders were able to travel

freely and carried out trade between East and the

West directly in the realm of the Mongol Empire.

‘Silk Road’ is in fact a relatively recent term, and

for the majority of their long history, these ancient

roads had no particular name. In the mid-19 th

century, the German geologist, Baron Ferdinand

von Richthofen, named the trade and communication

network Die Seidenstrasse (the Silk Road), and

the term, also used in the plural, continues to stir

imaginations with its evocative mystery.


Silk is a textile of ancient Chinese origin, woven

from the protein fibre produced by the silkworm

to make its cocoon, and was developed, according

to Chinese tradition, sometime around the year

2,700 BC.

Regarded as an extremely high value product, it

was reserved for the exclusive usage of the Chinese

imperial court for the making of cloths, drapes,

banners, and other items of prestige. Its production

was kept a fiercely guarded secret within China for

some 3,000 years, with imperial decrees sentencing

to death anyone who revealed to a foreigner the

process of its production. Tombs in the Hubei province

dating from the 4 th and 3 rd centuries BC contain

outstanding examples of silk work, including

brocade, gauze and embroidered silk, and the first

complete silk garments.

The Chinese monopoly on silk production however

did not mean that the product was restricted to the

Chinese Empire – on the contrary, silk was used as

a diplomatic gift, and was also traded extensively,

first of all with China’s immediate neighbours,

and subsequently further afield, becoming one of

China’s chief exports under the Han dynasty (206 BC

–220 AD). Indeed, Chinese cloths from this period

have been found in Egypt, in northern Mongolia,

and elsewhere.

At some point during the 1 st century BC, silk was

introduced to the Roman Empire, where it was

considered an exotic luxury and became extremely

popular, with imperial edicts being issued to control

prices. Its popularity continued throughout the

Middle Ages, with detailed Byzantine regulations

for the manufacture of silk clothes, illustrating its

importance as a quintessentially royal fabric and an

important source of revenue for the crown.

Additionally, the needs of the Byzantine Church for

silk garments and hangings were substantial. This

luxury item was thus one of the early impetuses in

the development of trading routes from Europe to

the Far East.



A territory in western China that accounts for onesixth

of China’s land and is home to about twenty

million people from thirteen major ethnic groups,

the largest of which (more than eight million) is the

Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim community with

ties to Central Asia.

Xinjiang, about the size of Iran, is divided into

the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim

Basin in the south by a mountain range. Xinjiang

shares borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan,

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India,

and the Tibet Autonomous Region and is China’s

largest administrative region.

Steppes, deserts and mountains cover most of

Xinjiang and it is the country’s most westerly region.

The largest ethnic group are the Muslim, Turkish

speaking Uyghurs. The region has had an intermittent

history of autonomy and occasional independence,

but was finally brought under Chinese control

in the 18 th century.

Known to the Chinese as Xiyu (“Western Regions”)

for centuries, the area became Xinjiang (“New

Borders”) upon its annexation under the Qing

(Manchu) dynasty in the 18 th century. Westerners

long called it Chinese Turkistan to distinguish it

from Russian Turkistan. Its indigenous population

of agriculturalists and pastoralists (principally

Uyghurs) inhabit oases strung out along the mountain

foothills or wander the arid plains in search of


Since the establishment of firm Chinese control in

1949, serious efforts have been made to integrate

the regional economy into that of the country, and

these efforts have been accompanied by a great

increase in the Han (Chinese) population there. The

policy of the Chinese government is to allow the

ethnic groups to develop and maintain their own

cultural identities but ethnic tensions exist, especially

between Uyghurs and Han.

Communist China established the Autonomous

Region in 1955.




KASHGAR, or Kashi, is an oasis city with an approximate

population of 350,000. It is the westernmost city

in China, located near the border with Tajikistan and

Kyrgyzstan and has a rich history of over 2,000 years.

Kashgar was, and in some ways still is, the last frontier.

Geologically and politically, Kashgar is the last town on

one of the longest dead ends on the planet. On three

sides, it is shielded by the Karakorum and Pamir mountain

ranges, on the other by the Taklamakan Desert,

whose name translates as ‘The Go In And You Won’t

Come Out Desert’. To get to Kashgar, you can cross over

a 5,600m pass from Pakistan, on probably the world’s

highest-altitude bus route, or take a 3 day, almost nonstop

bus ride through the desert from Urumqi.

Until the 21 st century, it was almost frozen in time, a

living relic of its trading heyday four centuries earlier.

The old section of Kashgar remained much as Marco

Polo found it: an intoxicating, marvelous confluence of

Indian, Persian, Arabian and Chinese cultures. Recent

renovations of the Old Quarter by the Han Chinese

have taken place, resulting in many old mud buildings

being demolished, and residents relocating to newer

buildings that employ modern earthquake and fire

codes. This has caused an outcry among some who

fear ancient ways of life are vanishing. Some steps are

being taken to preserve Kashgar’s ancient relics, but

the forces of modernity march on.

Situated at the foot of the Pamirs (mountains) where the

ranges of the Tien Shan and the Kunlun Mountains join,

Kashgar commanded the historical caravan routes—

notably the famed Silk Road westward to Europe via

the Fergana Valley of present-day Uzbekistan, as well

as routes going south to the Kashmir region and north

to Ürümqi and the Ili River valley.

Located historically at the convergence point of widely

varying cultures and empires, Kashgar has been under

the rule of the Chinese, Turk, Mongol, and Tibetan

empires. The city has also been the site of an extraordinary

number of battles between various groups of

people on the steppes. Now administered as a countylevel

unit of the People’s Republic of China, Kashgar is

the administrative center of its eponymous prefecture

in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The Chinese first occupied Kashgar at the end of the

2 nd c BC, taking it from the Yuezhi people, who had

been driven out of Gansu province. Chinese control,

however, did not survive the 1 st century CE, when

the Yuezhi reoccupied the area. After complex waves

of conquest by peoples from the north and east had

swept over the area, the Chinese again conquered it

during the late 7 th and early 8 th centuries under the Tang

dynasty (618–907), but it was always on the farthest

frontier of Chinese control. After 752 the Chinese were

again forced to withdraw, and Kashgar was successively

occupied by the Turks, the Uyghurs (in the 10 th

and 11 th c), the Karakitai (12 th c), and the Mongols (in

1219), under whom the overland traffic between China

and Central Asia flourished as never before. In the late

14 th c, Kashgar was sacked by Tamerlane, and in the

next centuries it suffered many wars. It was finally reoccupied

by the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) in 1755. In the

period from 1862 to 1875, Kashgar first was a center of

the Muslim Rebellion and then became the capital of

the Muslim general Yakub Beg. Another Muslim rebellion,

led by Ma Zhongyang, took place in the area from

1928 to 1937, but was finally suppressed by the provincial

warlord Sheng Shicai with Soviet aid. Control by

the Chinese government was not restored until 1943.

The hospitable Uyghurs in Kashgar are good at both

singing and dancing, their unique musical instruments

and clothes are exotic to visitors. The bustling markets

are packed with distinctively dressed Uyghurs, ambitious

Central Asian traders and veiled Muslim women

on Sundays. Muslim features are visible throughout the

city. A mosque towers high above the mud-thatched

houses. While strolling the city’s alleyways we can have

glimpses through the mud-brick doorways of people

engaged in all manner of ancient arts, including bread

making, metal forging, musical instrument manufacturing

and firing of hand-made tile. The lush green

valley of Kashgar, with tall poplars, is famous for the

cultivation of fruits, grains, cotton and livestock.

Id Kah Mosque, is the biggest mosque in the Region.

On Friday, the holy day for Islam, up to 20,000 people

can squeeze into the mosque and its precincts to face

Mecca and join in the prayers.

Apak Hoja Tomb (also known as the Fragrant Princess

Tomb), has an Islamic-style architecture, where the

beloved concubine of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing

Dynasty (1644-1911), Apak Hoja, was buried.

Still an active trading center, was the last place the Silk

Road traders stayed before heading east across the brutal

Taklamakan Desert on their way to the Middle East (or,

for those traders heading the other way, Kashgar was

the first bit of civilization they’d seen in months as they

left the desert and arrived in China). It is a fascinating

blend of cultures between the Muslim Uyghurs, who

represent about 80% of the area’s population. International

Bazaar, is composed of farmers’ markets, flea

markets, animal markets and meat markets. While the

bazaar is open every day of the week, traders from all

over neighboring countries make the trek into Kashgar

each Sunday to be a part of the main spectacle that

encompasses over 4,000 permanent stalls.

Kashgar’s Sunday livestock market at the edge of the

city, offers a glimpse of the past, with intense buying

and selling of sheep, donkeys, goats, cows and the

occasional camels. Local Uyghur men, dressed in traditional

garb, herd or haggle; when they get hungry, they

just head to the sidelines where various food stalls have

been set up, each cooking a dish made of fresh mutton.












URUMQI, the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous

Region in northwest China, is located at the foot of

the Tianshan Mountains. The city’s name in local

language means “fine pasture”. It is located in a fertile

belt of oases along the northern slope of the eastern

Tien Shan range. The area first came under full Chinese

control in the 7 th and 8 th centuries AD. Situated along

the ancient Silk Road, the city became an important

center for caravans on the Silk Road traveling onto the

Ili River Valley from the main route across Turkistan.

Urumqi thus was a major hub on the Silk Road during

China’s Tang Dynasty, having developed a reputation

as an important commercial and cultural center

during the Qing Dynasty. It is quite famous for its

claim as the most inland major city in the world, that

being the farthest from any ocean.

Red Hill is a symbol of Urumqi, owing to its uniqueness.

The body of the mountain, made up of aubergine

rock, has a reddish brown color. It is 1.5km long

and 1km wide from east to west. The city lies in the

shadow of the lofty ice-capped Bogda Peak with vast

Salt Lake to the east, the rolling pine-covered Southern

Hill, the alternating fields and sand dunes of Zunggar

Basin to the northwest.

Less than 1km away, Yamalike Hill stands facing Red

Hill. Legend has it that in ancient times a red dragon

fled from Heavenly Lake and the Heavenly Empress

caught him and sliced him in two with her sword.

Later on, the western part of the dragon turned into

Yamalike Hill and the eastern turned into Red Hill. The

sword turned into the Urumqi River. Oddly enough,

topographic pictures tell us the two hills were once

one and were separated into two parts due to

stratum rupture.

Eventually, ancient legend affected real life. In 1785

and 1786, floods hit Urumqi causing much destruction.

Rumors arose that Red Hill and Yamalike Hill were

growing closer and closer together. Once they met,

the Urumqi River between them would be blocked

and the city would become flooded as the water rose.

Therefore, in 1788 Shang An, the highest military

officer, ordered the Zhen Long (in Chinese, to subdue

the dragon) Pagodas built on both hills. These two

pagodas were made of gray brick, 10.5- meter high

with six sides, nine stories and an octagonal roof.

There are two major ethnic groups, the traditional Han

(3.0 million) and Uyghur (0.25 million). Other ethnic

groups in Urumqi include Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols

and Hui Muslims.

Regardless of ethnicity, most people in Urumqi can

speak some level of Mandarin Chinese, however in

some parts of the city Uyghur, a Turkish language,

is dominant.

The Erdaoqiao Bazaar is the largest in Urumqi. It

is a bustling market filled with fruit, clothing, crafts,

knives, carpets and almost anything that you can

imagine. The old streets around the bazaar are really

worth seeing.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum

has collections of silver works of art, stone steles, coins

and currency, ceramics, wooden articles, and paintings,

a broad overview of Chinese civilization along

the Silk Road and local ethnic cultures. One of the highlights

is the well-preserved collection of 4,000-yearold

corpses, unearthed along the Silk Road.

Built in 1953, it has an exhibition hall that covers an

area of about 7,800 square meters. The building is in

Uyghur style, the internal decor having strong ethnic

features. In total there are over 50,000 items in the

collection. These not only represent the ethnic lifestyle

and humanity of the region but also illustrate its

revolutionary spirit.

With such an abundance of items on display, the exhibition

is widely acknowledged for its comprehensive

and informative nature both at home and abroad.

The one relating to folk customs includes costumes,

tools and every day necessities. Together they vividly

illustrate for us the dress, lifestyle, religion, marriage

customs, festivals and other aspects of the colorful

life of the 12 minorities that live in Xinjiang.

The historical relics include carpentries, iron wares,

bronze wares, bright and beautiful brocades, tomb

figures, pottery, coins, rubbings from stone inscriptions

and writings, as well as weapons and so on.

These give an insight into the past and show how the

society of Xinjiang developed. There is even the fossil

of a human head that dates back some 10,000 years.

The display of ancient corpses is fantastic, for it was

in this region that a great number of ancient and

well preserved remains were discovered. These are

quite different from the mummies in Egypt that

were created by skilled embalming procedures; the

corpses here were dried by the particular natural

environment. In all there are twenty-one specimens

in the collection and include men, women, lovers,

and generals. The ‘Loulan beauty’ is among the best

preserved and famous ones. It has a reddish brown

skin, thick eyelashes, charming large eyes, and long

hair. This particular ‘charming’ corpse has survived

for an estimated 4,000 years.





TURPAN, also known as Turfan or Tulufan, is an

ancient city with a long history. Traces have been

found of humans living there, dating as far back

as 6,000 years ago. The city was known as Gushi

in the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-240AD); and

in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it got its name

Turpan, which means ‘the lowest place’ in the

Uygur language and ‘the fertile land’ in Turkish.

Lying in the Turpan Basin, the elevation of most

places in the area is below 500 meters, the

lowest elevation in China. The city, which is also

known as Huo Zhou (‘a place as hot as fire’), is the

hottest place in China. It is praised as the ‘Hometown

of Grapes’ and the Grape Valley is a good

place to enjoy hundreds of varieties of grapes.

Turpan has long been the center of a fertile oasis

(with water provided by the Karez canal system)

and an important trade center. It was historically

located along the Silk Road, at which time it was

adjacent to the kingdoms of Kroran and Yanqi. The

name Turfan itself however was not used until the

end of the Middle Ages - its use became widespread

only in the post-Mongol period. The center of the

region has shifted a number of times, from Jiaohe,

10 km to the west of modern Turpan, Gaochang, 30

km to the southeast of Turpan and to Turpan itself.

The Tang dynasty had reconquered the Tarim Basin

by the 7 th c AD and for the next three centuries the

Tibetan Empire, the Tang dynasty, and the Turks

fought over dominion of the Tarim Basin. Tibetans

took control in 792. In 803, the Uyghurs seized

Turfan from the Tibetans. The Uyghur Khaganate

however was destroyed by the Kirghiz and its capital

Ordu-Baliq in Mongolia, sacked in 840. The defeat

resulted in the mass movement of the Uyghurs out

of Mongolia and their dispersal into Gansu and

Central Asia. Many joined other Uyghurs already

present in Turfan.

The Uyghurs established a Kingdom in the Turpan

region with its capital in Gaochang or Kara-Khoja.

The kingdom lasted from 856 to 1389 AD. They were

Manichaean but later converted to Buddhism and

formed an alliance with the rulers of Dunhuang.

The Uyghur State later became a vassal state of the

Kara-Khitans, and then as a vassal of the Mongol

Empire. This Kingdom was led by the Idikuts, or Saint

Spiritual Rulers. The last Idikut left Turpan area in

1284 for Kumul, then Gansu to seek protection of

Yuan Dynasty, but local Uyghur Buddhist rulers still

held power until the invasion by the Moghul Hizir

Khoja in 1389. The conversion of the local Buddhist

population to Islam was completed nevertheless

only in the second half of the 15 th century.

Ancient city of Gaochang (1 st c. BC). An important

point on the Silk Road. The city’s name means

‘the King City’ and was abandoned during the 15 th

century. Divided into three parts the exterior city,

interior city and the palace city with a total area is

about two million square meters. Recalling Pompeii

in scale, this city was lost to the sands of the Gobi for

hundreds of years until recent excavation. It is listed

as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ancient city of Jiaohe Kerez (2 nd c. BC). The Jiaohe

is a natural fortress located atop a steep cliff on a

leaf-shaped plateau between two deep river valleys.

From the years 108 BC to 450 AD was the capital of

the Anterior Jushi, concurrent with the Han Dynasty,

Jin Dynasty, and Southern and Northern Dynasties

in China. It was an important site along the Silk Road

trade route leading west.

Turpan’s Flaming Mountains, the hottest place in

China, overshadow the cradle of the Turpan ancient

civilization and oasis agriculture. They provide a

spectacular backdrop to the oases and scenery

of the Turpan area, and have given rise to many

legends and stories.

The Emin Minaret or Imin Ta stands by the Uyghur

mosque. At 44 meters it is the tallest minaret in

China. The minaret was started in 1777 and was

completed only one year later. It was financed by

local leaders and built to honor the exploits of a

local Turpan general, Emin Khoja. The richly textured

sun dried yellow bricks are carved into intricate,

repetitive, geometric and floral mosaic patterns,

such as stylized flowers and rhombuses. This

mixture of Chinese and Islamic features is seen only

in minarets in China.

Turpan Museum is the second largest museum

in Xinjiang, only after Xinjiang Regional Museum.

Being on the route of the famous ‘Silk Road’, Turpan

assembled traders and monks from western and

eastern countries.

It houses more than 5,000 artifacts, archaic

mummies, and many old documents in different

languages. Many of the mummies have been found

in very good condition, owing to the dryness of

the desert and the desiccation it produced in the

corpses. The mummies (1100–500 BCE) share typical

Europoid body features and many of them have

their hair physically intact, ranging in color from

blond to red to deep brown, and generally long,

curly and braided. Their costumes, and especially

textiles, may indicate a common origin with Indo-

European neolithic clothing techniques.











DUNHUANG is a county-level city in northwestern

Gansu Province, Western China and in ancient time

it was a major stop on the ancient Silk Road and the

trade center between China and its western neighbors.

It was established as a frontier garrison outpost

by the Han Dynasty Emperor Wudi.

Situated in a rich oasis containing Crescent Lake and

Mingsha Shan (meaning “Singing-Sand Mountain”),

named after the sound of the wind whipping off the

dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. It commands

a strategic position at the crossroads of the ancient

Southern Silk Road and the main road leading from

India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, as

well as controlling the entrance to the narrow Hexi

Corridor, which led straight to the heart of the north

Chinese plains and the ancient capitals Xian and

Luoyang. At that time, it was the most westerly frontier

military garrison in China. With the flourishing of

trade along the Silk Road, it was prompted to become

the most open area in international trade in Chinese

history. It provided the only access westward for the

Chinese Empire and eastward for western nationalities.

Today it is best known for the Mogao Caves.

During the Tang Dynasty, Dunhuang became the main

hub of commerce of the Silk Road and a major religious

center. As a frontier town, Dunhuang had been occupied

at various times by other non-Han Chinese. After

the Tang Dynasty, the site went into a gradual decline,

and construction of new caves ceased entirely after

the Yuan Dynasty. By then Islam had conquered much

of Central Asia, and the Silk Road declined in importance

when trading via sea-routes began to dominate

Chinese trade with the outside world. During the

Ming Dynasty, the Silk Road was finally officially abandoned,

and Dunhuang slowly became depopulated

and largely forgotten by the outside world. Most of

the Mogao caves were abandoned; the site, however,

was still a place of pilgrimage and was used as a place

of worship by locals.

The Mogao Caves also known as the Thousand

Buddha Grottoes, form a system of 492 temples 25

km southeast of the center of Dunhuang. The caves

contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist

art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves

were dug out in 366 AD as places of Buddhist meditation

and worship. The construction of the Mogao

Caves begun sometime in the 4 th c. According to a

book written during the reign of Tang Empress Wu,

a Buddhist monk named Lè Zūn, had a vision of a

thousand Buddhas bathed in golden light at the site

in 366 AD, inspiring him to build a cave here. From the

4 th until the 14 th century, caves were constructed by

monks as shrines with funds from donors - laborately

painted, the cave paintings and architecture were

serving as aids to meditation, as visual representations

of the quest for enlightenment and as teaching

tools to inform those illiterate about Buddhist beliefs

and stories. They were sponsored by patrons such

as important clergy, local ruling elite, foreign dignitaries,

as well as Chinese emperors. Other caves may

have been funded by merchants, military officers

and locals.

During late 19 th and early 20 th century, Western

explorers began to show interest in the ancient Silk

Road and the lost cities of Central Asia, and those who

passed through Dunhuang noted the murals, sculptures,

and artifacts. The biggest discovery, however,

came from a Chinese Taoist named Wang Yuanlu who

appointed himself guardian of some of these temples

around the turn of the century.

An important cache of documents was discovered in

1900 in the so-called “Library Cave,” which had been

walled-up in the 11 th century. The most famous text

in the library cave, the Diamond Sutra, which dates

to 868 AD, was made using this woodblock printing

technique and is the first complete printed book in

the world. The content of the library was dispersed

around the world, and the largest collections are now

found in Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin. Some of the

caves had by then been blocked by sand and Wang

set about clearing away the sand and made an attempt

at repairing the site. In one such cave, Wang discovered

a walled up area behind one side of a corridor

leading to a main cave. Behind the wall was a small

cave stuffed with an enormous hoard of manuscripts.

In the next few years, Wang took some manuscripts

to show to various officials who expressed varying

level of interest, but in 1904 Wang re-sealed the cave

following an order by the governor of Gansu.

Words of Wang’s discovery drew the attention of a

joint British/Indian group led by Hungarian archaeologist

Aurel Stein who was on an archaeological expedition

in the area in 1907. Stein negotiated with Wang

to allow him to remove a significant number of manuscripts

as well as the finest paintings and textiles for

a fee. He was followed by a French expedition under

Paul Pelliot who acquired many thousands of items in

1908, and then by a Japanese expedition under Otani

Kozui in 1911 and a Russian expedition under Sergei

F. Oldenburg in 1914.

In 1956, the first Premier of the People’s Republic

of China, Zhou Enlai, took a personal interest in the

caves and sanctioned a grant to repair and protect the

site. The Mogao Caves became one of the UNESCO

World Heritage Sites in 1987.

SINGING SAND MOUNTAINS - Sand Dunes of Mingsha


MOGAO CAVES (One Thousand Buddha Caves)

DUNHUANG TOWN - Night Bazaar




LANZHOU is the capital city of Gansu Province in

northwest China. The Yellow River, the Chinese

Mother River, runs through the city, ensuring rich

crops of many juicy and fragrant fruits. Covering an

area of 1631.6 square kilometers it was once a key

point on the ancient Silk Road.

The history of Lanzhou is tied up with the Silk Road.

The Han Empire (206 BC – 220 AD) rulers wanted

trade and allies and sent Zhang Qian, as an emissary

to western countries, two times about the year 100

BC. He had very long and adventurous journeys that

included being captured for 10 years and escaping.

The Han rulers sent a big embassy with him with

trading goods, and they interested the countries to

the west with trade with China.

On and off for about 1,600 years after 100 BC, the Silk

Road through the Hexi Corridor and Lanzhou was an

important trade route. For centuries, between the

Chinese Empires and Kingdoms in the Far East and

the empires and Kingdoms to the west, the quickest

and safest overland route north of the Himalayan

mountains passed through the town of Dunhuang

at the western end of the Hexi Corridor, though the

Hexi Corridor passage, and then on to Lanzhou. The

Hexi Corridor is about 1,000 kilometers long, and the

towns and rivers were used by traders, troops and

travelers. On both sides of this corridor is inhospitable

terrain. To the south are the Qilian Mountains

and the Tibetan Plateau, and to the north are the

Beishan Mountains and the Gobi desert. For going

between the West and China, the big, long valley

was one of the two main land routes. The other

route called the Southern Silk Road or the Tea Horse

Road went through Yunnan in the far southwestern

corner of China.

Zhongshan Bridge, also called the first bridge over

the Yellow River, lies at the foot of Bai Ta Mountain

and in front of Jin Cheng Pass in Lanzhou city,

the capital of Gansu Province. Before Zhongshan

Bridge was built there were many floating bridges

over the Yellow River, but only one existed for a

relatively long period. This bridge was called Zhen

Yuan Floating Bridge and was made up of more

than 20 ships, tied up by ropes and chains. It floated

on the river in order to help people pass over, but

it was neither solid nor safe enough. Almost every

year floods destroyed the bridge and killed people.

Used for over 500 years, the Zhen Yuan Floating

Bridges was finally retired in 1909, when an iron

bridge was built.

The Gansu Museum houses 75,000 cultural relics,

ranging from fossil to articles of historical and

heritage significance. More than 110 pieces are

rated of first class significance including Gansu

color-painted pottery, and bamboo medication

slips from the Han era.

The most famous piece in the collection from the

Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) is a bronze Galloping

Horse of Wuwei that is accompanied by an impressive

array of chariots and carriages. Excavated in

1969 in Wuwei County, Gansu Province, the piece

depicts a vigorous horse with long tail waving and

head perking. Its 3 hooves are in the air, galloping

like lightening. What makes this sculpture amazing

is the right back hoof of this galloping horse lands

on the back of a small flying bird. The bird turns

in surprise to look at the big creature on its back.

At the same moment, the horse’s head also turns

slightly in attempt to know what has happened.

The whole statue is honored as the mysterious and

rare treasure in the history of Chinese sculpture art.

Bingling Temple Grottoes are located on the Small

Jishi Hill, about 35 km west of Yongjing County

in Lanzhou City. Bingling means ‘Ten Thousand

Buddhas’ in the Tibetan language.

Being one of the very noted four caves in China, it

is the second to Mogao Caves in respect of artistic

value. It was added to UNESCO World Heritage

List on June 22, 2014. The starting construction

time dates back to the Western Jin Dynasty (265-

316). In the following dynasties, the caves had

been excavated many times. There are now 183

niches, 694 stone statues, 82 clay sculptures and

some 900 square meters’ of murals, which are all

well preserved. Famous for its stone sculptures,

Bingling Thousand Temple Caves stretches about

200 meters on the west cliff in Dasi Gully. With

elegant postures, flying robes and ribbons, the

statues are life-like.

The stone sculptures represent the social situations

and customs during ancient times. In the vicinity of

the caves are green hills, crystal water, grotesque

stones and precipitous cliffs, which adds more

beauty to this artistic site.

One of the biggest surviving carved statues of

Buddha from the Tang Dynasty era (618-907) in

China is the Great Maitreya Buddha, similar to the

Buddhas of Bamiyan and measures 27 tall. It is

similar to bigger giant statues built about 250 years

earlier in Central Asia showing the cultural link with

the region. Their inaccessibility spared them from

destruction during the Cultural Revolution.

LANZHOU TOWN - Yellow River





XI’AN, one of the oldest cities in China, is the capital of Shaanxi province, located in the northwest

of China, in the center of the Guanzhong Plain. Known as Chang’an (meaning the Eternal City)

before the Ming dynasty, Xi’an is the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, having held

the position under several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, including Zhou, Qin,

Han, Sui, and Tang.

Xi’an is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi

Huang. The Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24AD), which is the third dynasty, setting up its capital

in Xian, constructed its capital – Chang’an on the relics of the Qin’s Xianyang. Once, the city was the

largest one in the world, covering an area of about 36 square kilometers. The famous ‘Silk Road’

which starts from the Chang’an City appeared during the period of Wudi, opening the communication

between China and overseas countries. On the other hand, the emperors carried out a series of

policies to help with people’s rehabilitation. As the eastern terminal of the Silk Road and the site of

the famous Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty, the city has won a reputation all over the world.

X i ’an

The Terracotta Army (Terracotta Warriors and Horses) are the most significant archeological excavations

of the 20 th century. Work is ongoing at this site, which is around 1.5 km east of Emperor Qin Shi

Huang’s Mausoleum in Lintong, Xian, Shaanxi Province.

Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 (in 246 BC), Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all

China, had begun to work for his mausoleum. It took 11 years to finish. It is speculated that many

buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his afterlife. A group of

peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby the royal tomb in 1974. It caught

the attention of archeologists immediately. They came to Xian in droves to study and to extend

the digs. They had established beyond doubt that these artifacts were associated with the Qin

Dynasty (211-206 BC). The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the

generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three

pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses

and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s

mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials,

acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

XIAN - Terracotta Warriors and Horses



Both the Great Wall of China and the Silk Road are symbols of Chinese history. The Great Wall,

constructed between 221 B.C. and A.D. 1644, spans 9,000 km and was built as a line of defense to

protect the country from invaders. The wall was begun in during the Qin dynasty between 221

and 207 B.C. Work continued during the Han dynasty but ceased in A.D. 220 and construction

languished for a thousand years. With the threat of Genghis Khan, the project resumed in 1115.

During the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), the wall was reinforced with stone and brick. Despite

the immense building and intimidating size of the wall, it wasn’t enough to keep invaders away.

The Mongols were able to ride right through gaps in the wall, and later, the Manchus overtook

the Ming dynasty by riding through the gates that traitor Gen. Wu Sangui opened.

Around the same time as the Great Wall construction during the Han dynasty, Zhan Qian opened

the Silk Road route to trade with other countries. Routes were extended and trade flourished

during the remainder of the Han dynasty. Wars with the Huns were fought along the Silk Road

to gain control and keep the trade route open during the Han dynasty. After the Mongols gained

power in 1271, the ruler Kublai Khan destroyed most of the toll gates and allowed for easier

travel. Khan welcomed Marco Polo, the great explorer and gave him the right to travel the route

whenever he liked.

The Great Wall is rumored to have been constructed with mud, bricks, stones and bones of

the workers who toiled day after day to build it. The first wall, constructed under Emperor Qin

Shi Huang, was built by hundreds of thousands of political prisoners over the course of 10

years. During the Ming dynasty, when workers were frantic to reinforce the wall to keep out the

Manchus, it is estimated that 2 to 3 million Chinese workers perished. On the Silk Road, Chinese

soldiers lost their lives defending the route from the Huns, mostly during the Han dynasty.

Although they were successful at keeping the Huns at bay, many sacrificed their lives to maintain

the trade route.




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