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Medieval to modern trade routes: the Silk Road and World Heritage preservation

1380 illustration of a Silk Road caravan

"The Silk Road is likely to emerge as the most ambitious and expansive international cooperation program for heritage preservation ever undertaken"

For thousands of years, extensive trade networks crisscrossed the great expanse of Eurasia between ancient Chinese empires and the civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean. Known by historians as the Silk Road, this network actually consisted of numerous routes on both land and sea. Reddit use martinjanmannson has compiled an online map of numerous medieval trade routes across Europe and Asia. The zoomable map is available online here. (The image above illustrating a medieval caravan in 1380 is in the public domain).

While trade across this region never really stopped, the collapse of the major civilizations that occupied the region over the millenia certainly reduced trade traffic to a comparative crawl. Now, China is seeking to reinvigorate the Silk Road corridor by financing enormous infrastructure projects across the region. Nicknamed the One Belt, One Road initiative, China is seeking to become the dominant trading partner in this important region.

China’s recent infrastructure investments already have had an effect on the cultural heritage of the area. At Mes Aynak in Afghanistan, China’s interest in a developing a large copper deposit there led to the discovery (or rediscovery) of an enormous Bronze Age archaeological site, testament to the important role of Buddhism in the region. UNESCO has developed an initiative to help expand cultural dialogue across this historic route.

Now China’s efforts will dwarf the outlay of infrastructure investments from the West, particularly when the United States has recently announced renewed sanctions against Iran that will limit western dollars from entering the country. China speeds ahead, however, as a new train to Tehran illustrates.

But China's plans go far beyond infrastructure alone - in face, China aims to promote the "shared heritage" of the ancient Silk Road cultures as a means to encouraging greater harmony in the years ahead. Part of this approach includes convening a partnership of countries, in coordination with UNESCO, to develop World Heritage nominations for heritage sites throughout the region. In this manner, World Heritage nominations are being used as infrastructure development tools as well as a means to preservation of cultural heritage sites.


One Belt, One Road, One Heritage: Cultural Diplomacy and the Silk Road

By Tim Winter

March 29, 2016

The Diplomat

Also see

An Incredibly Detailed Map of Medieval Trade Routes

By Reddit User martinjanmannson

May 19, 2018

China’s new train line to Iran sends message to Trump: We’ll keep trading anyway

By Rick Noack

The Washington Post

May 11, 2018

The Economist Explains: What is China’s belt and road initiative? The many motivations behind Xi Jinping’s key foreign policy.

By J.P., Beijing

The Economist

May 15, 2017

Archaeological Dig Resumes at Mes Aynak

By Jawid Zeyaratjaye


April 12, 2018

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