Aga Khan Foundation

The Silk Road

A living history

Take a journey through history and cultures, exploring ancient civilisations and contemporary nations.

The Silk Road

In 138 BCE, General Zhang Qian of China’s Han Dynasty was sent on a diplomatic mission to develop economic and cultural links with the peoples of Central Asia. In so doing, he set in motion the creation of a transcontinental trade route that would shape the world as we know it today.


The Silk Road, as it would later be called, is neither an actual road nor a single route. It refers to the historic network of trade routes that stretched thousands of miles across Eurasia connecting China with Europe.


It was not only goods that travelled these routes but knowledge, religions and people too. Gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press, and advanced mathematics all came to Europe from China and the Islamic world. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam each found new converts in the lands that opened up to the East and West.

These exchanges had a profound impact on the empires and civilisations through which they passed, giving them political, religious and cultural shape. By the late 16th century, the Silk Road had lost its prominence to new maritime trade routes but the legacy of interconnectivity and exchange endured.


Today, it is being reimagined on an unprecedented scale. Through China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Eurasia is the focus of the largest and most expensive infrastructure project in history. If realised, a massive network of roads, railways, pipelines and ports could connect as much as 65% of the world’s population and radically alter the flow of global trade. It is already beginning to reshape Eurasia, focusing world attention once again on the exchange of goods and ideas running from East to West.

Visit the exhibition

Exhibition details

19 October 2021 – 16 May 2022

Aga Khan Park
77 Wynford Drive
M3C 1K1

The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The Silk Road: A Living History was created by travel photographer Christopher Wilton-Steer and is presented by the Aga Khan Foundation.

The exhibition was originally held in King’s Cross, London, between 8 April – 22 August.

Countries & Stories:
Explore The Silk Road

For those wanting to go beyond the physical exhibition and discover more about some of the people, places and cultures along the Silk Road, we hope you enjoy exploring this selection of photo essays and travel writing.

The physical exhibition is only the tip of the ice-berg. Click on the country names above to discover more.


The Aga Khan Foundation is planning a series of talks to explore the cultural, economic and social heritage of the countries, cities and regions that lie along the Silk Road.

Workshops related to the Silk Road will also be available online and, when restrictions allow, in-person at the Aga Khan Centre.

Silk Road Bazaar

Alongside the exhibition, the Aga Khan Foundation is planning a Silk Road Bazaar in King’s Cross. This temporary physical market will stock and sell artisanal products from countries along the Silk Road imported and sold by UK based vendors.

The market will include products from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and elsewhere. The bazaar will take place between 11-13 June in King’s Cross.


The Aga Khan Foundation and agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) have been active in countries along the Silk Road for decades. AKDN is a long-term partner in the development of Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Alongside its partners, AKDN has channelled significant financial and human resources into economic, social and cultural development in these regions. Promoting pluralism, self-reliance and women’s empowerment have been central to those efforts.

AKDN’s initiatives are wide-ranging and include agriculture and food security, climate resilience, education, energy, enterprise development, financial services, healthcare, infrastructure, telecommunications and promoting civil society. It has also restored hundreds of historical monuments, parks and gardens and supported some of Central Asia’s greatest musicians to transmit their knowledge and perform on the world’s stage. AKDN’s overarching aim is to improve the quality of life.