Learn more about the Silk Road

Explore the cultural, economic and social heritage of the countries, cities and regions that lie along the Silk Road through this series of talks.


Travelling the Silk Road: from London to Beijing

A conversation with Christopher Wilton-Steer, creator of The Silk Road: A Living History exhibition, about his 40,000km (mostly) overland journey across Eurasia in 2019.

Over a period of four months, Christopher travelled by car, bus, train, ferry, horse and camel from London to Beijing traversing sixteen countries.

Restoring the Values of the Past: Creating A School of Music in Tajikistan

In this talk Otambek Mastibekov shares why he felt compelled to establish a music school in Tajikistan that focused on the teaching and promotion of madḥiya-khānī, the devotional songs and music of the Badakhshani/Pamiri Ismaili Muslims.

Madḥiya is a poetic genre in Persian and Arabic literature. For the Ismaili Muslims of the Silk Road: Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Western China and Northern Pakistan, madḥiya is devotional singing that embodies the art of music, religion, philosophy and ethics. Known in the region as madḥiya-khānī (singing madḥiya) or qaṣīda-khānī (singing qaṣīda), its origin goes back, according to tradition, to the 11th century poet, philosopher and traveller Nāṣir Khusraw (1004-1088 CE).

Travelling the Silk Road from East to West: How a 14th century Mongol pilgrim became the leader of the church in Iraq

In this talk, Professor Philip Wood examines the lives of Barsauma and Mark, Christian pilgrims from Mongolia who became important players in the politics of 14th century Iraq. This session explores the conditions under which long distance overland travel and the spread of ideas and personnel across Eurasia was possible during this period.

Professor Wood also discusses some of the unusual diplomatic links between the East and the West in this period, such as the attempt by the Mongol Ilkhan to organise a crusade against Jerusalem in alliance with the Pope and the king of France.

This talk will highlight how Christianity in the 14th century was not only a European phenomenon and how the Christian communities that this pilgrim encountered in Central Asia had rich histories going back to the 6th and 7th centuries.

Trade, Heritage and Landscape along the Silk Roads

During this webinar chaired by Professor Stéphane Pradines, Professor Roland Lin and Professor Michael Jansen discuss the Silk Roads and networks between Asia, Africa and Europe.

The experts focus particularly on the land and maritime routes in Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. With some historical and archaeological examples, the discussants show how Emporiums, city-States and thalassocracies were created around commercial networks. Along the Silk Roads, not only products were exchanged but people circulated bringing with them new ideas, cultures, and religions such as Buddhism and Islam.

The panelists develop the idea of intangible heritage along the Silk Roads and they share their long-time experience on how to preserve and promote heritage along the Silk Roads.

The Syrian Silk Industry, Computing and the Myth of Queen Elizabeth II’s Wedding Gown

In this talk Russell Harris discusses his interest in the Syrian silk industry, which was inspired mainly by a mammoth bout of shopping some years ago in the Suq al-Hamidiyya in Damascus.

Russell discusses the long-kept secret of silk manufacture and how the technology reached the Middle East. He also touches on various points of immense interest to world history, such as the connection between the Jacquard loom and the beginnings of modern computing, the method of producing a ‘programme’ that can create the various patterns of the particular weave of silk termed ‘brukar’ (brocade), and the by-product of the Syrian silk industry (fresh mulberry juice). He also debunks a commonly repeated myth that Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth wore a wedding dress of Syrian silk.

The Idea of the Silk Road: Historians Debate and Discuss This Modern Concept

Among idealised models of premodern connectivities few can compete with the appeal of the Silk Road and the way it projects modern notions of open trade and cultural exchange, religious and racial tolerance, and dialogue onto the past. While invented barely 150 years ago, the Silk Road is now probably the most famous and most frequently cited road as a quick Google search will confirm.

Khodadad Rezakhani discusses the use and abuse of the term in the field of world history and how the term reinforces eurocentric historiography. Revisiting the coining of the term (die Seidenstrasse) in 1877 by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, Arezou Azad discusses what we actually know about trade and commerce in Central Asia in antiquity, and how the idea enables modern economic, cultural, and infrastructure projects to integrate the region. Zhan Zhang draws attention to the reinvention of the Silk Road in China from the late twentieth century onwards. Finally, Aslisho Qurboniev discusses the reception of the idea of the Silk Road in Central Asia, a region that is central to the idea, from the 19th century to the Soviet and post-Soviet period.

The event is chaired by AKU-ISMC’s Professor Sarah Bowen Savant.

Interaction between Silk Road Communities: Ismaili Inscriptions and Manuscripts as Witness

This talk by Dr Karim Javan from the IIS-Ismaili Special Collections Unit, presents some aspects of social interaction between different communities of the Silk Road in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India. The findings presented in this talk are based on textual documents found among Ismaili communities of these regions or inscriptions on rock or gravestones related to the Ismaili Imams in central Iran around Anjudan and Mahallat. The inscriptions that will be shared in this presentation were almost unknown to contemporary Western scholars of Ismaili studies and were identified during recent field work that took place in 2018.

Travelling the Silk Road – a practical guide

Have you ever dreamed of travelling along the Silk Road, of visiting the architectural wonders of Iran, shopping in the ancient bazaars of Uzbekistan, traversing the Pamir mountains of Central Asia or tasting the culinary delights of Western China but weren’t sure how to start planning such a trip?

Then join us for this talk by four seasoned Silk Road travellers who share their varied experiences of journeying along the world’s most celebrated trade route.

Jonny Bealby and Marc Leaderman from Wild Frontiers, writer Caroline Eden and photographer Christopher Wilton-Steer discuss how to travel the Silk Road, when to go, the challenges of travelling independently, what’s it like to travel as a woman, how to give back to the communities encountered along the way, what’s it like if you are a vegetarian and much more.

The Pamiri House: A Case Study of Silk Road Dwellings in ‘the Roof of the World’

The focus of Dr Nourmamadcho Nourmamadchoev’s talk is places of dwelling along the Silk Road with a special focus on the Pamiri house which we referred to in the local language as Chid. The traditional Pamiri house, as the everyday living space reflects the ritualistic as well as symbolic worldview of the inhabitants of the Pamirs. This type of traditional house is prevalent in Badakhshan of Tajikistan and Afghanistan as well as in the northern areas of modern Pakistan.

The Pamiri house, with its long history, reflects the pre-Islamic as well as the Islamic cosmological worldview of the inhabitants of Badakhshan. In this presentation, Dr Nourmamadchoev will talk about the architectural design and will show and explain the symbolic meaning of various elements of the Pamiri house.

A Journey along the Silk Road through Manuscripts and Coins

Join Naureen Ali (Ismaili Special Collections Unit, Institute of Ismaili Studies) as she explores the story behind heritage materials from IIS special collections and two items from the Aga Khan Museum’s collection. Items in this journey include manuscripts, rare books and coins that connect with different areas around the Silk Road.

From rare books printed in 16th and 17th centuries such as the Latin translations of al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (The Canon of Medicine), The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela and Kitāb al-manāẓir (Book of Optics) to a manuscript of Ta’rīkh-i jahān-gushā (History of the World-Conqueror) copied in the 13th century as well as an illuminated Qur’an manuscript copied in the 19th century, this webinar of special collection items explores the story behind these objects and their connectedness with each other.

For further information and access to heritage materials housed at the IIS, please visit:… Ismaili Special Collections Unit online catalogue: