Coming up on SBS is the fascinating three-part journey along what is history's most significant trade route - The Silk Road.
Tracing the Silk Road's route, the show charts the roughly 7,000 kilometres from China to the Mediterranean Sea. This sprawling documentary, headed up by Dr. Sam Willis, reveals the insurmountable impact that the ideas and inventions traded on The Silk Road had on modern life.
This series is a bonanza of curiosity — a thorough exploration of the shaping of our modern world, and here are a few highlights to whet your inquisitive appetite:
We first learn that Venice isn’t as Italian as we thought
When Charles Dickens visited Venice, he opined that Venice felt anything but European, calling it an ‘hallucination’ more reminiscent of the Orient. He is quoted as reporting in a letter that Venice is “troubled by the wild, luxurious fantasies of the East.”
This cultural confusion is owed to The Silk Road, as the exchange of architectural ideas resulted in the pervasiveness of Muslim art and architecture. In other words, the much-revered Venetian atmosphere is the result of trades on The Silk Road.
The origin city of The Silk Road is even more culturally confused
The city of Xi’an, China, is largely attributed as the 8th century genesis point of The Silk Road and its history remains on display today. Discerning eyes are required when searching for Chinese food amid the endless markets, as it’s much easier to buy a lamb kebab off a Chinese citizen wearing a Muslim prayer hat.
And if you stumble across Xi’an’s most famous Chinese gardens, you’ll find they line the perimeter of an elaborate, still-functioning Mosque.
Chinese soldiers rode ponies until they knew better
Emperor Wu of the Han (the second Chinese dynasty) received word of these towering, mutated beasts we know as horses — knowledge that made their pony population seem positively miniature.
A decade later, after a well-worn decade of bartering and battling, the remainder of a Chinese envoy returned to China with majestic steeds. From that point on, these imported animals were known as ‘heavenly horses’.
What did they trade for such a priceless discovery?
Why Silk, of course.
It's called The Silk Road for a reason
Though traces of silk were found 5,000 years ago, the Chinese people believed the other-worldly material was discovered by an emperor’s wife who after-the-fact was promoted to goddess.
Story says that the silk goddess was sitting under a Mulberry tree drinking tea when a ball of silk fell out of a branch and into her cup. The heat from the tea unravelled the wee ball and produced the first silk thread touched by human hands.
Exceptionally durable and tactile, silk became a hot item amongst all non-Chinese trading states.
We owe thanks to The Silk Road for a long-list of modern ideas and inventions
Not even the arduous terrain replete with bandits would stop trading nations from braving The Silk Road, as the spoils outweighed the sacrifice. If it weren’t for these courageous (and perhaps a little naïve) adventurers, we wouldn’t have printing, gunpowder, magnetic compasses, certain types of suspension bridges, certain types of pumps, techniques for deep-drilling, rotary fans, wheelbarrows, crossbows, kites, the casting of iron, canal locks and umbrellas.
Slave labour and religion, while both prevalent before The Silk Road, were both exchanged during the Silk Road’s hey day.
To find out more on how much we owe to The Silk Road, tune into the premiere on Sunday 5 February at 7:30pm.