Last week Dr. Sam Willis began tracing and combing the length of The Silk Road — perhaps the most significant (and danger-frought) trading route in history.
Stretching from China to the Mediterranean sea, the Silk Road was a hotbed of progress. A trading route where the exchange of spilled blood was just as prevalent as the exchange of goods, inventions, and ideas.
Coming up this week is part two, where Dr. Willis visits a tenuous and often overlooked section of the trade route - where the remnants of an all-but-forgotten culture live.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect from this historical feast.
Time your travel well, or else
For more than 1000 years, conquerors and traders braved the path to and through Tajikistan despite the long stretches of towering mountains and deep valleys that lay before them.
If these adventurers didn’t time their trip at the correct time of year, the only awaiting fate was death. Death by nature’s unrelenting hand. Obviously, in order to discover the requirement for planning, many had to lose their lives.
Tajikstan is home to a forgotten race of people
In the 10th century, in the valleys of the Yaghnob, Qul and Varzob rivers, a population of Sogdian people known as the Yaghnobi we’re almost completely wiped off the face of the earth. Speaking a form of ancient Persian, the Yaghnobi way of life was all-but-destroyed by the forceful fist of migration.
It turns out that remnants of this forgotten culture managed to make it through to the present — many Muslims reside in the valley and still speak a version of the ancient tongue.
This version is arguably depressing as only thirty per cent of the language remains, mostly thanks to Soviet Russia. But at the same time, the fact that aspects of the culture have survived for 1000 years in such a tiny area is rather breathtaking.
Introducing Timur the Lame
Turco-Mongol conquerer Timur, otherwise known as Tamerlane was one scary historical figure. Timur followed in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, though his name was suffixed with ‘the Lame’ due to a pervasive limp.
Devoid of any sense of morality, Timur would announce that his army is approaching new Silk Road territory in the name of peace and that not a single soul will be hurt. Then, upon arrival, he would immediately start a process of burying people alive.
Vivaldi and Handel have both penned operas and Christopher Marlowe wrote a famous play (Tamburlaine) about this monster of a man.
The great city of Samarkand shows the power of Timur’s reign
Once a great trading city, Samarkand’s atmosphere of potential was unrivaled. Unfortunately, the city was conquered and rebuilt in Timur’s image. While its art and architecture is exceedingly astonishing to the eye, it came at a hefty price.
Deep blues and golds, and detailed patterns and quotations from the Quran sheath each magnificent structure and each structure is in pristine condition. It’s almost as if the entire city is brand new.
Because it is brand new…
In every corner of the city, construction workers and restorers work to maintain the integrity of Timur’s Samarkand. A great deal of pride is felt by the locals, and a community effort is put into the town’s upkeep.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch families worth of master craftsmen and women at work
In the many nooks and crannies of the city of Samarkand, family businesses toil away at recreating some of the most intricate aspects of the city. They rebuild tools, ornate embellishments, and of course, sections of Middle-Eastern patterning with which defines the Samarkand (or Timurid) style of design.
For much more on the manic midpoint of the Silk Road, tune into part two of The Silk Road this Sunday night on SBS at 7:30pm. Start your journey on the Silk Road with the first episode on SBS On Demand: