THE GREAT SILK ROAD TODAY – A TALK BY DAVID SMITH LRPS CPAGB

by Mar 10, 2023

Photographers will often have many other interests and thus they can combine these into something that then becomes a passion; something to follow and investigate.

David’s presentation of The Great Silk Road today was a fine example of that combination. From an original trip to see the Terracotta Army in Xian, China, David developed a keen interest in the original Silk Road Trade Route and has since made many trips to complete his own modern look at this famous trail. He has swapped his old Canon DSLR sit for a more compact Sony A7R mkV mirrorless set up, working mainly with a 24-70mm lens. His secret to getting the best images? Take lots of photographs!

Terracotta Army, Xian, China

David’s talk was full of insights and facts – and I am not planning to repeat them all here. Suffice to say, we enjoyed a great mix of history and geography alongside some more modern insights into the complicated relationships that have grown over time between the many countries that the Silk Road ran through. First fact: German geographer and traveller Ferdinand von Richthofen first used the term “silk road” in 1877 C.E. to describe the well-travelled pathway of goods between Europe and East Asia. 

The origins of the route came about through the desire for silk from China, mainly because there was no knowledge of how silk was made. From the 2nd century, the route was made up of a network of roads and trade went both ways. Silk heading west passed horse heading east, Art, food and religion made frequent journeys both ways with Islam heading east and rhubarb coming to the west. One of the more surprising things we discovered was that there are still some mosques in the China.

Mosque in Beijing

David and his wife have made many trips to the countries the route flows through and one of these was cut rather short due to an encounter with a goat! This one took a liking to David’s camera bag and when it was clear it was not going to be able to eat the bag, the goat decided to give David a hit! A short while later, David did not feel so good and after a short stay in hospital, it was time to come home and plan for another visit.

The road out of China now takes a journey through many “new” countries. Here, the influence of Stalin is felt as he had the borders redrawn during his time in power, to reduce the potential for nationalism among the many different ethnicities in the region. Turkmenistan was our next stop. This is a country of great wealth, built on an abundant gas reserve but there is a “police state” mentality that rather restricts photo opportunities. David made the best of his time there, getting a look at some of the extraordinary marble buildings that dominate the capital city, Ashgabat.

Ashgabat city

A further stop on the journey was at the Darvaza Gas crater; essentially a hole in the earth that caught alight in 1971 and is still burning!

Darvaza Gas Crater

Turkmenistan is/was also where Merv is to be found – this was the largest city in the world in the 11th century! And it goes without saying that you can also find the oldest squinch in the world there!

Merv

We then crossed the border to Uzbekistan, one of only two double-landlocked countries in the world. You have to guess the other one 😊. The population is 35m compared to 9m in Turkmenistan, both countries being the same size.

Here, David was a millionaire…due to the exchange rate. He also enjoyed some of the local dish of plov (rice and meat) but was careful not to wash it down with the ice-cold vodka.

The capital, Tashkent, is modern (a 1969 earthquake meant much of it was rebuilt).

Uzbekistan mosque

Khiva was a key city of the original silk road and is thought of as the “Crown Jewel”.

Khiva

We also find Bukara which survived the wrath of Ghengis Khan as he was frightened of cemeteries.

Bukara

At Samarkand, you will find homages to Emperor Temur, his sons and grandsons. His original empire was vast.

Samarkand – David Smith

Georgia is up next. The national flag is one we are familiar with, plus some tweaks. The key fact about Georgia is that it is thought to be the first country in the world to produce wine, some 8,000 years ago. The best known is their Amber Wine.

Georgia National Flag

Tiblisi is the capital; a mix of old and new architecture. Next fact: Stalin was born in Georgia. It is maybe the only country where you will still find his statue. He also introduced Churchill to Georgian brandy and a case was sent to Churchill each month, continuing after both had died. A more traditional gift here is dried fruit.

Traditional Georgian building – David Smith

Azerbaijan and Armenia sit side by side but are not in any way friends. Armenia is a very proud country, also bordered by Turkey. The capital city, Yerevan, is within a short distance of Mount Ararat (famous for being where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the floods) and Armenians have made the mountain their own symbol as they feel it belongs to them. Another fact: Charles Aznavour was Armenian.

Armenians hold great faith and their churches have a unique style.

Armenian Church – David Smith

And so to Turkey, where the silk road ended – in fact, in the original trading routes, the goods continued by sea, mainly under the Venetians.

Bursa was the Ottoman capital and it was the Ottomans who effectively closed off the road in 1453 by ceasing trade with the West.

Istanbul – David Smith

They ruled in the main from the Topkapi Palace, situated in modern Istanbul.

A fascinating trip and many thanks to David. Those images not shown as David Smith above are simply taken from Google.

Thank you.

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