«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»

Where the Caravans moved along

Warmly welcomed by the world public is the decision of the UNESCO on the realization of the international program “The Great Silk Road”.

A modest commercial traveler called Franchesco Pegolotti of Bardi’s firm in Florence came back home to Italy in 1355 after eight years of absence. On hearing the wonderful tales of the traveler the master of the firm ordered that all things that were of interest for commerce should be written down. Thus, a book “Trade practice, or a treatise on land division, trade measures, and other things the knowledge of which is necessary for merchants of all countries” appeared. From this book we learn that after leaving the swaying deck of the galley in Azack* (Azov), a polovetsk-kypchak fortress that blocked up the Don mouth, Franchesco trusted his destiny to a bull team that slowly dragged his kibitka (a hooded cart) for twenty five days towards Dzhutarkhana (Astrakhan) a Nogai fortress blocking up the Itil (Volga) mouth. From there eight days later by the Silk Sea (Caspian) he reached the Yaik (Ural) mouth and then farther to the North he reached Saraichik (Maly Sarai, now the village of Saraichikovskoye, the Guriev Region). Now, having mastered some bits of the steppe people’s language, the Florentine hired an araba with two camels at the caravan sarai and as a real steppe traveller he safely arrived in Organchi (Urgench) the capital of Khoresm twenty days later. Then for forty days more the araba wheels bowled along creaking till the driver stopped them at the ferrying across the Yaksart (Syr-Darya). On the opposite bank of the river he saw the walls of once mighty Otrarr (Otrar).

In Otrar the Florentine welcomed spring. Now he could do without a warm kibitka. So Franchesco bought at the local bazaar some strong asses, put the packs on them and throwing on his shoulders an eponch, a kypchack travelling cloak, moved on to the Yablonevy mountains Almatau at the foot of which there were splendid orchards of Armalek (Kuldja), the headquarters of the inherited proprietors of the Dzhagatai ulus. The Florentine fully appraised his cloak made from lamb’s wool felt when beyond the Ili river the road went over the mountain valleys and passes still covered with snow and the travelers had to make their way along a narrow gorge where a fierce wind was storming day and night and they were forced to spend the night at a camp-fire.

On entering the limits of the Tien Shan the wanderer from the Apennines made a stop to have a short rest in Kassae (Hanchjow). There he marveled not only at the emperor’s garden and palaces on the man-made hill of Guashan and the Sihu Lake with hundred-year-old turtles and the Un’he — the Great canal of 3,564 leas long (1 lea = 500 meters). The European who regarded it as unthinkable not to use hard cash when buying articles was amazed to see paper money and its free equal exchange for gold and silver. However, having evaluated the advantages of that way of keeping cash, he was not sorry to part with his bulky bag of silver and moved on with a light luggage. The Great Car with aqueducts across the Hwang Ho and the Yangtze rivers carried its waters from Gamalek (Hanbalyk, Peking) itself. On changing his Turkic guide on horseback for a Chinese boatman the Italian very soon became lost among similar light wooden boats floating up and down the Un’he River. In thirty days of voyage he was in the ancient capital of China, which at that time was the winter residence of the successive emperor of the Uan-New dynasty (1271-1368) that was set up in the country conquered by the Mongol Kubilai-Khan (1215-1294).
When naming the towns and countries through which his wonderful and fortunately ended travel ran the author of the “Trade practice” did not even suspect that he had covered thousands of Chinese leas, Arab farsahs and European miles of the Great Silk Road. The paradox is that the ancient path of merchants of the East and the West got its name only ... in the 19th century. The name was proposed by Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833-1905), the author: of classical works on the physical geography of China and the orography of Asia. Thus following his example this name is recognized all over the world now.

Rakip Nasyrov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.