Between China and the Mediterranean, ancient roads have for centuries connected peoples and civilizations, allowed the spread of ideas and the exchange of products: the Silk Roads.
A fabulous crossroads of civilizations, Central Asia has seen all the important cultures pass for two millennia. Buddhist pilgrims, Christians and Muslims have succeeded each other, supplanting old religions which were called Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. Greek, Persian, Arab, Indian, Turkish and Chinese have developed their prosperity there. The great human discoveries passed through it before it spread around the world. Art and science have taken off decisively for the future of mankind.
The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that linked east to West. It owes its name to the most precious possession transported by the caravans that criss crossed them. Traced over 2,000 years ago, they were abandoned from the 15th century onwards in favor of maritime transport. Today, paved roads have mostly replaced them. But the length of the journey (7,000 kilometers between Xi’an and Istanbul) makes it difficult to cover it in its entirety. We will therefore limit ourselves to important cities in Persian territories:
One of the main branches of the Silk Road passing through Iranian territories starts in Tabriz, the biggest city in the North West, where Marco polo has traced for many times between 1271 and 1295 A.D.
Tabriz has been a place of cultural exchange since antiquity and its historic bazaar complex is one of the most important commercial centers on the Silk Road. Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions. Its Bazaar was already prosperous and famous in the 13th century, when the town became the capital city of the Safavid Dynasty.
The city lost its status as capital in the 16th century, but remained important as a commercial hub until the end of the 18th century, with the expansion of Ottoman power. It is one of the most complete examples of the traditional commercial and cultural system of Iran.
Located on the Silk Road, Tabriz would be worth a stopover because of its magnificent Islamic architecture and historical gems. Built on the Eynali Mountain, the Own-ibn-e-ali mosque offers a breathtaking view of the entire city. Inside the charming El-goli, a playground is available to visitors.
35 km to the south-west, the Kandovan valley offers magnificent opportunities through its peaks and its steep places.
Hamadan is located at a distance of 337 km from Tehran. The structure of the city is related to ‘Diya Aku’ one of the monarchs of the Medes, about (700 BC.). According to the records of a reputed Greek historian, this territory was called ‘Ecbatana’ and ‘Hegmataneh’ by this monarch. Thus being transformed into a huge capital, which was later repaired by Darius the Great.
During the Parthian era, ‘Teesfoon was the capital of the country, and Hamadan was the summer capital and residence of the Parthian rulers. After the Parthians, the Sassanids constructed their summer palaces in Hamadan. In the year 23 AH. When the war of Nahavand took place and Hamadan came into the hands of the Arabs, at times it thrived and at times witnessed poverty. In the times of the Deylamites (319 AH.), it suffered plenty of damage.
In the 6th century AH., the Seleucids shifted their capital from Baghdad to Hamadan. The city of Hamadan, which was always assaulted by the rise and fall of powers, was completely destroyed during the Timurid invasion. During the Safavid era, the city thrived. Thereafter, in the year 138 AH. Hamadan surrendered to the Ottomans, but due to the courage and chivalry of Nader Shah Afshar, Hamadan was cleared off the invaders and according to the peace treaty between Iran and the Ottomans, it was returned to Iran. The city of Hamadan lay on the ‘Silk Road’ and even in the last centuries enjoyed good prospects in commerce and trade, being on the main road network in the western region of the country.
Isfahan, known as half of the world, capital of Iran under the Seljuks (11th-13th c.) and under the Safavids, Isfahan retains from this last period a grandiose urbanism which often makes one forget what preceded it. It was in 1598 that the Safavid sovereign transplanted his capital from Qazvin to Isfahan, where he immediately undertook major works. In the center of the city, he converted the Meidan-e Shah (Royal Square) into a polo field, a vast rectangular surface of 512 m by 159 m, lined with uniform houses with arcades, where shops opened.
In the middle of the four sides, he erected four monumental sets, four gates of different styles, leading respectively to the Royal Mosque, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, the bazaar and Ali Qapu Palace.
Rey was one of the great cities of Iran. The remains of the ancient city lies on the eastern outskirts of the modern city of Shahr-e Rey, which itself is located just a few miles southeast of Tehran.
A settlement at the site dates from the 3rd millennium BCE. Rey is featured in the Avesta (the original document of Zoroastrianism, an Iranian religion) as a sacred place. Rey was one of the capital cities of the Parthian empire (3rd century BCE–3rd century CE). It was captured by the Muslim Arabs in 641 CE.
During the reign of the Muslim caliph al-Mahdi in the 8th century, the city grew in importance until it was rivaled in western Asia only by Damascus and Baghdad. Islamic writers described it as a city of extraordinary beauty, built largely of fired brick and brilliantly ornamented with blue faience (glazed earthenware).
It continued to be an important city and was briefly a capital under the rule of the Seljuks, but in the 12th century it was weakened by the fierce quarrels of rival religious sects. In 1220 the city was almost entirely destroyed by the Mongols, and its inhabitants were massacred. Most of the survivors of the massacre moved to nearby Tehran, and the deserted remnants of Rey soon fell into complete ruin.
Rey was famous for its decorated silks, of unsurpassed artistic perfection, and for ceramics. Only two architectural monuments survive: the tower of Toghrïl (1139) and a partially ruined tower. The language of the ancient Rey people was something between east Dari and west Pahlavi, and the language of people in the south of Iran. Today, there are no traces of this dialect here.
Gorgan, formerly known as Aster Abad, capital of Golestan province, north-central Iran. It is situated along a small tributary of the Qareh River, 23 miles from the Caspian Sea. The city, in existence since Achaemenid period, long suffered from inroads of the Turkmen tribes who occupied the plain north of the Qareh River and was subjected to incessant Qajar-Turkmen tribal conflicts in the 19th century. It was renamed Gorgan in the 1930s after being devastated by an earthquake. Articles of trade include cereals, soap, and carpets.
Neyshabur is situated 46 mile west of Mashhad. The town, which has shifted its position repeatedly in historical times, lies in a wide, well-watered, and fertile plain at the southern foot of the Binalud Mountains. The surrounding area produces cereals and cotton, and the town’s industries include agricultural marketing and the manufacture of carpets and pottery. Neyshabur is linked by road and railway with Tehran and Mashhad.
Neyshabur derived its name from its alleged founder, the Sassanid king Shapur I (d. 272). It was once one of the four great cities of the region of Khorasan and was important in the 5th century as the residence of the Sassanid king Yazdgerd II (reigned 438–457). Under the Ṭahirid dynasty (821–873), the city flourished again, and it rose to importance under the Samanid dynasty (ended 999). Toghrïl Beg, the first Seljuk ruler, made Neyshabur his residence in 1037, but it declined in the 12th century and in the 13th twice suffered earthquakes as well as the Mongol invasion.