In the first years of the Fifteenth Century Henry III of Castile sent Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo as his ambassador to Samarkand. His journey introduced him to giraffes and many other sights unknown to Europeans of the time. Samarkand was then the center of the largest empire in the world, that of Tamerlane the Great (a.k.a Timur), the last of the nomad conquerors. His capital began as a city of the Sogdians, which became an important center of culture and trade, as is recorded in these 7th Century wall paintings. Samarkand was refashioned by Timur and his descendants, the most famous being the astronomer Ulugh Beg, and the Timurid legacy is still visible in Samarkand. After Timur's death, his empire disintegrated, and soon fell into decline, but left enough of a mark to inspire both Christopher Marlowe and Edgar Allan Poe. The Russian Empire conquered Samarkand in 1868, and the city was documented in the early 20th Century in color photograhs by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (this one's a favorite) and remained an out of the way place in the Soviet era.
A Minute and 100 Metres Down the Road. The soldier outside the station had one hand on the barrel and the other on the butt of his shotgun. There were two military trucks by the bus stop and two soldiers in the back-right seats of every bus leaving Urumqi station... I arrived via long-haul train, 40 hours and just under 4000km in a hard-seat, from Beijing, where rumours were circulating about the extent of the military presence, needle attacks, Uighur and Han street gangs, and the validity of the reports coming out of Xinjiang. After four days I left with more doubts about why ethnic tensions in Urumqi arose and how they could be resolved. [more inside]
When Jesus met Buddha. "Something remarkable happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago: they got along." [Via]
Silk Road links: Silk Road Seattle, The Silkroad Foundation, The British Library's Silk Road site, The Ancient Way of Trading, Lost Cities of the Silk Road and some pictures
The International Dunhuang Project, developed jointly by the British Library and the National Library of China, makes thousands manuscripts and paintings from ancient caves and temples along the Silk Road viewable to the public. The artifacts were found in the Dunhuang cave in China in 1900 and dispersed to museums around the world, but now they have been brought together on the web. And if you want some appropriate music to go with it, check out Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project.