The Silk Road, or Long Road (Uzun Yol), is the historic system of caravan trails throughTurkey, Persia (Iran), India and China that allowed trade to prosper and cultures to come in contact over the centuries.
The journeys and conquests of Alexander the Great probably created the Silk Road. Where armies march, merchants quickly follow.
After their Parthian campaigns, the Romansdeveloped a liking for silk, and fostered trade along the route.
The Byzantines loved the luxuries of the orient, and did what they could to keep them coming. The Seljuk Turks did even better, improving roads and building hundreds of beautiful caravanserais to encourage trade with the east.
The Mongol Empire unified the lands of the Silk Road and made movement easier. The government developed a sophisticated “pony express” (ulak) system which allowed important messages and persons to travel between Europe and China quickly and safely.
Marco Polo took advantage of the caravans and the Pax Mongolicus to go from Venice to Mongolia and China in 1271, repeating the journey several times in following years.
With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, trade flourished as soon as Ottoman power secured all of Anatolia and its surrounding waters. Much of the commerce moved to the sea.
What’s left of the Silk Road? The most prominent part is that which runs between Konya and Cappadocia. The caravan path has been covered by the modern macadam highway, but many of the Seljuk caravanserais survive.
The Karatay Han, for example, is among the most beautiful Seljuk Turkish caravanserais and a major stopping-point along the Silk Road.
The Sultan Han, on the road between Aksarayand Konya, is the largest Seljuk caravanserais in Turkey.
Most caravanserais are ruined, a few have been restored, and all are worth seeing as reminders of when the world was much larger, and travel much more difficult and adventurous, than it is today.