BE SILK, MY FRIEND. Connecting Asia and Europe through the Silk Road

In Europe, News & Views, Society, World

Prof. Pilar Viviente

Blue Lotus Magazine, an online art magazine dedicated to Asian arts and culture, is now ten years old. I am grateful to have been invited by its director, historian and art critic Mr. Martin Bradley, to write on the occasion of the tenth anniversary. I will talk about the Silk Road that unifies East and West, bringing its people, art and culture closer.


My first visit to a silk carpet factory was in Turkey at the InSEA on Bridge 2004, 7th European Regional Congress, July 1st to 6th 2004, Istanbul & Cappadocia, Turkey, in partnership with ‘Görsel Sanatlar Eğitimi Derneği’. See The congress theme, International Understanding Through Arts: Living on a Bridge, refers to how we will deal with and create the appropriate learning atmosphere, building bridges between East and West. Since then I have been interested in this topic, and I was back to Turkey invited to the
2nd International Art Research Symposium, 11 – 14 April 2018, Çukurova Üniversitesi, Adana, Turkey, as keynote speaker and artist for my Installation Piano Performance,


On the InSEA Cappadocia trip, we visited a silk carpet factory. We get to see the women doing their craft and the whole stages of product, from how silk cocoons are formed and how silk is reeled from the cocoons to make silk threads till the entire weaving process. I’ve never seen before how silk is produced, including its tincture with natural colors. In the next room we saw some women sitting on the floor, weaving their carpet, from the early stage of carpet weaving. The explanation included the difference between wool and silk carpet weaving. Then we went to the familiar showroom where a range of carpets are brought out for display and sale, and I bought two carpets. This Cappadocia carpet factory is a cooperative located on the ancient Silk Road route and the prices are supposed to be cheaper.


The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes, formally established during the Han Dynasty of China, which linked the regions of the ancient world in commerce between 130 BCE-1453 CE. As the Silk Road was not a single thoroughfare from East to West, the term ‘Silk Routes’ has become increasingly favored by historians, though ‘Silk Road’ is the more common and recognized name.


The European explorer, merchant and writer Marco Polo (1254-1324 CE) traveled on these routes and described them in depth in his famous work, “Livres des merveilles du monde” (Book of the world’s marvels), published around the year 1300. In English, this book is also known as The Travels of Marco Polo. It describes – among other things – Polo’s travels along the Silk Road and the various Asian regions and cities that he traverses, including China. Polo, and later von Richthofen, make mention of the goods which were transported back and forth on the Silk Road.

Illustration from Le livre des merveilles de Marco Polo (“The Adventures of Marco Polo”).

The real interest of this historic commercial route lies not only in the exchange of goods, but most of all in the first great peaceful contact between civilizations. The connection between religions, art, culture and knowledge led to great enrichment for the first time at the global level.

21st Silk Road

The One Belt One Road (OBOR), the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is an ambitious project that focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. Dubbed as the ‘Project of the Century’ by the Chinese authorities, OBOR spans about 78 countries. Initially announced in the year 2013 with a purpose of restoring the ancient Silk Route that connected Asia and Europe, the project’s scope has been expanded over the years to include new territories and development initiatives.


Also called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the project involves building a big network of roadways, railways, maritime ports, power grids, oil and gas pipelines and associated infrastructure projects. The project covers two parts. First is called the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ which is primarily land-based and is expected to connect China with Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. The second is called the ’21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ which is sea-based and is expected to link China’s southern coast to the Mediterranean, Africa, South-East Asia and Central Asia.

Spain plays a role in the New Silk Road. On November 20, 2018, the University Institute of European Studies presented the book ‘The role of Spain in the New Silk Road’ at the University CEU San Pablo, Madrid. The book analyzes the role that Spain can have in the New Silk Road. It includes economic, commercial, historical, political and strategic perspectives that allow the reader to understand in depth the opportunities and challenges that this route may entail. It also provides practical recommendations that can be useful for politicians and companies. This work is part of a larger project called ‘Spain and the New Silk Road: opportunities, challenges, recommendations’, developed by the University Institute of European Studies of the CEU San Pablo University, Madrid, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, and which has had the collaboration of experts, academics and businessmen.

International Network of UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform

UNESCO has launched a new Silk Road project. According to UNESCO website, “In order to ensure the full participation of various partners in Member States in the project, an International Network of focal points was established for the UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform. Major countries along the historical Silk Roads and beyond have designated Focal Points to participate actively in and to follow up on the project’s activities.

The Focal Points are in charge of:
– To collect, analysis and transmit information and data on the Silk Roads heritage and activities in their respective countries to be integrated in the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform;
– To inform national stakeholders about the activities related to Silk Roads undertaken by UNESCO and its partners;
– To encourage and advise national authorities and stakeholders in initiating, implementing and promoting activities related to Silk Roads;
– To exchange experience and expertise with other members of the Network and facilitate cooperation and partnership;
– To contribute to the promotion of mutual understanding, intercultural dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation among nations and people sharing the Silk Roads common heritage”. From

International Focal Points have representatives in Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Oman, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Spain, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Detail of Catalan Atlas, 1375, attributed to Abraham Cresques.

According to UNESCO website: “The Fourth Meeting of the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform International Network was held in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, from 28 – 31 October 2018. Approximately twenty Focal Points from participating Member States attended, representing their respective countries, along with academics and experts. They exchanged experiences and good practices in promoting and implementing activities related to the Silk Roads. The main objective of this meeting was to discuss the implementation of the 2016-2018 Action Plan of the
International Network that was adopted during the second meeting of the Network in Valencia in June 2016, and to define the 2019-2020 Action Plan.”

The event took place in conjunction with a few activities highlighted continued dialogue as well as the initiatives implemented to overcome challenges in various contexts. For instance, the “Exhibition of Chinese Silk, Porcelain and Tea”, which was officially inaugurated with the People’s Republic of China serving as the Guest of Honor. Also mention the opening of the “Youth Eyes on the Silk Roads Photo Contest” travelling photo exhibition on October 28, 2020. The Award Ceremony of the “Youth Eyes on the Silk Roads Photo Contest 2018” took place in Beijing, China, on the occasion of International Peace Day (September 21), and in partnership with the ChinaWorld Peace Foundation. Gallery of Winners is available at the UNESCO website:

Besides, a Public Conference entitled, “Contributions of the Maritime Silk Roads to the Development of a Shared Cultural Heritage”, also took place on 30 October 2020.

According to UNESCO website: “In addition to its dynamic location, Muscat served as a symbolic bridge between North and South, East and West. Its history as a crossroads of people and cultures from Europe and Islam continues to serves as a reminder of the two civilizations’ shared values and the path that has been forged towards peace.”

Here to see the “Top 10 Silk Road Cultural Events Released during the 2020 Silk Road Week”:

Silk Museums International Conference Valencia 2018

Focal Point UNESCO Silk Road Program has included Valencia. Valencia has been named, ‘City of Silk 2016-2020’, corresponding to its position as a UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform Focal Point.

Valencia, City of Silk

The Silk Museum of Valencia has organized the Silk Museums International Conference (Congreso internacional de museos de la seda) in Valencia, Spain, from 15 – 17 November 2018, with the support of the Agència Valenciana del Turisme, and in collaboration with the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform that has a link at its website:

It is the first time that an initiative of this nature has been undertaken. International experts representing the most renowned Silk Museums have participated, including Mr. José Maria Chiquillo Barber (Spain), President of the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform International Network. Mr. Chiquillo Barber became the Focal Point of Spain for the International Network of the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform in April 2015, and was elected to be its President shortly thereafter. In October 2018, he was re-elected President for the period 2018-2020. Here for an
interview in 2020:

This conference was supported by prestigious cultural institutions such as UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform, International Council of Museums (ICOM) or the International Society of Education through Art (InSEA). These are the Collaborating Institutions: UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform; Silk Museums International Conference; Universitat de València; ICOM International Council of Museums (UNESCO); InSEA International Society of Education through Art; AVALEM Associació Valenciana d’Educadors de Museus; CREARI Grup d’Investigació en
Pedagogies Culturals (GIUV 2013-103).

The goal of the conference is to educate, as well as to compare, the history and characteristics of international Silk Museums from a transdisciplinary perspective. According to the Silk Museum of Valencia, Spain: “The Silk Museum of Valencia organizes this International Conference with the support of ‘Agència Valenciana del Turisme’ (Valencian Tourism Agency) for knowing and comparing the history and the characteristics of the Silk Museums in the world from a transdisciplinary perspective: costumes and technological-scientific museums mainly”. And “The ultimate goal of the event is to create an International Network of Silk Museums in order to build common long-term projects and exchange experiences”.

Conference Convenors are Dr. Germán Navarro Espinach -Coordinator of the scientific committee of the Museum of the College of the Greater Art of the Silk of Valencia, professor of Medieval History of the University of Zaragoza, and Dr. Ricard Huerta -Member of the scientific committee of the Museum of the Art College of the Silk of Valencia, artist and professor of Artistic Education at the University of Valencia and president of AVALEM Associació Valenciana d’Educadors de Museus. Conference took place at the MUVIM Museu Valencià de la Il·lustració i la Modernitat.

Professor Germán Navarro Espinach highlighted the multicultural aspect of silk in his lecture at the Silk Museums International Conference in Valencia, Spain: “Silk is a multicultural vehicle since it has been in the hands of different religions and cultures”. Therefore, we can say that silk is essentially a symbol of cultural and religious diversity, as I said in my previous article published a month after this congress: Viviente, P. (2018, December). Spain and Valencia On the Silk Road. Socialist Factor, 32-35.

A large book on this International Congress with Exhibition and Conference Cycle has recently been published. See: MUSEOS DE LA SEDA / SILK MUSEUMS. Germán Navarro Espinach & Ricard Huerta (coords.),

MUSEOS DE LA SEDA / SILK MUSEUMS. Germán Navarro Espinach & Ricard Huerta (coords.).

Valencian Silk. Silk Museum of Valencia, Spain.

If you ever travel to Spain I recommend visiting the Silk Museum of Valencia. Website available here:

China National Silk Museum events to celebrate ancient Silk Road 2020

China National Silk Museum hosted events to celebrate the ancient Silk Road. With the support of UNESCO, the China National Silk Museum launched the Digital Archive of the Silk Roads Project on june 2020 with a webinar held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the UNESCO Silk Roads Programme. The silk museum in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, also hosted a special exhibition titled “The Silk Roads: Before and After Richthofen”. It showcases precious national treasures excavated along the ancient Silk Road, telling stories about the cultural exchanges between China and countries along the ancient Silk Road.

The Silk Roads: Before and After Richthofen

“2020 Silk Road Week” was the first edition of this annual event, and was hosted by the National Cultural Heritage Administration and the People’s Government of Zhejiang, with the theme of “The Silk Roads: Mutual Learning for future Collaborations” in Hangzhou, China. The event featured museum led activities such as exhibitions, performances, reports, and seminars, celebrating the anniversary of the successful inscription, in June 2014, of the Silk Road – from Chang’an to the Tianshan Corridor, onto UNESCO’s list of World Heritage. See “2020 Silk Road
Week” website:

“The history of the Silk Road tells us that the Silk Road is spontaneous and common knowledge for humanity. The East and the West also communicate with each other through it”, said Zhao Feng, curator of the China National Silk Museum. Also, he says that “What we are doing now, especially building the Belt and Road, has a clear historic and cultural background.” It has, indeed. We remember now the first paragraphs of this article.

The New Silk Road has created a conjunction of favorable political, economic and cultural circumstances, even in 2020, despite the negative impact of Covid-19 Coronavirus on the Belt And Road Initiative (BRI). Now that the exchanges between China and the countries along the Belt and Road of both people and goods has been dealt a blow, it is more relevant than ever to provide cultural and educational activities aimed at the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, building bridges between East and West.

2021 Silk Roads Youth Research Grant

Recently, the Silk Roads Program has launched the call for proposals for the ‘Silk Roads Youth Research Grant’. This new initiative aims to mobilize young researchers for further study related to the shared heritage of the Silk Roads, as well as its potential in contemporary societies for creativity, intercultural dialogue, social cohesion, regional and international cooperation, and ultimately sustainable peace and development. It is addressed to young researchers whose work focuses on the Silk Roads, passionate about the shared heritages and cultural interactions along these historic trade routes. The call for the 2021 Silk Roads Youth Research Grant awards 12 grants to research which furthers our understanding of the mutual influences, rich cultural exchange, and interactions facilitated by the Silk Roads. See UNESCO calls for proposals for the 2021 Silk Roads Youth Research Grant:

It is this unique history of mutual exchange and dialogue that the Silk Road Online Platform seeks to promote, in line with the 2013-2022 International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures and as part of UNESCO’s commitment to creating a culture of peace. In the words of UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova, “promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue is a most powerful way to build bridges and lay the ground for peace”.

Because silk is essentially a symbol of cultural and religious diversity it represents understanding and communication between people, cultures and countries. Therefore, it promotes reciprocal influences rather than polarities, cooperation rather than hostility, actively enhances inclusion and interculturality, and helps us overcome the fear of the unknown, the other.

Be silk, my friend !








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