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Spices have been traded in Istanbul for 2000 years

I spent the holidays on vacation in Venice and Istanbul on a mission to understand more about these two important end points on the Silk Road. Starting around 200 BC and extending 4,000 miles, the Silk Road got its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade and tea trade in exchange for spices, nuts and jewels from Europe and the Middle East.  In addition, various science and technology innovations were traded along with religious ideas as well as the bubonic plague.    The Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great modern civilizations. 

Very few people actually traversed the entire Silk Road.  Mostly it was made up of agents and merchants who bought and sold goods along the way.  At major points, great bazaars opened to facilitate a meeting place for traders.

Istanbul is a city that spans the continents of Asia and Europe and was the end of the overland Silk Road.  Merchants took their goods to the Grand Bazaar where they also traded ideas and innovations.  Walking through the Istanbul Spice Market and Grand Bazaar you can just imagine what it must have been like centuries ago packed with merchants bargaining with one another.  The influences of both Asia and Europe are evident here in the architecture of places like the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia representing Islam and Orthodox Christianity.  And of course in the history of its name: Constantinople and Istanbul.

Venice became a major trade port in the Middle Ages when the Chinese Treasure Fleet (at least 100 years ahead in the mathematics needed for navigation) sailed in, ladened with treasures from China.  In Venice you can see the influence of Asian architecture in the mosaics installed in the Basilica of San Marco.  In the Doge’s Palace the famous maps show the Americas and Australia long before Columbus “discovered” the new world.  Plenty of evidence indicates that the Chinese heavily influenced Venetian map making in the 1300s and early 1400’s.  Just imagine what the Europeans and Chinese thought of one another.

I tried to imagine what it was like in these two cities in the Middle Ages.  With a little site seeing at the Spice Market and a walk through San Marco, it wasn’t hard to do.


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