Guided Tour of the 11 Cities of the Silk Road

The Silk Road could not have existed without places to stop on the way. At the same time, each of the cities between the Mediterranean and the Far East benefited as roadside inns, as caravan stops, as international trade areas, and as primary targets for expanding empires. Even today, a thousand years later, the cities of the Silk Road contain architectural and cultural reminders of their roles in the amazing trade network.

Rome (Italy)

View of Rome, Italy at sunset
View of Rome, Italy at sunset. silviomedeiros / Getty Images

The western end of the Silk Road is often cited as the city of Rome. Rome was founded, say the legends, in the 8th century BC; by the first century BC, it was in full imperialistic flower. Historians tell us that early evidence of Rome's use of the Silk Road is told in this article by N.S. Gill.

Constantinople (Turkey)

Old City Center of Constantinople
An aerial view of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in the Old City of Istanbul on November 5, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. David Cannon / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Istanbul, once and again called Constantinople, is best known for its cosmopolitan architecture, the result of over a thousand years of cultural change.

Damascus (Syria)

Seiyada Zeinab shrine in Damascus.
rasoul ali / Getty Images

Damascus was an important stop on the Silk Road, and its culture and history is steeped in the background of its trade network. One example of successful trade between Damascus and India was the production of famous Damascene swords, created from wootz steel from India, forged in Islamic fires.

Palmyra (Syria)

Camel at the Archaeological Site of Palmyra
Camel at the Archaeological Site of Palmyra. Massimo Pizzotti / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Palmyra's location within the Syrian desert--and the richness of her trade networks--made the city a special jewel in Rome's crown during the first few centuries AD.

Dura Europos (Syria)

Dura Europos, Syria
Dura Europos, Syria. Francis Luisier

Dura Europos in eastern Syria was a Greek colony, and eventually part of the Parthian empire when the Silk Road connected Rome and China.

Ctesiphon (Iraq)

the largest single-span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world, This great arch was the main portico of the audience hall of the imperial Persian palace
Arch of Ctesiphon in Iraq. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images (cropped)

Ctesiphon was an ancient capital of the Parthians, founded in the second BC on top of the ruins of Babylonian Opis.

Merv Oasis (Turkmenistan)

The ancient city of Merv.
Peretz Partensky / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The Merv Oasis in Turkmenistan was a node in the vast central region of the Silk Road.

Taxila (Pakistan)

Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila.
Sasha Isachenko / CC BY 3.0

Taxila, in the Punjab region of Pakistan, has an architecture that reflects its Persian, Greek and Asian roots.

Khotan (China)

New HIghway along the Southern Silk Road to Khotan
New HIghway along the Southern Silk Road to Khotan. Getty Images / Per-Anders Pettersson / Contributor

Khotan, in the Xingjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China is located south of the vast impassible Taklamakan Desert. It was part of the Jade Road long before the Silk Road was in operation.

Niya (China)

The ruins of Niya in China.
Vic Swift / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 1.0

Niya, located at an oasis in the Taklamakan Desert of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region of central China, was a capital of the capital of the Jingjue and Shanshan kingdoms of central Asia and a significant stop on the Jade Road as well as the Silk Road.

Chang'An (China)

The modern city of Xian.
DuKai photographer / Getty Images

At the eastern end of the Silk Road is Chang'An, capital city for the Han, Sui, and Tang dynasty leaders of ancient China.