Showing posts with label Silk Road. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Silk Road. Show all posts

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Silk Road | Cook Books and Recipes

Just beefed up the Silk Road Section of my Scriptorium with two new cooking titles: the first is Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. I am an omnivore but I do like vegetarian repasts and this coffee table-type book has some great recipes to say nothing of nice photos and interesting essays on various aspects of the Silk Road. 

I have read through both books and will have updates on the various recipes soon. In the meantime here is a Good Kebab Recipe from Sasha Martin at Global Table Adventure.
Mouth-wateringly delectable Kebabs 
Sasha Martin It’s hard to say which is the most intoxicating, the wine or her eyes.
Although I have had it in the Scriptorium for quite a while, perhaps now is the proper time to mention A Baghdad Cookery Book

This book is not only of culinary but also of historical interest, since it dates to the thirteenth century, presumably before the arrival of Khülügu Khan in Baghdad in 1258. Arabist A. J. Arberry first translated the text in 1939; the current translation is by culinary historian Charles Perry. Provides some interesting insights into what was tickling the palates of Mesopotamians during the Caliphate. For more on this you might also want to see Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Kazakhstan | Chingis Khan Rides West | Silk Road City of Otrār

Today there is no city known as Otrār, and very few people have even heard of the Otrār which flourished back at the beginning of the thirteen century. The scattered ruins of this once-sizable metropolis which still do exist turn up on the itineraries of only the most determined tourists who venture into what is now southern Kazakhstan. Yet when the Mongol-Sponsored Caravan of 450 Muslim Traders turned up at its gates in 1218 it was one of the most famous trade centers in Inner Asia and renowned for its arts and crafts and the intellectual accomplishments of its citizens. The caravan men were no doubt looking forward to resting in the city’s well-appointed caravanserais and refreshing themselves in its famous bathhouses. Little did they know that the events which soon overwhelmed them would, in the words of nineteenth-century Orientalist E. G. Browne, trigger: 
. . . a catastrophe which, though probably quite unforeseen, even on the very eve of its incidence, changed the face of the world, set in motion forces which are still effective, and inflicted more suffering on the human race than any other event in the world’s history which records are preserved to us; I mean the Mongol Invasion. 
Browne, who translated into English many of the thirteen-century documents which recorded the Mongol irruption, may from the vantage point of the twenty-first century sound overwrought here, but his appraisal did contain a kernel of truth. The events which followed in the wake of the calamity at Otrār did rock all of Inner Asia, led to the fall of at least two empires, and inflicted on the entire Islamic geosphere a blow from which some might argue it has never fully recovered. 

Otrār was located on the north bank of the middle stretches of the Syr Darya River (the Jaxartes of Classical Antiquity) near its confluence with the Arys River, about 105 miles northwest of the current-day city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan. It was situated just west of the so-called Zhetysu, or Seven Rivers, Region, an area which included the watersheds of the Talas, Ili, Chu, and other rivers in eastern current-day Kazakhstan and western China (Xinjiang Province) which flowed into either Lake Alakol or Lake Balkash or petered out into the barren desert-steppes to the west. Much later this area would become known as Semireche, Russian for “Seven Rivers”. As one geographer points out, “Semireche is an area where sedentaries and nomads have met at various points in history—coexisting, overlapping, or competing—because it lends itself to both ways of life . . .” 

Otrār’s location on the boundaries of vast Kazakh Steppe to the north and the fertile valleys of Transoxiana to the south made it natural entrepôt for trade between these two divergent cultures. It was also at the nexus of several east-west trending Silk Road trading. One branch of the Silk Road went east along the Arys to Taraz and Balasagun (current-day Tolmak in Kyrgystan). From here a southern branch went on over the Tian Shan Mountains to Aksu (in current-day Xinjiang Province, China), on the Silk Road route that ran along the northern side of the vast Tarim Basin and on through the Gansu Corridor into northern China. From Balasagun a northern branch proceeded up the valley of the Ili River and over the spurs of the Borohogo Shan Range to the Zungarian Basin on the north side of the Tian Shan. From here routes went to both Mongolia and China. Another route followed the Syr Darya to Shash (modern-day Tashkent) and then versed southwest to Merv (Mary) in current-day Turkmenistan and Nishapur in what was in the thirteen century known as Khorasan, now western Iran. From here various routes continued on the Mediterranean. The road west from Otrār followed the Syr Darya to the Aral Sea before continuing on to the Caspian Steppe Straddling The Volga River. From the old city of Xacitarxan on the Volga, just upstream from Modern-Day Astrakhan, branches led north up the Volga into Kievan Russia and east to the Black Sea, where land and water routes continued on to Istanbul, the main western terminus of the Silk Road. On this vast network of trade routes moved a wealth of various fabrics and textiles, leather, furs, porcelain, pottery, salt, spices, honey, jade and precious stones, musk, herbal medicines, weapons, slaves, and much else. By attempting to open trade with Otrār Chingis Khan hoped to gain access to the rest of the world. 

The Silk Road trade had made Otrār a rich and influential city. It had its own mint, the coins of which now grace museums, was famous for its locally produced pottery, including beautifully decorated bowls, and boasted of one of the biggest libraries of Inner Asia, with a collection of over 33,000 items, including such exotica as Babylonian clay tablets and Egyptian papyrus scrolls which had somehow found their way hither. The library also contained the works of the city’s most famous intellectual, Abu Naṣr Moḥammad Fārābi (died c. 950), a polymathic Philosopher, mathematician, linguist, poet, and composer who was called “the Second Teacher” by his students, meaning that he played second fiddle only to Aristotle. He is also credited with heavily influencing Abū Alī Sīnā, a.k.a. Avicenna (c. 980–1037) perhaps the greatest Medieval Islamic philosopher, who was born near Bukhara, also in the Khwarezmshah’s domains. 

By the early thirteen-century the city consisted of the triangular-shaped Ark, or citadel, located within the tightly packed Shahristan (walled inner city). The Shahristan itself was in the shape of a pentagon and covered about 200,000 square meters, or about fifty acres The city was famous for its baths and most homes were served by a city-wide sewage system. The big Friday mosque was also probably within the Shahristan. Surrounding the Shahristan was the Rabad, or trade quarter, which was also walled. Covering some 420 acres, it contained the extensive markets and caravanserais connected with Silk Road trade, local bazaars, craft shops, and low-class residential areas. The medieval Arabic historian Moqaddasi claimed the city had 70,000 inhabitants, but at least one modern historican has opined that this was a misprint and that he must have meant 7,000. In any case, numerous small towns and villages in the immediate environs of the city contributed to a sizable urban conurbation.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mongolia | Uzbekistan | Chingis Khan Rides West

Chingis Khan Rides West is now available on Amazon: Paper Version and Kindle Version. The Kindle version is best read on devices that support color. 

(Click on Photo for Enlargement)

Back Cover Blurb:
Since the time of the Xiongnu two thousand years ago the nomads of the Mongolian Plateau traditionally looked south toward China for both plunder and trade. In 1215 Chingis Khan turned his attention westward and by 1219 had decided to invade the Islamic realms of Inner Asia, unleashing a sequence of events that would result in the sack of Baghdad in 1258 by his grandson Khülegü and the fall of the 508 year-old Abbasid Caliphate. The dissolution of the Caliphate by Khülegü dealt a blow to the Islamic world from which some might argue it has never fully recovered. We are still to this day living with the consequences of the Mongol invasion. Chingis Khan Rides West examines the motivation of Chingis Khan’s ride westward to attack the Islamic world and recounts the fall of the great Silk Road cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, Gurganj, and others.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Turkey | Istanbul | Vezir Han

During my last sojourn in Istanbul I wandered through numerous Caravanserias in The Neighborhood of the Grand Bazaar. The door to the Vezir Han, one of Istanbul’s biggest hans, or caravanserais, at the corner of Vezirhan Street and Divan Yolu, was closed that day, however, and I was not able to peek inside. My first free day back in the Red Apple I ventured up Divan Yolu for another look. This time the door was open.
Three story exterior of the Vezir Kan
A long gallery leads through the outer facade of the caravanserai to the inner courtyard, surrounded by a two-story gallery. 
Galley leading through outer and inner walls to the courtyard
Two-story Inner Arcade
This caravanserai dates to the 1630s and thus may have caught the very tail end of the Pax Mongolica which had once again opened the Silk Road from Xian in China to Istanbul. These caravanserais served both as hotels were merchants could stay and warehouses and storerooms for the goods they had brought with them to sell. Many of the goods they had were probably sold to wholesalers right on the premises. In the big open courtyard, here at the Vezir Han over 200 feet square, camels and horses were uploaded of their goods and tied. In the middle of the courtyard there was often a small mosque, absent here, unless it was once in the little building which now houses a cafe for local tradesmen and workers. The first floor of the surrounding building had windowless rooms used as storage rooms and stables.  Staircases led to the second floor where merchants stayed in rented rooms.
Staircase leading to rooms on the second floor
A corner of the courtyard
It was early in the morning on a weekday and there was not a single person in the courtyard. Despite all the traffic outside on busy Divan Yolu it was uncannily quiet here within the enclosed precincts of the caravanserai. I sat down on the stone steps at the inner of the entranceway and soon fell into a revelry. In my mind’s eye it was night and a balsamic moon hung in the sky over one of the corners of the caravanserai. In the courtyard were twenty camels still tied in a string. They brayed and snorted at the camel men shouted at them, making then kneel down, first on their front knees, and then slowing bending their back legs into a full siting position. The camel men quickly unlashed their loads, huge wooden boxes and leather packs, and other men carted the baggage into the storage rooms. Under one of the arched openings in the second floor facade stood the merchant who had organized the caravan, which came from the old city of Xacitarxan, near current day Astrakhan, on the Volga River north of the Caspian Sea, in the kingdom of Khazaria. Beside him stood the caravan boss, shouting orders at the baggage handlers down below. Most of the goods had come from farther east, however, and had only be trans-shipped from Xacitarxan. There were bundles of  incredibly fine wool known as targhu, made from the wool of white camels, each length worth fifty or more dinars, which had originated from the desert steppes north of the Gobi-Altai Mountains in Mongolia and had traveled south, passing by Amarbuyant Monastery and Shar Khuls Oasis before crossing the Black Gobi and linking up with the main trunk of the Silk Road at Anxi. Other big boxes were stuffed with bundles of tightly rolled Atlas Silk from Khotan on the southern edge of the the Tarim Depression in East Turkestan. Huge tightly stitched leather bags held bags of the legendarily sweet and flavorful honey from the lush Ili Valley, north of the Tian Shan. There was much else and it would take all night to sort and store the goods.

Meanwhile the tantalizing aroma of cumin-seasoned mutton grilled over hot coals drifted through the courtyard, managing even to overpower the smell of camel dung. The merchant and caravan man retired to one of the small dining rooms and drank green tea and ate the mutton along with rice seasoned with Iranian saffron. News of their arrival had reached the merchants of the nearby Grand Bazaar, one of the largest trade emporiums in the world, and a few men had already slipped into the dining room and were inquiring about their goods, hoping to beat out their competitors who were already fast asleep. It was going to be a long night. 

A motorcyle with a big bundle of carpets draped on the bumper behind the driver roared into the courtyard, interrupting this nostalgic vision. The scene I had conjured up had been so real that I could almost believe that I had been here long before and witnessed it myself. Shaking off this fantasy I went outside and treated myself to a Turkish coffee with sugar. It was only seven in the morning and I had a long day ahead of me.
Vezir Khan