Situated between Asia and Africa, and providing a safe harbor at the junction of maritime trading routes, Oman has occupied a unique place along the maritime Silk Roads and brought together merchants from east and west for many centuries. Omani towns and ports, such as Sohar and Muscat, provided safe centres where peaceful trade and exchange could take place between sailors, merchants and travelers from across the world, trading in foreign merchandise as well as produce of the neighboring regions. Moreover, Omani sailors made a pivotal contribution to the promotion of maritime commerce as a result of their traditional expertise and experience at sea, not only travelling great distances, such as reaching the coast of Canton, in China, by the 8th century AD, but also leaving written guides to be used by later sailors, such as the Portuguese.
With regard to its long-standing role along the historic Silk Roads, and in recognition of the importance that it accords to these pioneer routes of dialogue and exchange, the Sultanate of Oman has been one of the outstanding partners of the UNESCO Silk Roads Initiatives over the last thirty years. Oman played a vital role in the accomplishment of the UNESCO Initiative “The integral Study of the Silk Roads, Roads of Dialogue 1988-1997”.
The UNESCO Maritime Silk Road Expedition was one of the highlights of these collaborations. The expedition was organized thanks to the generosity of His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman, who granted the use of his Royal Yacht, the “Fulk Al-Salamah” to UNESCO for over six months (October 1990 to March 1991). Around 100 scientists and 45 journalists from 34 countries were able to participate in this 154-day study trip and exchange of ideas about the cultural interactions, common heritage and plural identities that emerged and developed along these maritime routes over the centuries. The UNESCO expedition travelled over 27000 kilometers from Venice (Italy) to Osaka (Japan), visiting 27 historical ports in 16 countries along the Maritime Silk Roads.
The Sultanate of Oman is again part of the Member States which provide political and financial support to the new initiative “The Silk Road Online Platform for Dialogue, Diversity and Development”, launched in 2011. Very recently, it has reaffirmed its commitment to the intercultural dialogue along the Silk Roads by providing 50,000 US$ to the Silk Road Online Platform. This contribution will enable the Online Platform to reach a wider public, particularly in the Arabic-speaking countries, and disseminate knowledge and scholarship developed by academic and cultural institutions in these countries.