Cultural exchange along the Silk Road has brought people together for thousands of years – and  in the light of this history, UNESCO’s new Silk Road Online Platform has just been launched hoping to contribute to this ongoing and vibrant cultural interaction.

The historic Silk Road was a crisscrossing network of trade routes that spanned the globe from prehistoric times until the present day, along which people of many different cultures, religions and languages met and influenced each other. Its legacy has shaped the world we live in today – our languages, arts, science and technology, and spiritual beliefs. 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”, and it is with this aim that UNESCO is launching its new Silk Road Online Platform, in line with the 2013-2022 International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures.

Connecting over 55 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, UNESCO revives the Silk Road in today’s digital space, for international cooperation, development and dialogue.  It displays and explains the routes and their powerful, timeless significance, and encourages active support and development of the rich heritage alongside them.  As an online hub for Silk Road studies, the new platform would be a unique source of original information, scholarship and news about the Silk Road. In addition to presenting the rich tangible and intangible heritage along these routes, as well as many photos and videos, a selection of the best publications and research by academics from across the world has been brought together by UNESCO and its network of partners. The Silk Road’s astonishing historical legacy is an inspiration for the world’s increasingly diverse, multicultural societies.

 This online platform is committed to building active links between people from different communities along the length of these routes. Local engagement ensures the cultural vitality of Silk Road societies, promoting sustainable development via creative industries, education and sustainable tourism.  Traditional craftsmanship, such as silk weaving, social rituals like Nowruz celebrations, and sporting events such as horsemanship displays, all emerged over millennia through continual exchange and interaction along the Silk Road. Their vitality today stands as a testimony to this remarkable history, with traditions often being passed down through generations for centuries. The platform’s commitment to such traditions will raise awareness of their importance to visitors – both visitors from around the world (of which 40% travel for cultural purposes) and in local areas, promoting interest and appreciation of how these cultures and customs are linked. A plethora of World Cultural and Natural Heritages Sites, living traditions (many on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list), museums and movable heritage, creative products and languages enrich the lengths of the Silk Road, but it is only by bringing communities together in this way that their similarities, as well as their unique value, can be appreciated.

The Silk Road portal is to be UNESCO’s unique platform for global exchange about cultural development, and the preservation as well as the promotion of cultural heritage along the Silk Road. The stunning architecture of Bukhara (Uzbekistan), the majestic caravanserais that are scattered across Asia, the ancient beauty of Borobudur (Indonesia), the many cultural and sporting events, like polo or Buzkechi (Central Asia) – these are all, for the world and more importantly, for local communities, crossroads of dialogue, exchange and sustainable development. The enduring legacy of the Silk Road continues to pave the road ahead towards peace.