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“It was the place where all the world’s wealth was gathered and all the blessings of the universe existed.” – al-Yaqoubi about Baghdad.
The Silk Roads is a vast region that include complex networks of maritime and land routes. They played an essential role in the rapprochement of Eastern and Western civilizations. Moreover, the cities along this vast region were capable to establish connections and form links thanks to the strategic position of their major cities such as Baghdad.
During the Middle Ages, Baghdad was an international trade centre on the Silk Roads networks. Its strategic geographical position made Baghdad a major central market for merchandise coming from diverse regions such as India, China, Daylam, or Anatolia. Baghdad region itself had its own local products like Qashani (ceramic patterns), paper or textiles that were exported to China, Morocco, as well as to the Roman Empire. In addition, a huge market was at the entrance of the city where the merchants stopped. Therefore, they encountered and exchanged with their peers from other regions.
Baghdad was one of the major centre of silk, raw silk, and velvet production; the silk was known to be made with gold threads. In fact, the silk was brought from China to Baghdad where it was transported and prepared. That silk was not used only by the people of Baghdad; it was also exported along other textiles, to the corners of the world through the Silk Roads.
Due to its geographical position, Baghdad was linked to various regions and cities around the world through the land and maritime Silk Roads. Indeed, the land Silk Roads connected Baghdad region to Western and Eastern regions such as Syria, Europe, China, and Japan, as well towards North in Anatolia or Russia. Furthermore, the Tigris River that ends up in the Persian Gulf, gave to Baghdad a key position in the Maritime Silk Routes; where hundreds of ships coming from diverse parts of China and Africa carried products from Baghdad. In the other way, the Arab traders could carry these diverse products made in Baghdad to the other regions of the Arabian Peninsula, to Europe, Russia, Samarkand and Southeast Asia.
The maritime roads between Baghdad and the other cities of the region helped the Baghdadis to establish connections with other populations. For example, loads of Chinese ships sailed to reach Basra (South of modern Iraq), and Arabs of the region reached Chinese ports such as Canton port. These links and connections led to the settlements and integrations of many Arab merchants and scholars in South China. On their way to China, Arab sailors coming from Baghdad passed through many trading centres where they eventually settled. They were navigating towards the Malabar Coast in the Indian Peninsula, then to Ceylon; then from these places, they continued their journey towards East. In this way, these movements led to the presence of Arabic populations in Singapore, Borneo, Java or Sumatra islands.
These land and maritime networks from Baghdad served as routes for the commercial caravans along the cities of the Silk Roads, helping in the settlements of the people along these regions, and for various activities including Pilgrimage. Therefore, Baghdad was at the heart of the Silk Roads where different civilizations passed through, gained knowledge about each other, and shared their common heritage.