The Silk Road or Silk Route is an ancient network of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers from China and India to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time.
Extending 10,000 kilometers (6,400 miles), the Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk carried out along its length, beginning during the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). The Central Asian sections of the trade routes were expanded around 114 BCE by the Han dynasty, largely through the missions and explorations of Chinese imperial envoy, Zhang Qian. The Chinese took great interest in the safety of their trade products and extended the Great Wall of China to ensure the protection of the trade route.
Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa and Arabia, opening long-distance, political and economic relations between the civilizations. Though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, many other goods were traded, and religions, syncretic philosophies, and various technologies, as well as diseases, also travelled along the Silk Routes. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road served as a means of carrying out cultural trade among the civilizations along its network.
The main traders during antiquity were the Chinese, Persians, Somalis, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Armenians, Indians, and Bactrians, and from the 5th to the 8th century the Sogdians. Following the emergence of Islam, Arab traders became prominent.
In June 2014 UNESCO designated the Chang'an-Tianshan corridor of the Silk Road as a World Heritage Site.