The Silk Road

Confirmed for BBC Four on 1 May at 9pm - 10pm

Ep 1/3

Sunday 1 May



"The Silk Road cut across borders - and broke down the borders in our minds," says Dr Sam Willis, pictured. In a new three-part series for BBC Four, the historian and writer traces the story of the most famous trade route in history.

This was the Silk Road which ran from China’s ancient capital Xian through the mythical cities of Central Asia and Persia, until it reached the bazaars of Istanbul and the markets of Venice. It was in Venice and other Italian cities that the ideas, inventions and products that trickled down the Silk Road ignited.

They formed - in part - a movement which we call ‘the Renaissance’ - an explosion of new thinking, new art and new inventions. Covering a distance of 5,000 miles and crossing some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet, Dr Sam Willis reveals how the Silk Road was more than a market place: it was the world's first transcontinental superhighway, along which people with new ideas, new cultures and new religions made exchanges that shaped the development of humanity.

In the first episode, Sam begins his journey in Venice, and explores how its Renaissance architecture and art has been shaped by the East and by thousands of exchanges along the Silk Road. From Venice Sam travels to China’s ancient capital Xian. Here, Sam’s story takes him back in time, to reveal the tale of an Emperor who was so desperate for bigger horses to help protect his borders that he struck one of the most significant trade deals in human history: he wanted war horses, so he gave the most precious material in the world, silk.

From this single deal, a network of trading paths was carved out across thousands of miles by merchants, traders, envoys, pilgrims and travellers. It is known to us today as the Silk Road.

It will be broadcast alongside a three part series, Handmade On The Silk Road.