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Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World

Artistic Inspiration

Take a trip back 1,000 years to the golden age of the Silk Road without even leaving Los Angeles. The Natural History Museum's newest exhibit (on display now through April 13) gives Angelenos an idea of what it would be like to travel the trade route of 4,600 miles -- an epic trek most during that time would avoid traveling during that time. The journey starts in Xi'an in central China to heads northwest to Turfan, through Samarkand in Uzbekistan -- and then on to Baghdad.

From start to finish, the exhibit is a wealth of interesting information that's easily digestible for both adults and children. Each stop gives “travelers" a broad overview of what the city was like at the time, plus fun facts on how the Silk Road spread more than just trade, including religion, science and even the use of paper across the East. Those interested in a few more details on the conditions and terrain encountered along the journey can consult the exhibit's interactive map, which also features facts on well-known travelers.

Interior designers taking a trek through the exhibit will appreciate its focus on textiles, glassware and paper. The Xi'an stop features modern reproductions of Tang-era silks, a full-size loom and a step-by-step on ancient silk production that's enhanced by a video showing modern methods as well as a sneak peek at real live silkworms (not for the squeamish). In the Turfan section, catch a glimpse of a traditional night market (named for its middle-of-the-night hours when the weather was cooler) where locals and travelers bought and sold a variety of fabrics, spices and foods. In Samarkand, get schooled the ins and outs of paper-making and a history of how the East shared the written word prior to its production. The final stop in Baghdad has an entire area devoted to Islamic glassware, including a hands-on section that lets you touch several different patterns.

Architects will relish the exhibit's fun facts on each cityscape. Get the scoop on Xi'an's widest street (hint: it's as wide as a 120 lane highway) and learn the dirty details of the Karez water system in Turfan (an underground system that relied on gravity to move water and turn a desert into a livable oasis). A peek at the Abassid palace will leave you wanting more. And the 41-foot section of a full-size model of an Arab sailing ship -- which gives guests a view of the ship's interior as well as its cargo -- is a final treat.

For more information on Traveling the Silk Road visit

Images courtesy Natural History Museum