"It is a City of Light. When night falls, countless lamps and torches light up all the streets and lanes, and the whole city, viewed from afar, turns into a sea of lights," described Jacob d'Ancona, a scholarly Jewish merchant, in a manuscript. Quanzhou, as the starting point of Maritime Silk Road, now become a hot tourist destination of China tourism.
In 1270 Jacob d'Ancona set out on a voyage from Italy. A year later, he arrived in China at the coastal metropolis of Zaitun -- the "City of Light" four years before Marco Polo arrived at Xanadu in 1275.
Nothing was known of this epochal journey until 1990 when a remarkable manuscript of d'Ancona's account of this travel, after being hidden from public for more than seven centuries, was shown, bringing us back to Jacob's encounter with one of the world's great civilizations -- the City of Light, now known as Quanzhou.
Tracking the Maritime Silk Road
Quanzhou, situated on the southeastern coast of East China's Fujian Province, was an important harbor and the starting point on the Maritime Silk Road. In ancient times, citong, or the paulownia trees that bear fiery red flowers every spring, were cultivated widely in the region to a circumference of ten kilometers, hence the nickname "Citong City." Visitors from the Middle East mistook it for the olive tree as zaitun in Arabic.
During the Maritime Silk Road ear, the name of no city was more resonant than Zaitun, where hundreds of huge ships docked in the bay. Boats loaded with goods would shuttle back and forth between the ships and the wharves, the latter already piled high with goods. After unloading items such as spices, ivory, pearls, hawksbill turtles, and rhinoceros horns, the ships would then take on silk, porcelain, tea, and Chinese arts and crafts before sailing back home.
The earliest records of trading between Quanzhou and foreign countries dated back to the 6th century. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Quanzhou had already become one of China's four greatest ports. Its foreign trade reached the peak of prosperity in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The four great travelers of the medieval West -- Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Giovanni Marignolli, and Odoric -- all wrote of the openness and prosperity of Quanzhou. The North African traveler Ibn Battuta compared it to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, and Marco Polo described it as "one of the largest ports in the world."
Quanzhou Maritime Museum
The best place to trace Quanzhou's ancient maritime prosperity is the Quanzhou Maritime Museum in Fengze District. It is the only maritime museum in China, with two sites -- the old one in the Kaiyuan Temple and the new one in the East Lake, built in 1959 and 1991 respectively. From the hundreds of thousands of cultural relics like real boat parts, stone, wooden and iron anchors, and models of sea boats through the dynasties, the rises and falls of ancient port city Zaitun are vividly revived. These attractions are must-sees included in China vacation packages.
There are also relics and models represent such historic events as the great mariner Zheng He's seven naval missions (1405-1433) to Asia and Africa, and the national hero Zheng Chenggong's warships reclaiming the sovereignty of Taiwan from the Dutch naval.
Quanzhou was so cosmopolitan that many Persian, Arab, Indian, and Southeast Asian merchants, sailors, emissaries, missionaries, and officials settled down here. It was a veritable showcase of religious tolerance: Apart from Buddhism and Hinduism, Islam, Nestorianism (widely viewed as a kind of pseudo-Christianity), Manichaeism (a kind of world religion), and Taoism all made their mark in this city, hence its fame as the "world museum of religions."
For many tourists, they are just familiar with the Silk Road in Xinjiang and many of them may have Silk Road travel. After reading this article, you may have a general idea of Maritime Silk Road.
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