Made famous in the West by the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo, the ancient Silk Road spanned one-quarter of the circumference of the Earth. An intricate network of trading routes, in its heyday it stretched from Luoyang and Xi'an in China, through Central Asia to Istanbul and Rome, perhaps the first example of the globalisation of trade. At the heart of this complex web of caravan trails stood Afghanistan, its location a strategic meeting point for merchants from East, West and the Indian subcontinent. As a result, this fabled country was for centuries one of the wealthiest centres of commerce and culture in the region - a Leader in the East.
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