The City of Venice has been working for some time on a concept for a new European Cultural Itinerary, the “European silk route”, with the aim of submitting it to the Council of Europe and applying for certification.

The “European silk route” aims to be a local cultural network and infrastructure linking cities, regions, sites, museums and universities in order to enhance knowledge of a shared European cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, and to promote new relationships within Europe and between Europe and the East through sharing of best practices and cultural tourism activities.

The route would ideally be based on Marco Polo’s travels eastward and include silk production and trade itineraries in Europe in the following centuries.

The project aims to:

– Highlight the tangible and intangible heritage of silk—knowledge, traditions and production techniques—that influenced the economic development and social history of the areas involved and contributed to the creation of a strong identity and various communities;

– Enhance the intrinsic link between silk production and sale and trade network between Europe and the East, reflecting a shared heritage;

– Highlight the role of silk as a reflection of changes to artisanal and industrial work and trade, as well as of changes to traditions, customs and tastes in every era;

– Contribute to the development of participatory and sustainable cultural tourism;

– Foster links and shared activities between European cities and regions that have been, and in some cases continue to be, centres of silk production and trade; between museums and research centres as regards the history, safeguarding and modern applications of silk.

The narrative to be developed will start from the commercial and religious exchanges that took place along the silk road, and specifically Marco Polo’s trips. It will then analyze silk’s impact in Europe through four main themes: the textile activity (from artisanal production to industrialization: innovations, technologies, the work world); silkworm breeding and its social, economic, agricultural and environmental consequences; the use of silk in paintings, fashion and design; and research and development in silk production.

The story will follow these topics, analyzing contacts and exchanges between the different communities that grew up around silk manufacturing. The aim is to reveal how they do not constitute the heritage of single nations but a common history shared by numerous cities, regions and countries of the European continent.

The European textile industry is the result of the sharing and spread of ideas throughout the entire continent, from Lucca to Venice, from Genoa to Valencia, from Lyon to Spitalfields, in London. Its history was deeply influenced by the industrial revolution, by the development of new production processes, technologies and machinery and by radical changes in the organization of work.

The European silk route will highlight the impact of centuries of industrial evolution, technological innovations and exchanges on social organization, the cultural landscape and the urban and rural structure in Europe, the signs of which are still visible today. It will also examine the consequences the silk industry has had on the quality of life of Europeans, their social organisation and the redistribution of wealth on the continent. China initially jealously guarded the secret of silk worm breeding until it was brought to Europe during the Roman era and led to the development of the spinning and weaving industry.

The European silk route will promote the creation of educational materials, communication and sharing of best practices between museums and historic spinning mills that even today continue to tell the story of worm-breeding in Europe through tangible and intangible signs. For many European cities, silk manufacturing became a great source of wealth that led to greater investments in the textile industry but also in architecture, luxury goods and artistic production. These sectors continue to be important industrial entities that contribute to keeping silk manufacturing alive, while research centres have broadened silk’s scope of use, from medicine to jewellery-making.

The European silk route proposes to create visits for both children and adults through these companies in order to promote better knowledge and understanding of this shared European cultural identity.