Thursday, 21 August 2008

City of Silk

Construction has began on the incredible City of Silk (Madinat Al-Hareer in Arabic) which is located not far from Kuwait City, the capital of Kuwait. The project will require 25 years to be completed. UK based architectural firm CivicArts are teaming up with engineering giants Atkins and Kuwaity real estate company Tamdeen Group along with other legal, financial and technical consultants to realize this amazing development that might truley be one for the historic records book.

The city takes its name from the Silk Road, the most enduring trade route in history which connected Far East Asia with Europe through the Middle East. It is often stated that this route was opened with the unification of China under the Han dynasty at 139 BC, although some argue that it even existed 1000 years beforehand. It stretches around 6,400km and cuts through some of harshest deserts and around the highest mountains in the world. Since commodities were transported by caravans, it was relatively easy for pirates and thieves to attack which made them a major threat. The economies of scale, harsh conditions and security considerations meant that caravans rarely travelled through the whole route; instead they would stop at a town where other traders would buy their commodities and transport them to another town until it reaches the other end of the route. Thus many towns have flourished because of its strategic location along the Silk Road.

In addition to silk, people traded with gold, ivory, exotic animals and plants, but silk was considered to be the most remarkable of all the precious goods and hence the name of the road. In fact there were several routes that traders took from China to Europe and vise versa and not one single road as the name implies. The route reached its golden years in the 7th century during the Tang dynasty. After the end of the Tang dynasty and the rise of Islam started to affect Asia, trade along the Silk Road subsided. The rivalry between the Christian and Muslim worlds only helped in further diminishing trade along the route. However, trade relations resumed as Muslims played the part of middlemen after the end of the crusades. Sea routes to China were explored at this time, eventually holding a more important place than the land route itself as they became less profitable.

The Mongols took advantage of the conflicts between the Christians and Muslims and were able to split the Muslim empire and take control over central Asia up to the Mediterranean at the 13th century. The unification of those states under the Mongol Empire allowed for interaction between cultures of different regions. Once again the Silk Road was revived as it became a path for communication between different parts of the Empire, and trading was continued. However the decline of the route soon came as the Mongol Empire disintegrated, the Islamic Empire gained its power, the Ming dynasty took control over China, and most importantly the silk route by sea developed even further.

The Silk Road linked nations from China to Spain, Russia to Africa together, and the strategic location of Mesopotamia at the heart of this trade route enabled it to become a center of learning, prosperity, and well-being. For centuries, people of different faiths, nationalities, ethnicities and values met to learn, share, and explore new ideas in Mesopotamia.

This historic context of the City of Silk is so immense that it will surely shift the political and economic aspirations in the Middle East. The city is planned to accommodate 700,000 people (which is almost equal to the population of the whole Kingdom of Bahrain) and should create nearly 430,000 new jobs. It will take up approximately 250 sq km, roughly the same size as Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, and cost around $132 billion.

Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain have been enjoying their architectural boom for sometime. Perhaps because of the damage on Kuwait in the Gulf War and the political instability in Iraq, it could not enjoy that boom as it had to rebuild its infrastructure. But now Kuwait is ready to shift the investors' focus from the south end of the Arabian Gulf to the northern end as Iraq begins to attract attention.

The city will include a new bridge across Kuwait Bay called Jabir Al Kabir Bridge linking the city with the country's capital. A new Sea Port that will become a grand new port for Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran. A new Airport that will become part of the global network of international cargo, passenger, services and information being shipped around the world. It will also include business, culture, and leisure developments surrounding a new National Park and Wildlife Reserve.

The cosmopolitan city will contain four city centers. Finance City will be the center of business, international trade, finance, and commerce. Leisure City will be the center for resort hotels and holiday retreats. Culture City is an attempt at restoring the region's reputation as a center for scholarly research, archaeological pursuits, and creative activities with the construction of art and historical museums for the visual and performing arts. Last but not least Ecological City will be located at the center of the City of Silk and will include a grand Wildlife Sanctuary and Nature Reserve. All of the four centers will be woven together with an intricate system of parks, gardens, lakes and ponds to create one integrated community.

Furthermore, the project will echo the historic Silk Road by building a rail network that will connect Kuwait to Damascus, Baghdad, Iran China, and surprisingly ISRAEL, as the country aims at increasing links between the two countries. If this project does see the light, it might very well mark a new beginning for a Golden Age for the Silk Road. The Arabian Gulf could very well accommodate the biggest centers of the world, Dubai at one end, and Kuwait at the other.

More info can be found here and here and here

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