The Diary of Young Explorers is a collection of travel accounts from Ankur, Giulio, and Caspar, who are documenting their experiences while journeying from Venice, Italy to Xi'an, China. You can read the introduction to their adventure here: The Diary of Young Explorers: Retracing the Ancient Silk Roads.
Having visited Avanos, the carpet-making cooperative in Cappadocia where we got our first glimpse of silkworms in action, we were keen to gain a deeper understanding of silk. Our first stop in Tbilisi, Georgia, was therefore the State Silk Museum. Silk has long been integral in Georgia’s history, and it is so well documented that during the 6th and 7th centuries the country served as an alternate route for the delivery of Chinese silk to Byzantium.
The Georgian State Silk Museum is one of the oldest silk museums in the world, and was founded in 1887. The museum is housed in one building within a complex originally known as the Caucasian Sericulture Station, which was established with the intention of renewing silk cultivation in Georgia. On display were collections of mulberry tree leaves, silkworms, cocoons and butterflies, some of which were brought from Russia when the museum was established, others which were gathered in Georgia and across Europe.
The most impressive collection in the museum was undoubtedly the silk cocoons. With samples from over 20 countries from Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Eastern Asia, the museum purports to have over 180,000 cocoons of 5,000 different species and varieties. Although perhaps less glamorous than the silkworm cocoons, we were intrigued by the packaging for silkworm eggs which date back to the 19th century. The containers and packaging materials in the museum had been produced in a variety of countries, and are a testament to the international role the Caucasian Sericulture Station played in economic and trade relations.
After leaving the central exhibition hall of the museum we visited the library. Our afternoon in the reading hall was passed discovering books dating from the 17th century, on topics related to silk cultivation including cloth dying, manufacturing and the relevant processes. Many of the books were donated by Nikolay Shavrov (the Russian scientist who played an important role in founding the museum), and according to the librarian some books had even been donated by Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Other interesting facts that we learned about the library’s collection were that the oldest book dates back to 1601, and it holds books in 17 languages.Many of the volunteers and staff at the museum were young, recently graduated students, who were drawn to it by their curiosity of silk. The Sericulture Station has since its earliest days served as an educational hub, acting as a scientific research centre for the study of silk, and holding public lectures to expand both the theoretical and practical knowledge of sericulture, or silk farming. While the city of Tbilisi has grown into a modern metropolis, the museum continues to carry on its historical mission. For us the State Silk Museum not only demystified the intricacies of the silk cultivation process, but also showed Georgia role in the silk trade over centuries.
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