Ruins of ancient port evidence to prosperity of Maritime Silk Road

By Liang Yanhua

On the vast blue sea, the Maritime Silk Road is a link between different civilizations, bearing witness to the communication and exchanges between the Chinese nation and the world with rich cultural heritage resources.

The ruins site of the Shuomen ancient port in Wenzhou, a city in east China's Zhejiang province, was discovered by archeologists between 2021 and 2022, bringing back to life the bustling scene of Wenzhou, a node along the Maritime Silk Road, back in the day.

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During the archaeology project, important remains related to the port were unearthed, including eight docks and two shipwrecks dating back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), tons of stacked porcelain pieces belonging to the Song Dynasty and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and lacquered woodware.

Barbican ruins built in the Song and Yuan dynasties and in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) were discovered, and remains of dikes, bridges, sluice gates and piers that witnessed the change of the coastline over the course of more than 1,000 years.

"The ruins site of the Shuomen ancient port is one of the most important archeological discoveries at ancient port sites along the Maritime Silk Road to date. The discovery has outstanding value in world navigation history and will become an important cultural heritage site supporting the Maritime Silk Road's application for world heritage," said Jiang Bo, vice president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

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The ancient city of Wenzhou has a history of 1,700 years. The city is surrounded by mountains on its eastern and western sides, with deep water and a stable shoreline.

The favorable geographical condition makes the ancient city closely defended and gives it natural advantages in building ports. Since its establishment, the city's location and the port site have basically remained unchanged.

Sitting in the middle of China's eastern coastline with favorable conditions as a port, Wenzhou has long been a node along the Maritime Silk Road.

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In 2018, a frosted glass bowl, originating in the Sasanian Empire, was unearthed in a tomb of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) at a cluster of ancient tombs in Oubei township, Yongjia county of Wenzhou. The cultural relic is important evidence of Wenzhou's earlier participation in trade along the Maritime Silk Road.

In the late Tang Dynasty (618-907), Wenzhou was one of the major ports hosting Japanese merchants. Between the late Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and the Yuan Dynasty, Wenzhou entered a period of great prosperity following the rise of the Longquan kiln.

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The mountainous coastal geography and open economic structure have shaped the unique regional culture of Wenzhou.

The ancient people here were adept at operating boats and sailing in the sea, and they were influenced by the concept that smooth trade is conducive to industry and commerce. Wenzhou has long been an important shipbuilding base in China and maintained a leading position in shipbuilding technologies.

(Liang Yanhua is head of the archaelogy project at the ruins site of the Shuomen ancient port in Wenzhou.)