BRUSSELS.- Together, Asia and Europe form a single gigantic continent, Eurasia , with an endless variety of landscapes, climates, fauna, and flora and an equally great diversity of peoples and cultures. For millennia past, Asia and Europe have had intense relations with each other. Both by land and by sea, commercial and political links developed between East and West. Conquerors such as Alexander the Great, Attila, and Genghis Khan set out in search of glory, wealth, and power. Marco Polo was fascinated by what he saw on his travels through Central Asia and the Far East . Vasco Da Gama and Magellan sought new routes to China . The Chinese admiral Zeng He sought diplomatic contacts with the West by sea.
Two cultural factors seem to have brought East and West into contact with each other over thousands of years: trade and religion. The land route between China and Rome , which later became known as the "Silk Road ", was not the only network of trade routes. Greek, Roman, and Chinese historians noted the existence of shipping routes and ports along the coasts of the Red Sea , Yemen , the Persian Gulf , India , and South-east Asia . Commodities such as tea, spices, ceramics, and jewellery and exotic products such as ivory, perfume, incense, feathers, and even living animals were often transported across thousands of kilometres.
In the wake of the traders came pilgrims and religious and spiritual leaders. The great religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam were carried along the same trade routes. Their adherents also brought with them cultural traditions, architecture, and other art forms; these found their way throughout the continent of Asia . Trade and religion, hand in hand, made their way right across Eurasia.
The A Passage to Asia exhibition throws light on 2,500 years of exchange between Asia and Europe via a selection of over 300 objects. From ancient times, it includes imposing burial urns, ritual bronze "Dongson" drums, and sophisticated jewellery in gold, glass, and semi-precious stones, alongside Buddhist and Hindu images from India and South-east Asia . The spread of Islam and Christianity led to the intensive production and trading of ivories, manuscripts, miniatures, and liturgical objects. Old maps and illustrated travellers' tales give an idea of the travelling conditions of the time. Mongol weaponry from the time of Genghis Khan conjures up images of the Silk Road and world conquest. Other highlights include expensive textiles from India , superbly woven and decorated, whose use as a means of payment persisted into the 19th century. The exhibition also presents recent discoveries made by underwater archaeology: the cargoes of shipwrecks that have preserved merchandise from the East down the centuries, as in a time capsule, untouched by human hand.
The works of art in A Passage to Asia form part of the cultural heritage of 16 Asian ASEM countries. ASEM stands for "Asia-Europe Meeting", a political-economic organisation that brings together the 27 member states of the European Union and 16 Asian countries: Brunei , Cambodia , China , India , Indonesia , Japan , Korea , Laos , Malaysia , Mongolia , Myanmar , Pakistan , the Philippines , Singapore , Thailand , and Vietnam . The ASEM summit takes place in Brussels on 4 and 5 October 2010 .