This website is dedicated to the study of art and culture in Central Asia, with a focus on the period between the 11th and 14th century. In that period Turkic nomadic rulers established large empires in the area that is now often indicated as ‘Central Asia’ and associated with the Silk Roads. The cultural activity in that period of bloom, still has far-reaching consequences for life today. Whether we look at religion, language, (understanding of) literature and poetry, music, architecture or any other artistic expressions, traces of the past are still visible in many aspects of life.

The term Silk Roads was introduced centuries after their demise. However, the trading and travel activity that centred around the cities that lay along the routes that connected different parts of Asia to each other and to Europa and Africa, was vital in establishing the cultural exchange that determined the shape of these cities. Cosmopolitanism brought about by migratory processes that led to ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural variation, are central to our understanding of this area whether we are focussing on the past or the present.


The project Turks, texts and territory: Imperial ideology and cultural production in Central Eurasia was funded by NWO and executed at Leiden University. The aim of the project was to bring together a broad variety of different human expressions to create a deeper cultural understanding of the region.

Researchers explore the link between political ideology and the production of art -including architecture and literature- via the cultural heritage of a variety of cities along the Silk Road, as explained in the video underneath.

Read in more depth about the objectives of the project here: NWO: Silk Road Monuments: how has the cultural heritage of Central Asia contributed to the world of today?


On this page we have collected some of the highlights of the project outcomes in terms of succesful conferences, exhibitions and (international) cooperation. More information on our publications is available here

Central Asia Initiative

Exhibition on Central Asia

Download the pdf of exhibition Silk Road Cities here

Tenth European Conference of Iranian Studies ECIS 10

The film Uzbekistan a Timeless Journey in Central Asia by Jivko Darakchev was created in cooperation with projectmember Elena Paskaleva.

The Erasmus and International Credit Mobility project of the Faculty of Humanities with three partners in Uzbekistan.

Team members

Gabrielle van den Berg

Gabrielle van den Berg is Professor of Cultural History of Iran and Central Asia at Leiden University Library. She studied Persian language and culture at the University of Leiden and at the University of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. She has held positions in Leiden, Cambridge and Brussels. Her research interests include Persian literature and the history of Iran and Central Asia; she has published in particular on the oral traditions of the Ismailis of Tajik Badakhshan and the Shahnama manuscript tradition.

Elena Paskaleva

Elena Paskaleva is assistant professor in Critical Heritage Studies of Asia and Europe at Leiden University. Her current research focuses on the material culture of Central Asia, and in particular on the history and socio-political importance of Timurid architecture. She has published widely on the restorations of Timurid architecture in present-day Uzbekistan. 

Sara Mirahmadi

After Winning Winner the gold medal in the National Olympiad of Literature and Linguistics (Ranked 1st among 25000 participants) in Iran, Sara Mirahmadi received her BA and MA in literature from the university of Teheran. She then joined the project in Leiden as a PhD-student. Her research uses literary sources to investigate how the Turkic dynasties of the Seljuqs and the Mongolian Ilkhanids impacted the governance and culture of the lands they conquered and how their nomadic past and imperial ideology were connected.

Toby Jones

Toby Jones looked at how the irruption of the Mongols impacted the larger world scene, focusing on their invasion of the Persianate world and the creation of the Ilkhanid state in Iran in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Nicholas Kontovas

Nicolas’ research focuses on explaining major structural changes in the Turkic of Central Asia as a function of contact between speakers of different languages. More specifically, he investigates to what extend the emergence of innovative features in the verbal systems of these languages is the result of borrowing and/or areal phenomena associated with bilingualism between Turkic and Persian or Turkic and other local substrate languages. Nicolas currently works as a subject librarian at the Nizami Ganjavi Library in Oxford

Birte Kristiansen

Birte Kristiansen has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies and has worked for many years as a librarian and project manager at Leiden University. For this project she is involved in the design of the website and in developing initiatives to share the project’s output beyond the scope of the scientific world with the general audience.