Arabian Nights stories are full of long journeys and adventure-packed voyages …

… people travelling thousands of miles across land, braving deserts, mountains and seas in search of someone or something, and getting lost in faraway places before eventually finding the way back home.

Prince Camar_The long journey

From Sinbad’s seven voyages to the evil sorcerer in Aladdin who packs his bags and journeys from Africa to China in search of a magic lamp! From Prince Camar who sets out on horseback from Persia to find his mystery princess in China to Princess Badoura who finds herself lost on the Ebony Islands at the mercy of King Armanos and Princess Hayat. Fortunately for Badoura they are kind and look after her very well! The poor shipwrecked Beder is not so lucky when he finds himself washed up on the shores of the City of Enchantments and at the mercy of the evil sorceress Queen Labe. Even the merfolk (sea people) in the story of Gulnare move effortlessly between the watery underworlds of the deep seas and the land of sultans, princes, princesses and ordinary human folk. There’s a lot of magical travel in the Arabian Nights tales, often with the help of a little enchantment or the magical jinn (genies).

What happened here
In the story Gulnare of the Sea, Princess Gia is a sea princess who is flung from under the ocean and onto dry land by powerful ocean currents after her home under the sea is invaded and war breaks out beneath the waves. The sea people in this Arabian Nights story travel as easily on land as under the sea!

But how did people really move about all those thousands of years ago in the Arabian lands of ancient and medieval times?

An ancient trading network known as the Silk Road connected many regions of China, India, Persia and Arabia. It also took in Egypt and the Horn of Africa – the most northeastern part of Africa that juts out into the Arabian Sea – and even reached as far as the Mediterranean.

The Silk Road included many different trading routes and covered a vast territory of about 6,000 kilometres. Merchants, pilgrims, monks, nomads, soldiers, nobles and ordinary city folk travelled and traded along these routes from as early as 114BC until around 1450AD.

Chinese silk was perhaps the most important commodity traded along the Silk Road but there was so much more too – porcelain and lacquerware from China, glass bottles from Egypt, aloes, frankincense and myrrh from Somalia, dates, saffron powder and pistachio nuts from Persia and even gold and silver bullion (ingots)! Perhaps it was aboard one of these very trading caravans that Aladdin’s magic lamp was brought to the underground cave of treasures on the outskirts of Aladdin’s city in Cathay (China)! Some argue that even diseases such as the Black Death, which devastated Europe in the late 1340s, were passed on along these old trading routes.

But let us not forget the exchange of ideas that also took place – everything from folk tales, religious beliefs, philosophies, technologies and other forms of knowledge. As weary travellers rested themselves and entertained each other around campfires at night they may even have told each other these very Arabian Nights tales of sorcery and magic. In this way these stories may also have travelled, from one place to the next, along the old Silk Road.

Looking for excellent contemporary editions of the all-time classic Arabian Nights tales? Check out Arabian Nights Adventures, a collection of thirteen of the best Arabian Nights stories published by Harpendore. Beautifully retold by Kelley Townley they include wonderful illustrations by Anja Gram. Though designed for children aged 7+ years, they are very much loved by older children and adults too!