Marc Garanger/Corbis

Trailed by a trio of geese and accompanied by two of his ambassadors, a white-bearded Central Asian ruler rides a camel in a wedding procession, in this seventh-century A.D. fresco from Samarkand, in modern Uzbekistan. The figures in the painting—part of a splendid cycle that decorated a Sogdian palace—wear robes that are distinctly Iranian in origin.

Since the Persian conquests of the sixth century B.C., Samarkand has been a city that connects East and West. Until it was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1220 A.D. (later to be rebuilt by Tamerlane), Samarkand was the central caravanserai on the famed Silk Road, over which merchants and monks carried goods and ideas between China and the Mediterranean.