Urumqi, the biggest city you’ve never heard of


After a thousand years, it’s again the capital of Central Asia.

It is the city set furthest from any sea in the world and for centuries its geographic location rendered it marginal. Yet in the wake of China’s economic rise, Urumqi is reclaiming its bygone importance, when it was the crossroads of Central Asia during the ‘Silk Road’ era. Today, it is considered a crucial mainstay of China’s geopolitical expansion: these scarcely populated north-west territories provide the kind of elbow room it needs to fuel its economic boom and consolidate its role as a world power.

The capital of the Xinjiang region – a remote wilderness five times the sizes of California with a population of only 22 million – already had a cosmopolitan flavour about it when the caravans passed through on the way to Europe, the Middle East and the Middle Kingdom.

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