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(1254-1324), is probably the most famous Westerner traveled
ever. His name inspired all explorer in history including
Cristoforo Colombo. He excelled all the other travelers in
his determination, his writing, and his influence. His
journey through Asia lasted 24 years. He reached further
than any of his predecessors, beyond Mongolia to China. He
became a confidant of Kublai Khan (1214-1294). He traveled
the whole of China and returned to tell the tale, which
became the greatest travelogue.
(September 15, 1254 - January 8, 1324) was a Venetian trader
and explorer who, together with his father and uncle, was
one of the first Westerners to travel the Silk Road to China
(which he called Cathay) and visited the Great Khan of the
Mongol Empire, Kubilai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan). His
travels are written down in Il Milione ("The Milione", from
Polo's family nickname Emilione, or The Travels of Marco
Polo). Marco Polo is known as one of the world's greatest
explorers ? some skeptics see him as the world's greatest
The Polos probably lived in China for seventeen years before
returning to Venice. After his return, in a sea battle
between Venice and Genoa, Marco was captured and taken to
prison, where he dictated to Rustichello da Pisa the book Il
Milione about his travels.
The Polo family had explorers other than Marco. His father
Niccol? (also Nicol?in Venetian) and his uncle Maffeo (also
Maffio) were prosperous merchants in the East trade. The two
merchants set out to Asia in 1255, reached China in 1266,
arriving at Khanbaliq (now Beijing). They returned from
China as Kublai Khan's envoys with a letter for the Pope
asking to be sent educated people to teach in his empire, to
inform the Mongols about their way of life.
There is a tradition that the Polo family originated from
the island of Korcula (then known as Curzola) in the
Adriatic Sea. It is considered dubious as there is some
factual evidence supporting these claims, and some evidence
contrary to it, with no complete records that would help
ascertain the truth. The city of Korcula still maintains an
old house in which Marco was said to have been born.
Regardless, the Polos gained prominence in Venice and are
historically recorded as Venetians.
The second voyage
Marco Polo at the court of Kublai Khan
Map of the journeyMatteo and Niccol?Polo set out on a second
journey, with the Pope's response to Kublai Khan, in 1271.
This time Niccol?took his son Marco who soon won the favour
of Kublai Khan, who made Marco his adviser. Soon afterwards
Marco became the Khan's emissary. In his seventeen years of
service to the Khan, Marco Polo became acquainted with the
vast regions of China and with numerous achievements of
Chinese civilization, many of which were more advanced than
similar contemporary European developments.
On their return from China in 1295, the family settled in
Venice where they became a sensation and attracted crowds of
listeners, who had difficulties in believing their reports
of distant China. Since they did not believe him, Marco Polo
invited them all to dinner one night during which the Polos
dressed in the simple clothes of a peasant in China. Shortly
before the crowds ate, the Polos opened their pockets to
reveal hundreds of rubies and other jewels which they had
received in Asia. Though they were much impressed, the
people of Venice still doubted the Polos.
His restless spirit drove Marco Polo to take part in the
naval battle of Curzola/Korcula between Genoa and Venice in
1298. He was captured by and spent the few months of his
imprisonment dictating a detailed account of his travels in
the then-unknown parts of the Far East. His book, Il Milione
("The Million"; known in English as The Travels of Marco
Polo) was written in the Proven?l language and was soon
translated into many European languages. The original is
lost and we have several often-conflicting versions of the
translations. The book became an instant success ? quite an
achievement in a time when printing was not known in Europe.
Did the trip really take place?
On his deathbed, a priest begged Marco to confess that he
had lied in his stories. Marco refused, insisting, "I have
not told half of what I saw!"
While most historians believe that Marco Polo did indeed
reach China, in recent times some have proposed that he did
not get that far, and only retold information he had heard
from others. Those skeptics point out that, among other
omissions, his account fails to mention Chinese writing,
chopsticks, tea, foot binding, or the Great Wall. Also,
Chinese records of the time do not mention him, despite the
fact that he claimed to have served as a special emissary
for Kublai Khan?which is puzzling, given the careful
record-keeping in China at that time.
On the other hand, Marco describes other aspects of Far
Eastern life in much detail: paper money, the Grand Canal,
the structure of a Mongol army, tigers, the Imperial postal
system. He also refers to Japan by its Chinese name "Zipang"
or Cipangu. This is usually considered the first mention of
Japan in Western literature.
Marco Polo is also believed to have described a bridge that
was the site of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a battle
that marked the beginning of the Japanese invasion of north
central China in World War II.
Although the Polos were by no means the first Europeans to
reach China overland (see for example Giovanni da Pian del
Carpini), thanks to Marco's book their trip was the first to
be widely known, and the best-documented until then.
Legend has it that Marco Polo introduced to Italy some
products from China, including ice cream, the pi?ta and
pasta, especially spaghetti. However, these legends are
highly dubious ? for instance, there is evidence that pasta
was known in Italy since antiquity.
The airport in Venice, Italy is named Marco Polo
International Airport. See also the Marcopolo satellites.
The travels of Marco Polo are given an extended fantasy
treatment in the Irish writer Donn Byrne's Mesuser Marco
Polo. He also appears as the pivotal character in Italo
Calvino's novel Invisible Cities.
A three-masted clipper ship built in Saint John, New
Brunswick, in 1851. The fastest ship of her day, Marco Polo
was the first ship to sail around the world in under six
months. Several ships of the Italian navy were named Marco
" I believe
it was God's will that we should come back, so that men
might know the things that are in the world, since, as we
have said in the first chapter of this book, no other man,
Christian or Saracen, Mongol or pagan, has explored so much
of the world as Messer Marco, son of Messer Niccolo Polo,
great and noble citizen of the city of Venice."
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