Marco Polo: Wikis


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Marco Polo

Portrait of Marco Polo[Note 1]
Born c. 1254
Venice, Venetian Republic
Died January 8, 1324 (aged 69)
Venice, Venetian Republic
Resting place Church of San Lorenzo
45°15′41″N 12°12′15″E / 45.2613°N 12.2043°E / 45.2613; 12.2043
Nationality Venetian (Italian)
Occupation Merchant, Explorer
Known for The Travels of Marco Polo
Spouse(s) Danta Badoer
Children Fantina, Bellela, and Moretta
Parents Mother: Unknown
Father: Niccolò Polo

Marco Polo (English pronunciation: /ˈmɑrkoʊ ˈpoʊloʊ/  ( listen); Italian pronunciation: [ˈmarko ˈpɔːlo]) (c. 1254 – January 8, 1324) was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote Il Milione, which introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa; Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married and had 3 children. He died in 1324, and was buried in San Lorenzo.

Il Milione was translated, embellished, copied by hand and adapted; there is no authoritative version. It documents his father's journey to meet the Kublai Khan, who asked them to become ambassadors, and communicate with the pope. This led to Marco's quest, through Acre, into China and to the Mongol court. Marco wrote of his extensive travels throughout Asia on behalf of the Khan, and their eventual return after 15,000 miles (24,140 km) and 24 years of adventures.

Their pioneering journey inspired Columbus and others. Marco Polo's other legacies include Venice Marco Polo Airport, the Marco Polo sheep, and several books and films. He also had an influence on European cartography, leading to the introduction of the Fra Mauro map.



From childhood through to Genoese captivity

The exact time and place of Marco Polo's birth are unknown, and current theories are mostly conjectural. However, the most quoted specific date is somewhere "around 1254",[Note 2] and it is generally accepted that Marco Polo was born in the Venetian Republic. While the exact birthplace is unknown, most biographers point towards Venice itself as Marco Polo's home town.[Note 3][1] His father Niccolò was a merchant who traded with the Middle East, becoming wealthy and achieving great prestige.[2][3] Niccolò and his brother Maffeo set off on a trading voyage, before Marco was born.[3] In 1260, Niccolò and Maffeo were residing in Constantinople when they foresaw a political change; they liquidated their assets into jewels and moved away.[2] According to The Travels of Marco Polo, they passed through much of Asia, and met with the Kublai Khan.[4] Meanwhile, Marco Polo's mother died, and he was raised by an aunt and uncle.[3] Polo was well educated, and learned merchant subjects including foreign currency, appraising, and the handling of cargo ships,[3] although he learned little or no Latin.[2]

Map of the journey

In 1269, Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Venice, meeting Marco for the first time. In 1271, Marco Polo (at seventeen years of age), his father, and his uncle set off for Asia on the series of adventures that were later documented in Marco's book. They returned to Venice in 1295, 24 years later, with many riches and treasures. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,140 km).[3]

Upon their return, Venice was at war with Genoa, and Marco Polo was taken prisoner. He spent the few months of his imprisonment dictating a detailed account of his travels to fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa,[3] who incorporated tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China. The book became known as The Travels of Marco Polo, and depicts the Polos' journeys throughout Asia, giving Europeans their first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan.[5] Marco Polo was finally released from captivity in August 1299,[3] and returned home to Venice, where his father and uncle had purchased a large house in the central quarter named contrada San Giovanni Crisostomo. The company continued its activities and Marco soon became a wealthy merchant. Polo financed other expeditions, but never left Venice again. In 1300, he married Donata Badoer, the daughter of Vitale Badoer, a merchant.[6] They had three daughters, called Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.[7]


The San Lorenzo di Venezia church building in the sestiere of Castello of Venice, where Polo is buried. The photo was taken after the church was rebuilt.

In 1323, Polo was confined to bed, due to illness. On January 8, 1324, despite physicians' efforts to treat him, Polo was on his deathbed. To write and certify the will, his family requested Giovanni Giustiniani, a priest of San Procolo. His wife, Donata, and his three daughters were appointed by him as co-executrices. The church was entitled by law to a portion of his estate; he approved of this and ordered that a further sum be paid to the convent of San Lorenzo, the place where he wished to be buried.[8] He also set free a "Tartar slave" who may have accompanied him from Asia.[9]

He divided up the rest of his assets, including several properties, between individuals, religious institutions, and every guild and fraternity to which he belonged. He also wrote-off multiple debts including 300 lire that his sister-in-law owed him, and others for the convent of San Giovanni, San Paolo of the Order of Preachers, and a cleric named Friar Benvenuto. He ordered 220 soldi be paid to Giovanni Giustiniani for his work as a notary and his prayers.[8] The will, which was not signed by Polo, but was validated by then relevant "signum manus" rule, by which the testator only had to touch the document to make it abide to the rule of law,[10] was dated January 9, 1324. Due to the Venetian law stating that the day ends at sunset, the exact date of Marco Polo's death cannot be determined, but it was between the sunsets of January 8 and 9, 1324.[8]

The Travels of Marco Polo

A miniature from Il Milione.

An authoritative version of Marco Polo's book does not exist, and the early manuscripts differ significantly. The published versions of his book either rely on single scripts, blend multiple versions together or add notes to clarify, for example in the English translation by Henry Yule. Another English translation by A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot, published in 1938, is based on the Latin manuscript which was found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50% longer than other versions.[11] Approximately 150 variants in various languages are known to exist, and without the availability of a printing press many errors were made during copying and translation, resulting in many discrepancies.[12]


A page from Il Milione, originally published during Polo's lifetime.

The book starts with a preface about his father and uncle traveling to Bolghar where Prince Berke Khan lived. A year later, they went to Ukek [13] and continued to Bukhara. There, an envoy from Levant invited them to meet Kublai Khan, who had never met Europeans.[14] In 1266, they reached the seat of the Kublai Khan at Dadu, present day Beijing, China. Khan received the brothers with hospitality and asked them many questions regarding the European legal and political system.[15] He also inquired about the Pope and Church in Rome.[16] After the brothers answered the questions he tasked them with delivering a letter to the Pope, requesting 100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy). Kublai Khan requested that an envoy bring him back oil of the lamp in Jerusalem.[17] The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268 and the election of his successor delayed the Polos in fulfilling Khan's request. They followed the suggestion of Theobald Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt, and returned to Venice in 1269 or 1270 to await the nomination of the new Pope, which allowed Marco to see his father for the first time, at the age of fifteen or sixteen.[18]

Polo in costume.

In 1271, Niccolò, Maffeo and Marco Polo embarked on their voyage to fulfill Khan's request. They sailed to Acre, and then rode on camels to the Persian port of Hormuz. They wanted to sail to China, but the ships there were not seaworthy, so they continued overland until reaching Khan's summer palace in Shangdu, near present-day Zhangjiakou. Three and one-half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, Khan welcomed the Polos into his palace.[3] The exact date of their arrival is unknown, but scholars estimate it to be between 1271 and 1275.[Note 4] On reaching the Mongol court, the Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to their patron.[2]

Marco knew four languages, and the family had accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience that was useful to Khan. It is possible that he became a government official;[3] he wrote about many imperial visits to China's southern and eastern provinces, the far south and Burma.[19]

Kublai Khan declined the Polos' requests to leave China. They became worried about returning home safely, believing that if Khan died, his enemies might turn against them because of their close involvement with the ruler. In 1292, Khan's great-nephew, then ruler of Persia, sent representatives to China in search of a potential wife, and they asked the Polos to accompany them, so they were permitted to return to Persia with the wedding party — which left that same year from Zaitun in southern China on a fleet of 14 junks. The party sailed to the port of Singapore, travelled north to Sumatra and around the southern tip of India, eventually crossing the Arabian Sea to Hormuz. The two-years voyage was a perilous one - of the six hundred people (not including the crew) in the convoy only eighteen had survived (including all three Polos)[20]. The Polos left the wedding party after reaching Hormuz and travelled overland to the port of Trebizond on the Black Sea, the present day Trabzon.[3]


Further exploration

Handwritten notes by Christopher Columbus on a Latin edition of Polo's book.

Other less well-known European explorers had already travelled to China, such as Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, but Polo's book meant that their journey was the first to be widely known. Christopher Columbus was inspired enough by Polo's description of the Far East to visit those lands for himself; a copy of the book was among his belongings, with handwritten annotations.[21] Bento de Góis, inspired by Polo's writings of a Christian kingdom in the east, travelled 4,000 miles (6,437 km) in three years across Central Asia. He never found the kingdom, but ended his travels at the Great Wall of China in 1605, proving that Cathay was what Matteo Ricci called "China".[22]


The Marco Polo sheep, a subspecies of Ovis aries, is named after the explorer,[23] who described it during his crossing of Pamir (ancient Mount Imeon) in 1271.[Note 5] In 1851, a three-masted Clipper built in Saint John, New Brunswick also took his name; the Marco Polo was the first ship to sail around the world in under six months.[24] The airport in Venice is named Venice Marco Polo Airport,[25] and the frequent flyer program of Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific is known as the "Marco Polo Club".[26] The Travels of Marco Polo are fictionalised in Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne's Messer Marco Polo and Gary Jennings' 1984 novel The Journeyer. Polo also appears as the pivotal character in Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities. The 1982 television miniseries, Marco Polo, directed by Giuliano Montaldo and depicting Polo's travels, won two Emmy Awards and was nominated for six more.[27] Marco Polo also appears as a Great Explorer in the 2008 strategy video game Civilization Revolution.[28]


The Fra Mauro map, published c. 1450 by the Venetian monk Fra Mauro.

Marco Polo's travels may have had some influence on the development of European cartography, ultimately leading to the European voyages of exploration a century later.[29] The 1453 Fra Mauro map was said by Giovanni Battista Ramusio to have been an improved copy of the one brought from Cathay by Marco Polo:

That fine illuminated world map on parchment, which can still be seen in a large cabinet alongside the choir of their monastery (the Camaldolese monastery of San Michele di Murano) was by one of the brothers of the monastery, who took great delight in the study of cosmography, diligently drawn and copied from a most beautiful and very old nautical map and a world map that had been brought from Cathay by the most honourable Messer Marco Polo and his father.

See also


  1. ^ The exact source is unknown, but the portrait originated from a 16th century painting in the Gallery of Monsignor Badia in Rome. Inscription: Marcus Polus venetus totius orbis et Indie peregrator primus. It appears in the Nordisk familjebok Berg 1915, p. 1261
  2. ^ Many sources state this date; Britannica 2002, p. 571 states, "born in or around 1254. (This date, like nearly all the others concerning major events in his life, is conjectural.)"
  3. ^ Some sources (e.g. Burgan 2002, p. 7) suggest that Polo was born in Korčula, an island in Dalmatia, now Croatia. The Korcula info website states, "Polo is reputed to have been born in Korcula itself, although evidence to support this thesis is at best sketchy." A "Birthpace of Marco Polo" exists on the island (website).
  4. ^ Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, a Tibetan monk and confidant of Kublai Khan, mentions in his diaries that in 1271 a foreign friend of Kublai Khan visits — quite possibly one of the elder Polos or even Marco Polo himself, although, no name was given. If this is not the case, a more likely date for their arrival is 1275 (or 1274, according to the research of Japanese scholar Matsuo Otagi).(Britannica 2002, p. 571)
  5. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch.18 states, "Then there are sheep here as big as asses; and their tails are so large and fat, that one tail shall weigh some 30 lb. They are fine fat beasts, and afford capital mutton."


  1. ^ Bergreen 2007, p. 25
  2. ^ a b c d Brittanica 2002, p. 571
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Parker 2004, pp. 648–649
  4. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch.1–9
  5. ^ Bram 1983
  6. ^ Bergreen 2007, p. 532
  7. ^ Power 2007, p. 87
  8. ^ a b c Bergreen 2007, pp. 339-342
  9. ^ Britannica 2002, p. 573
  10. ^ Biblioteca Marciana, the institute that holds Polo's original copy of his testament.
  11. ^ Bergreen 2007, pp. 367-368
  12. ^ Edwards, p. 1
  13. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch. 2
  14. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch. 3
  15. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch. 5
  16. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch. 6
  17. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch. 7
  18. ^ Yule & Cordier 1923, ch. 9
  19. ^ W. Marsden (2004), Thomas Wright, ed. (PDF), The Travels pf Marco Polo, The Venetian (1298),, retrieved 2009-07-14  
  20. ^ Boyle, J. A. (1971). Marco Polo and his Description of the World. History Today. Vol. 21, No. 11. [1]
  21. ^ Landström 1967, p. 27
  22. ^ Winchester 2008, p. 264
  23. ^ Bergreen 2007, p. 74
  24. ^ Lubbock 2008, p. 86
  25. ^ Brennan, D. (2009-02-01), Lost in Venice, WalesOnline,, retrieved 2009-07-15  
  26. ^ Cathay Pacific Airways, The Marco Polo Club, Cathay Pacific Airways Limited,, retrieved 2009-07-13  
  27. ^ Academy of Television Arts & Sciences,, retrieved 2009-07-06   (Searching for "Marco Polo", and year 1982)
  28. ^ Civilization Revolution: Great People "CivFanatics" Retrieved on 4th September 2009
  29. ^ a b Falchetta 2006, p. 592


Further reading

  • Daftary, Farhad (1994), The Assassin legends: myths of the Ismaʻilis (2 ed.), I.B. Tauris, pp. 213, ISBN 9781850437055  
  • Hart, H. Henry (1948), Marco Polo, Venetian Adventurer, Kessinger Publishing  
  • Otfinoski, Steven (2003), Marco Polo: to China and back, New York: Benchmark Books, ISBN 0761414800  

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to On the trail of Marco Polo article)

From Wikitravel

This article is an itinerary.

Marco Polo was a Venetian traveler who went far to the East, following some of the many branches of the Silk Road. He left in 1271 and returned about 1295. His book about his travels was a best-seller then and is still well-known 700 years later.

William Dalrymple retraced the route in the 1980s and wrote a book, In Xanadu [1], about it.

The book

Marco Polo owes his fame to a book which he wrote with Rusticiano of Pisa after his return. At the time, there was an intense rivalry between the great trading cities of Venice, Pisa and Genoa. Polo and Rusticiano were both prisoners of war in Genoa when they met and wrote the book.

The original title translates as A Description of the World, but it is usually referred to as The Travels of Marco Polo. This was the first account of a journey to the East to be widespread in Europe, and was the best reference on Asia from its publication around 1300 until the Portuguese reached the East by sea 200 years later. Polo's tales of the riches of the East were part of the reason for the Portuguese voyages, and later spurred on Columbus.

The book was the first in Europe to mention a number of things including oil from Iran, and coal, paper money and window glass from China. Some claim that Polo introduced noodles to Italy, but this is hotly disputed.

This itinerary is based on a version of the book downloaded from Project Gutenberg [2]. They describe it as "the unabridged third edition (1903) of Henry Yule's annotated translation, as revised by Henri Cordier; together with Cordier's later volume of notes and addenda (1920)." All quotes are from that version.

There is considerable scholarly controversy about the book. It was written by two Italians, but the original was probably in medieval French, the trade language of the day. The oldest known copies are from a few decades later, several conflicting versions in French, Italian and Latin. A later Italian version contains additional material, apparently based on Polo family papers. Polo actually saw some of the things he speaks of, but for others he repeats tales from other travelers. Which are which? How much did Rusticiano, the writer of romances, embellish the story? Some critics say Marco never got East of Kashgar and only heard tales of central China — he never mentions chopsticks, tea, bound feet, or the Great Wall. Others cite Mongol records indicating someone named Polo was indeed there.

Fortunately, various scholars have figured out most of this. Here, we simply follow Yule and Cordier, and discuss the route as the book gives it, ignoring the controversies.

The book generally uses Persian names for places. What about the Mongol names? Or Chinese? What was lost in various translations? In various wars? Is the city still there? Has it been renamed? We give Polo's term and the modern name. For example, Polo's Kinsay (which Yule and Cordier call Hang-Chau-Fu) is Hangzhou.


The brothers Nicolo and Maffeo Polo were Venetian traders. One brother had a wife back home, but they worked mainly out of Acre (a crusader city that is now called Akko in what is now Northern Israel) and Constantinople (modern Istanbul), which Venice ruled at the time. From 1260 to 1269, the brothers made a trip to the far East. On their second trip, starting in 1271, they brought Nicolo's teenage son Marco.

The family had strong ties to the Adriatic island of Korčula near Dubrovnik, then a Venetian possesion. It seems likely Marco was born there, though he grew up mainly in Venice. Because Korčula is trying to develop tourism, there are some Polo-related museums and monuments there. Of course, there are also some in Venice.

Some quotes from Yule and Cordier's commentary, about the political and economic situation when the Polos set out are as follows:

Christendom had recovered from the alarm into which it had been thrown some 18 years before when the Tartar cataclysm had threatened to engulph it. The frail Latin throne in Constantinople was still standing, but tottering to its fall. The successors of the Crusaders still held the Coast of Syria from Antioch to Jaffa. The jealousies of the commercial republics of Italy were daily waxing greater. Alexandria was still... the great emporium of Indian wares, but the facilities afforded by the Mongol conquerors who now held the whole tract from the Persian Gulf to the shores of the Caspian and of the Black Sea, or nearly so, were beginning to give a great advantage to the caravan routes.
In Asia and Eastern Europe scarcely a dog might bark without Mongol leave, from the borders of Poland... to... the Yellow Sea. The vast empire which Chinghiz had conquered .. was splitting up into several great monarchies... and wars on a vast scale were already brewing.

"Chinghiz" is an alternate spelling for Genghis Khan.

The first trip East

The brothers set out from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1260, and sailed across the Black Sea to Soldaia in the Crimea. Today the city is called Sudak and is in the Ukraine. Soldaia was a largely Greek city at that time and routinely traded with various Mediterranean ports.

It had belonged to the Greek Empire, and had a considerable Greek population. After the Frank conquest of 1204 it apparently fell to Trebizond.

You can still take a boat from Istanbul to Trebizond (now called Trabzon) in eastern Turkey; one variant of the Istanbul to New Delhi over land itinerary uses this. There might also be boats to Sudak or nearby Sevastopol.

It was taken by the Mongols in 1223... about the middle of the century, the Venetians established a factory there... Ibn Batuta... counts Sudak as one of the four great ports of the World.

Ibn Batuta was a Tunisian who set out East in 1325 and also wrote of his travels.

The Genoese got Soldaia in 1365 and built strong defences, still to be seen.

In this period the great trading cities of Genoa, Venice and Pisa dominated the Mediterranean world. One of the tourist sights of modern Sudak is the ruins of a Genoese fortress.

Where the brothers were more daring than most other traders was continuing beyond Soldaia, deeper into Mongol territory. They went into the Caucasus to Sarai, capital of this part of the Mongol empire, near modern Astrakhan, Russia. Then a war between Mongol factions broke out, preventing a return West.

Unable to go West, the brothers headed East to the great city of Bokhara, which like everything else in Central Asia had been conquered by the Mongols a generation earlier.

After they had passed the desert, they arrived at a very great and noble city called BOCARA... The city is the best in all Persia.
... up till the conquest by Chinghiz, Bokhara, Samarkand, Balkh, etc., were considered to belong to Persia.

"Chinghiz" is Genghis Khan.

Today, Bokhara and Samarkand are cities in Uzbekistan, and Balkh is a town with some interesting ruins in Northern Afghanistan. The Persian empire was once much larger than modern Iran, including much of what we now call Central Asia. The brothers lived in Bokhara for three years and became fluent in Persian.

In Bokhara, they learned that the Great Khan, Kublai- grandson of Genghis and, at least in theory, overlord of all Mongols- had never met a European and had expressed curiosity about and goodwill toward them. So they went on, traveling via Samarkand, Kashgar, Turfan and Hami (the Northern branch of the Silk Road) to his summer capital in Xanadu somewhat Northwest of modern Beijing.

The Khan received them warmly and sent them back West with letters for the Pope, expressions of friendship and requests for missionaries and scholars.

The Brothers arrived at Acre in... 1269, and found that no Pope existed, for Clement IV was dead... and no new election had taken place. So they went home to Venice to see how things stood there after their absence of so many years.
The wife of Nicolo was no longer among the living, but he found his son Marco a fine lad of fifteen.

On the second trip, the brothers brought young Marco along.

The second trip

The brothers went back to Acre, this time with young Marco, and then up to Jerusalem to get some oil from the holy sepulchre which the Khan had requested. They then set off East again without a papal reply to the Khan's letters.

Word reached them that a Pope had finally been elected, and that it was their friend Theobald, papal legate in Acre. They returned to Acre, got replies to the letters, and headed off for Kublai's court again in late 1271. They had letters from the Pope and two friars instead of the 100 scholars the Khan had requested. But the friars soon turned back. It is interesting to speculate on how history might have been different if the Pope had sent the requested 100 scholars. The Khan also invited scholars and missionaries from other places — Tibetan Buddhists and Persian Muslims — and those had a great effect on China.

They went East overland, traveling by caravan and heading for Hormuz on the Persian Gulf. Today the city is gone but the phrase "the straits of Hormuz" still turns up in newscasts. It is the narrows at the outlet of the Gulf. The nearest modern city is Bandar Abbas, capital of Iran's Hormuzgan province.

Their route was indirect, setting out from the Mediterranean port of Laias, North to Armenia and Georgia, then to Mosul in what is now Iraq, then into Persia (now known as Iran) via Tabriz, Yazd and Kerman to Hormuz. The book talks of Damascus and Baghdad, but it is doubtful they actually visited those cities.

The original plan was to take a ship East from Hormuz, but after reaching Hormuz they decided to swing North instead. Marco would later come to Hormuz by sea, taking the Maritime Silk Road on his return journey.

The three men went back to Kerman and on to Persia's Eastern province of Khorasan. This put them on the main Silk Road route. The branch they took involved going Northeast to Balkh, then Southeast toward Kashmir and finally North to reach Khotan in what is now Xinjiang. The major routes today are the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan into Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway North to China, but the Polos' exact route is unclear. They may have taken lesser-known passes such as the route through Ladakh.

The brothers had taken the Northern branch of the Silk Road around the Kalimakan Desert on the previous trip. This time, the first city they reached in what is now China was Khotan, in the middle of the Southern branch, so naturally they continued East on that branch.

Travels in China

They reached the Khan's capitals and were warmly welcomed. The winter capital was then called Khánbálik or Canbulac, meaning the Khan's camp; it later grew into Beijing. The summer capital was Northwest of Beijing across the Great Wall, near a town Polo called Kaimenfu. The palace itself was Shangtu or Xanadu. Much later, Polo's book would inspire Coleridge:

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree;
Where Alph, the sacred river ran,
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea."

Yule and Cordier's summary of China's situation at the time is as follows:

For about three centuries the Northern provinces of China had been... subject to foreign dynasties; first to the _Khitan_... whose rule subsisted for 200 years, and originated the name... CATHAY, by which for nearly 1000 years China has been known. The Khitan... had been displaced in 1123 by the Chúrchés... of the same blood as the modern Manchus. Already in the lifetime of Chinghiz himself the northern Provinces of China Proper, including their capital. Peking, had been wrenched from them, and the conquest of the dynasty was completed by Chinghiz's successor Okkodai in 1234.

"Chingiz" is Genghis Khan. China is still "Kithai" in modern Russian.

Southern China still remained in the hands of the native dynasty of the Sung, who had their capital at the great city now well known as Hang-chau fu. Their dominion was still substantially untouched, but its subjugation was a task to which Kúblái before many years turned his attention, and which became the most prominent event of his reign.

The "Sung" are also called the "Southern Song". "Hang-chau fu" is Hangzhou.

Kúblái received the Venetians with great cordiality, and took kindly to young Mark, ...[and] began to employ him in the public service.

By the time the Polos reached China the second time, the Khan had subjugated Southern China, which the book calls "Manzi." However, he needed officials to help rule it and did not yet trust the newly-conquered Chinese. Along with many others, Marco became an official of the empire, a job that soon had him traveling over large parts of China.

His first mission apparently was that which carried him through the provinces of Shan-si, Shen-si, and Sze-ch'wan, and the wild country on the East of Tibet, to the remote province of Yun-nan.

The provinces mentioned are modern Shanxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Yunnan. Marco visited many cities along the way; here are his comments on some.


Taianfu is a place of great trade and great industry, for here they manufacture a large quantity of the most necessary equipments for the army of the Emperor.

Taiyuan is the capital of Shanxi. The area has iron and coal and makes steel.


A very great and fine city it is, and the capital of the kingdom of Kenjanfu, which in old times was a noble, rich, and powerful realm... It is a city of great trade and industry. They have great abundance of silk, from which they weave cloths of silk and gold of divers kinds, and they also manufacture all sorts of equipments for an army.
This is a fine palace and a great, as I will tell you. It stands in a great plain abounding in lakes and streams and springs of water. Round about it is a massive and lofty wall, five miles in compass, well built, and all garnished with battlements. And within this wall is the king's palace, so great and fine that no one could imagine a finer. There are in it many great and splendid halls, and many chambers, all painted and embellished with work in beaten gold.


This city was in former days a rich and noble one, and the Kings who reigned there were very great and wealthy. It is a good twenty miles in compass.
Through the midst of this great city runs a large river, in which they catch a great quantity of fish. It is a good half mile wide, and very deep withal ... The multitude of vessels that navigate this river is so vast, that no one who should read or hear the tale would believe it. The quantities of merchandize also which merchants carry up and down this river are past all belief. In fact, it is so big, that it seems to be a Sea rather than a River!"


This province, called Tebet, is of very great extent. The people, as I have told you, have a language of their own... Moreover, they are very great thieves.
Coral is in great demand in this country and fetches a high price, for they delight to hang it round the necks of their women and of their idols. They have also in this country plenty of fine woollens and other stuffs.
Among this people, too, you find the best enchanters and astrologers that exist in all that quarter of the world; they perform such extraordinary marvels and sorceries by diabolic art, that it astounds one to see or even hear of them. So I will relate none of them in this book of ours; people would be amazed if they heard them, but it would serve no good purpose.
They have mastiff dogs as bigs as donkeys, which are capital at seizing wild beasts ... and excellent lanner falcons [and sakers], swift in flight and well-trained, which are got in the mountains of the country.


The people are of sundry kinds, for there are not only Saracens and Idolaters, but also a few Nestorian Christians. They have wheat and rice in plenty. Howbeit they never eat wheaten bread, because in that country it is unwholesome. Rice they eat, and make of it sundry messes, besides a kind of drink which is very clear and good, and makes a man drunk just as wine does.

From Yunnan, he circled back to Chengdu, probably via Guizhou.

Later trips

Of Marco's others trips, Yule and Cordier say:

Mark rose rapidly in favour... but we gather few details as to his employments. At one time we know that he held for three years the government of the great city of Yang-chau... passing a year at Kan-chau in Tangut... visiting Kara Korum, the old capital of the Kaans in Mongolia... in Champa or Southern Cochin China and... on a mission to the Indian Seas, when he appears to have visited several of the southern states of India.

Yang-chau is Yangzhou in Jiangsu. The modern town of Karakorum, Southeast of the current capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, has two ruined cities nearby, one the Mongol capital which Polo visited and the other the Uighur capital a few centuries earlier. Champa was a kingdom in what is now Vietnam.

The Tangut or Western Xia were a people of largely Tibetan ancestry, originally from Western Sichuan. For several hundred years before the Mongol conquest they had a Buddhist kingdom, independent but paying tribute to the Sung Emperor. It was centered in what is now Ningxia, but at its peak it was much larger than Ningxia and was quite rich. It was the first non-Chinese kingdom one entered going West on the Silk Road. There are Tangut royal tombs near Yinchuan, their capital. Much of the art in the Buddhist grottoes at Dunhuang is from the Western Xia.


You must know that the city of Cambaluc hath such a multitude of houses, and such a vast population inside the walls and outside, that it seems quite past all possibility. There is a suburb outside each of the gates... In those suburbs lodge the foreign merchants and travellers, of whom there are always great numbers... thus there are as many good houses outside of the city as inside....
Moreover, no public woman resides inside the city, but all such abide outside in the suburbs. And 'tis wonderful what a vast number of these there are for the foreigners; it is a certain fact that there are more than 20,000 of them living by prostitution.
To this city also are brought articles of greater cost and rarity, and in greater abundance of all kinds, than to any other city in the world. For people of every description, and from every region, bring things (including all the costly wares of India, as well as the fine and precious goods of Cathay itself with its provinces)....
As a sample, I tell you, no day in the year passes that there do not enter the city 1000 cart-loads of silk alone....
Round about this great city of Cambaluc there are some 200 other cities... from which traders come to sell their goods and buy others... so that the traffic of the city is passing great.


Cascar... constituted a kingdom in former days... they have beautiful gardens and vineyards, and fine estates and grow a great deal of cotton. From this country many merchants go forth about the world on trading journeys. The natives are a wretched, niggardly set of people; they eat and drink in miserable fashion. There are in the country many Nestorian Christians.

Nestorius was the archbishop of Constantinople in the fifth century. He taught that the human and divine aspects of Christ were two distinct natures, not unified. His teaching was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431, but survived in the Assyrian Church which was supported by the Persian Empire as an alternative to the Byzantine Church. The Nestorians were quite active as missionaries in the East, reaching as far as Korea. There are relics throughout Central Asia and China, notably including a stele at Xi'an.


Chinangli is a city of Cathay. There runs through the city a great and wide river, on which a large traffic in silk goods and spices and other costly merchandize passes up and down.
This... is a very great city, and in old times was the seat of a great kingdom; but the Great Kaan conquered it by force of arms. Nevertheless it is still the noblest city in all those provinces. There are very great merchants here, who trade on a great scale, and the abundance of silk is something marvellous. They have, moreover, most charming gardens abounding with fruit of large size.


Suju is a very great and noble city. They possess silk in great quantities, from which they make gold brocade and other stuffs, and they live by their manufactures and trade.
The city is passing great, and has a circuit of some 60 miles; it hath merchants of great wealth and an incalculable number of people. Indeed, if the men of this city and of the rest of Manzi had but the spirit of soldiers they would conquer the world; but they are no soldiers at all, only accomplished traders and most skilful craftsmen. There are also in this city many philosophers and leeches, diligent students of nature.
And you must know that in this city there are 6,000 bridges, all of stone, and so lofty that a galley, or even two galleys at once, could pass underneath one of them.


Polo devotes two chapters to this city. The title of the first one:


"Kinsay" is Hangzhou and "Manzi" is Polo's term for the South of China, conquered by the Mongols a few years before. Hangzhou was the capital of the Sung dynasty, and remained important after that dynasty was deposed by the conquest.

... passing a number of towns and villages, you arrive at the most noble city of Kinsay....
... the city is beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world, so great that it hath an hundred miles of compass. And there are in it twelve thousand bridges of stone, for the most part so lofty that a great fleet could pass beneath them.

Polo may not be exaggerating much here. Yule and Cordier quote several later visitors — Persian, Arab, and Jesuit — with quite similar opinions.

... there were in this city twelve guilds of the different crafts, and that each guild had 12,000 houses. Each of these houses contains at least 12 men, whilst some contain 20 and some 40,--not that these are all masters, but inclusive of the journeymen who work under the masters. And yet all these craftsmen had full occupation, for many other cities of the kingdom are supplied from this city with what they require.
... the number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof....
Inside the city there is a Lake which has a compass of some 30 miles and all round it are erected beautiful palaces and mansions. In the middle of the Lake are two Islands, on each of which stands a rich, beautiful and spacious edifice... when any one of the citizens desired to hold a marriage feast, or to give any other entertainment, it used to be done at one of these palaces.
Both men and women are fair and comely, and for the most part clothe themselves in silk, so vast is the supply of that material... they eat every kind of flesh, even that of dogs and other unclean beasts, which nothing would induce a Christian to eat.
The Kaan watches this city with especial diligence because it forms the head of all Manzi; and because he has an immense revenue from the duties levied on the transactions of trade therein.
All the streets of the city are paved with stone or brick, as indeed are all the highways throughout Manzi, so that you ride and travel in every direction without inconvenience.
You must know also that the city of Kinsay has some 3000 baths, the water of which is supplied by springs. They are hot baths, and the people take great delight in them, frequenting them several times a month, for they are very cleanly in their persons. They are the finest and largest baths in the world; large enough for 100 persons to bathe together.
And the Ocean Sea comes within 25 miles of the city at a place called GANFU, where there is a town and an excellent haven, with a vast amount of shipping which is engaged in the traffic to and from India and other foreign parts, exporting and importing many kinds of wares, by which the city benefits.
I repeat that everything appertaining to this city is on so vast a scale, and the Great Kaan's yearly revenues therefrom are so immense, that it is not easy even to put it in writing, and it seems past belief....
Furthermore there exists in this city the palace of the king who fled ... and that is the greatest palace in the world... its demesne hath a compass of ten miles, all enclosed with lofty battlemented walls; and inside the walls are the finest and most delectable gardens upon earth, and filled too with the finest fruits. There are numerous fountains in it also, and lakes full of fish. In the middle is the palace itself, a great and splendid building.

Hangzhou was the capital of the Sung dynasty prior to the Mongol conquest.


Now this city of Fuju... is a seat of great trade and great manufactures.
There flows through the middle of this city a great river... and many ships are built at the city which are launched upon this river. Enormous quantities of sugar are made there, and there is a great traffic in pearls and precious stones. For many ships of India come to these parts bringing many merchants who traffic about the Isles of the Indies.

Mawei, just outside Fuzhou, still builds ships. Many of the ships and crew for Zheng He's great voyages of the 1400s came from this area. The French destroyed the place and a large part of the Chinese navy that was moored there, in the late 19th century.

The return trip

After a few years, the Polos were ready to go home. As Yule and Cordier put it:

Anyhow they were gathering wealth, and after years of exile they began to dread what might follow old Kúblái's death and longed to carry their gear and their own grey heads safe home to the Lagoons. The aged Emperor growled refusal to all their hints, and but for a happy chance we should have lost our mediaeval Herodotus.

At this time, the Mongols ruled most of Asia and the Great Khan had vassals in various places. One of these ruled Iran, the ancestor of the Persian dynasty who would later conquer much of India and be known there as Moguls (Mongols).

Arghún Khan of Persia, Kúblái's great-nephew, had in 1286 lost his favourite wife... and... took steps to fulfil her dying injunction that her place should be filled only by a lady of her own kin. Ambassadors were despatched... to seek such a bride ... the choice fell on the lady Kokáchin, a maiden of 17. The overland road from Peking to Tabriz was not only of portentous length for such a tender charge, but was imperilled by war, so the envoys desired to return by sea. Tartars in general were strangers to all navigation; and the envoys... begged the Kaan as a favour to send the three _Firinghis_ in their company. He consented with reluctance, but, having done so, fitted the party out nobly for the voyage, charging the Polos with friendly messages for the potentates of Europe, including the King of England.

The great port, Zaiton

They sailed in a fleet of 14 ships with 600 passengers from Zaiton in Fujian province. The journey would take two years and cost many lives. The book says only 18 passengers survived, but all three Polos and the bride were among them.

The English word "satin" is thought to be derived from "Zaiton," the original source for its export. It was from this port that Kublai Khan's ill-fated expedition against Japan sailed.

Zaiton is generally thought to be modern Quanzhou, though some scholars argue in favour of Xiamen. Polo's description is long and detailed. Some highlights:

... frequented by all the ships of India, which bring thither spicery and all other kinds of costly wares. ... hither is imported the most astonishing quantity of goods and of precious stones and pearls... I assure you that for one shipload of pepper that goes to Alexandria or elsewhere, destined for Christendom, there come a hundred such, aye and more too, to this haven of Zayton; for it is one of the two greatest havens in the world for commerce.
Many come hither from Upper India to have their bodies painted with the needle in the way we have elsewhere described, there being many adepts at this craft in the city.

Chinese ships

Marco describes the Chinese ships in some detail:

They have but one deck, though each of them contains some 50 or 60 cabins... The ship hath but one rudder, but it hath four masts; and sometimes they have two additional masts... Each of their great ships requires at least 200 mariners [some of them 300].
... some thirteen compartments or severances in the interior, made with planking strongly framed, in case mayhap the ship should spring a leak... the planking is so well fitted that the water cannot pass from one compartment to another.

These are much larger than European vessels of the day and the system of watertight compartments was far ahead of contemporary European methods. The Chinese routinely sailed to India, Arabia and even East Africa several hundred years before the great European voyages of discovery, and Arabs and Persians sailed to China.

The journey West

Polo did not himself visit Japan but he digresses to give a fairly detailed account of "Chipangu" and of Kublai Khan's unsuccessful invasion attempt.

They stopped in Champa, a kingdom in Indochina paying tribute to the Khan. It is not entirely clear where this was, probably somewhere in modern Vietnam. Polo decribes Java, but it is not clear if he actually visited it. They did stop in a city Polo calls Malaiur. This was in the area of modern Singapore and Malacca, but it does not seem to have been either of those.

After that, they spent several months in Sumatra, probably waiting out the monsoon season. Polo calls this "Lesser Java" and gives much detail of various kingdoms, commerce, religion and culture. They also visited the Andaman and Nicobar islands and Sri Lanka en route to India.

In India, he visited several places on the East coast including the tomb of Saint Thomas near Madras. On the West coast, the first stop was naturally Calicut on the Malabar coast, now Kerala, then along the coast to Thane near Bombay, to Gujarat, and to Khambhat. He describes Sindh but does not seem to have stopped there. He also describes several inland provinces of South India.

He describes the Indian Ocean island of Socotra reasonably well, then goes on to talk of Madagascar and Zanzibar which he gets quite wrong. Presumably he was repeating travelers' tales for these. He also describes Abyssinia, now Somalia and Eritrea, but it is not clear if he went there. He may have picked up that information when he stopped in Aden, a city in Yemen which was then the capital of an empire that included them.

This Aden is the port to which many of the ships of India come with their cargoes; and from this haven the merchants carry the goods a distance of seven days further in small vessels. At the end of those seven days they land the goods and load them on camels, and so carry them a land journey of 30 days. This brings them to the river of ALEXANDRIA, and by it they descend to the latter city. It is by this way through Aden that the Saracens of Alexandria receive all their stores of pepper and other spicery; and there is no other route equally good and convenient by which these goods could reach that place.

Eventually they reached Hormuz and continued overland to Tabriz to deliver the bride. The planned bridegroom having died in the meanwhile, she married his son.

The Polos then returned home, sailing from Trebizond (Trabzon) on the Black Sea to Constantinople (Istanbul) and on to Venice which they reached in 1295.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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Marco Polo


Marco Polo (uncountable)

  1. A traveler.
    • 2004, Ross E. Dunn, Chapter 1, The adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveler of the fourteenth century[1], page 5:
      Ibn Battuta has inevitably been compared with him and has usually taken second prize as "the Marco Polo of the Muslim world" or "the Marco Polo of the tropics"
  2. Game played (usually in a swimming pool) where one person runs or swims around blindly yelling "Marco" and everyone else must respond with "Polo" while the person who is "it" tries to locate them. See Wikipedia:Marco Polo (game)

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|Portrait of Marco Polo]]

Marco Polo (1254 - January 8 1324) was an Italian trader and explorer. He was one of the first Europeans to explore east Asia. Many other explorers, including Christopher Columbus, looked up to him.

He went on a 25 year trip to China with his father and uncle during the Mongol Dynasty.

As Marco Polo's mother died when he was born he grew up in Venice with his father Niccolo Polo, who took him on his first journey to Cathey (china). His family were merchants, not explorers.

He started his travels at the age of 17 leaving Venice on a boat that went through the Mediterranean Sea, Ayas, Tabriz and Kerman. Then he travelled across Asia getting as far as Beijing. On the way there he had to go over mountains and through terrible deserts. Across hot burning lands and places where the cold was horrible. He served in Khans court for 17 years and left the Far East and returned to Venice by sea. There was sickness on board and 600 passengers and crew died and some say pirates attacked.

Some scholars believe that while Marco Polo did go to China, did not go to all of the other places described in his book. He brought noodles back from China and the Italians formed all new sizes and shapes and called it pasta.

Soon after Marco Polo returned from his journeys he fought in a war against Genoa, got captured and put in prison, When he was in prison he became friendly with a prisoner, Rusticello, who was a writer of romances and novels. Marco told the writer about all his adventures. Rusticello wrote down his words which led Marco to the creation of a famous book called the The travels of Marco Polo, and became famous throughout Europe. They found his stories to be very interesting and strange as western people did not know much about the Eastern world.

Marco Polo’s nickname was Marco IL Milione standing for a million lies as the Venetians thought he was lying about his travels.

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