Saturday, July 26, 2014
The Travels of Marco Polo
The earliest explorer on this list, Marco Polo, inspired many of the other explorers. He was born in Venice around 1254. His father, Niccolo and his uncle Matteo were wealthy merchants who traded with the Middle East. Niccolo was away when Marco was born and the two finally met when he was fifteen. They spent two years together in Venice before the three of them set out for Cathay (what is now China) in 1271. They were sent with letters from Pope Gregory X to Kublai Khan, whom the older Polos had met on their previous trip. Their journey took them through Armenia, Persia, Afghanistan, over the Pamir mountains, along the Silk Road, through the Taklamaken and Gobi desert, all the way to Cambaluc (Beijing). The journey that took more than three years. Marco Polo spent the next seventeen years at Khan’s court, holding several government positions including Ambassador to Khan and Governor of the City of Yangzhou. He also led missions into areas of China, India and Burma that would not be seen again until the last century. In 1292 he escorted a Mongol princess to her wedding to a Persian King but had to wait as her intended husband had died before they arrived. Marco joined the army when he returned to Venice and he was captured in 1298. During his imprisonment he met the romance writer Rustichello da Pisa, who helped him write down the tales of his travels. The work was later published as Il Milione (The Million Lies), and soon became one of the most popular books in Medieval Europe. The book later became known as The Travels of Marco Polo.
Marco Polo was accompanied by his father and uncle. They had been to Cathay before and had already built up a rapport with the Great Khan. Khan and the members of his court taught him the Mongol language and customs.