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History of Marco Polo

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Published: Tue, 19 Dec 2017

The Travels of Marco Polo

MarcoPolo was born in 1254 when Italy was split into fighting city states. Thirteenth century Europe saw a huge increase in geographical knowledge and anincrease in trade with the Far East and Western Europe. One country that had the Europeans fascinated was China and they all wanted to establish trade andtravel there.

Contact with the Far East was established by such men as Giovanni da Pian del Carpini and William of Rubrouck who were sent by Louis IX of France, which happened before the Tartar conquest of Asia Minor and the beginning of Tartar embassies in the West by the late thirteenth century. Routes of trade and opportunities that existed during Roman rule were reopened. Niccolo Polo and Maffeo Polo, the father and uncle of young Marco Polo, left him behind and set off for an epic journey eastward towards the court of the khan of the Pipchak Tartars at Serai. The brothers Niccolo and Maffeo stayed there for over a year while collecting asignificant profit. The brothers decided to return to Venice, but they found that their path was cut off by local wars. So the brothers made the decision to go to the great khan of China. They arrived in Beijing and were received very graciously by the great khan. After doing business there, the khan wanted toknow about the Christian life and told them to go back to Venice to see the Pope and return with Christian missionaries for the education of the royal court. The great khan also wanted them to return through Jerusalem with Holy Oil from the lamp which was kept burning over the Sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ. To help their journey, the brothers were given the service of a Tartar guide and anything they needed in Tartar territory.

Aftera long and treacherous journey on land to Venice, Niccolo and Maffeo made it in1268 and found that Pope Clement IV had recently died and no successor had been elected. Gregory X was elected the new Pope, and in 1271, Maffeo and Niccolo managed to secure the services of two inept Dominicans who would soon decide to desert the mission. The Polos went back to Beijing anyway, this time taking with them Marco, the teenage son of Niccolo Polo, who would become one of the most traveled people in the world.

Marco, his father Niccolo, and his uncle Maffeo began their journey by sea to Acre in 1271. They arrived at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and decided to not travel by sea but to turn north and follow the ancient caravan routes through Iraq and Persia. The Polos went through Turkmenistan and Persia until they hit the Oxus River (now called the Amu Dar’ya). They traveled across the plain of Pamir and crossed the desolate Gobi Desert where they then made it to the mercantile cities of Samarqand, Yarkant (Shache), and Kashgar (Kashi). Located in the northwest partof China, they reached Tangut. After a very long journey, the three Polos were made welcome at Shangdu the summer capital of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan in 1275. Marco, the youngest Polo, soon became a favorite in the Chinese court ofthe Great Kublai Khan. After studying and becoming fluent in the native languages, Marco Polo became a commissioner in the Mongol government in 1277. Kublai Khan trusted the Venetian Marco Polo so much that he relied on his advice in many important affairs. The descriptions Marco Polo gave of the emperor’s palace fired the imaginations of generations of explorers andtravelers, all of whom wished to view for themselves the eight square miles of enclosed barracks, parade grounds, vast arsenals, storerooms, living quarters, library, and especially the treasury. As a trusted agent of Kublai Khan for seventeen years, Marco Polo had a very unique opportunity to see a developed and sophisticated way of life not seen by Western culture. Kublai Khan trusted Marco Polo so much that he made him governor of Yangzhou.

Marco Polo visited nearly every part of both northern and southern China in his long and loyal service to the great khan, using the imperial horse andpacket-boat system that was kept in readiness for the comfort of governmentofficials. Marco Polo was kept in constant service of the khan by cataloging and describing in detail many huge cities, provinces, and major commercial towns. He was interested in everything, including the manufacturing arts, commerce, architecture, the residents in each area, and many other things. Marco Polo was very impressed and intrigued by the silk industry and the book contains an excellent early picture of silk culture, weaving, dying, and finishing. The treasures of the Chinese cities must have seemed unreal to thirteenth century Europe. Marco Polo’s description of Hangzhou included the fabled twelve thousand bridges of the city, its many huge markets and bazaars, its cavernous warehouses for its trade with India, and even its consumption of six tons of pepper a day.

Marco Polo also visited India on business and in the same great detail recorded its commercial life. He also may have visited the steppes of Asia, or the original land of the Moguls, where Kublai Khan’s ancestors may have grazed their herds. Even though it is very doubtful that he traveled so far north, it may have been possible that the Venetian made it to Siberia. His accounts of his many journeys also indicate great interest towards the islands south of China, including the Philippines.

Around 1292, the three Polos desired to return to their home, but they were so favored that Kublai Khan would not let them leave. It was very hard for him to let them leave, but in reluctance he permitted them to go withan official commission to take the Mogul prince’s daughter to her wedding in Persia.

It took them three years to return home even though they primarily traveled by ship. On the way Marco Polo recorded his impressions of Java also know as the great island, and many other places like Madagascar, Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, Dragoian. They crossed the Red Sea and the adventurers finally reached Venice in 1295. Their extraordinary odyssey that lasted nearly twenty years finally came to an end. 

Whent he Polos arrived to their old home their family that was staying there had presumed them dead and didn’t believe it was they and would not let them in the house. After some arguing, the Polos convinced them that they really were who they said and their relatives allowed them in. Then Marco Polo was captured by the warring Genoese and imprisoned. While he was in prison, he dictated his experiences to prisoner and writer Rustichello of Pisa. The book was called Divisamentdou monde, later turned into The Travels of Marco Polo, 1579. Marco Polo’s uncle and father fell into the background and the young Marco Polo became the main figure. The great and in detail story was very readable and made a huge impression on Europe. The book was received in awe and it was not fully believed until other travelers to China verified parts of the tale. Christopher Columbus may have been stimulated to travel by this book and maybe many other famous explorers. Marco Polo’s account of his travels in Asia was one of the primary sources for the European image of Far East until the late nineteenth century.


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