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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 hadthe Europeans fascinated was China and they all wanted to establish trade andtravel there.
Contactwith the Far East was established by such men as Giovanni da Pian del Carpiniand William of Rubrouck who were sent by Louis IX of France, which happenedbefore the Tartar conquest of Asia Minor and the beginning of Tartar embassiesin the West by the late thirteenth century. Routes of trade and opportunitiesthat existed during Roman rule were reopened. Niccolo Polo and Maffeo Polo, thefather and uncle of young Marco Polo, left him behind and set off for an epicjourney 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 foundthat their path was cut off by local wars. So the brothers made the decision togo to the great khan of China. They arrived in Beijing and were received verygraciously 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 thePope and return with Christian missionaries for the education of the royalcourt. The great khan also wanted them to return through Jerusalem with HolyOil from the lamp which was kept burning over the Sepulchre of our Lord JesusChrist. To help their journey, the brothers were given the service of a Tartarguide 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 beenelected. Gregory X was elected the new Pope, and in 1271, Maffeo and Niccolomanaged to secure the services of two inept Dominicans who would soon decide todesert the mission. The Polos went back to Beijing anyway, this time takingwith them Marco, the teenage son of Niccolo Polo, who would become one of themost 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 bysea 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 crossedthe desolate Gobi Desert where they then made it to the mercantile cities ofSamarqand, Yarkant (Shache), and Kashgar (Kashi). Located in the northwest partof China, they reached Tangut. After a very long journey, the three Polos weremade welcome at Shangdu the summer capital of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan in1275. Marco, the youngest Polo, soon became a favorite in the Chinese court ofthe Great Kublai Khan. After studying and becoming fluent in the nativelanguages, Marco Polo became a commissioner in the Mongol government in 1277.Kublai Khan trusted the Venetian Marco Polo so much that he relied on hisadvice in many important affairs. The descriptions Marco Polo gave of theemperor's palace fired the imaginations of generations of explorers andtravelers, all of whom wished to view for themselves the eight square miles ofenclosed barracks, parade grounds, vast arsenals, storerooms, living quarters,library, and especially the treasury. As a trusted agent of Kublai Khan forseventeen years, Marco Polo had a very unique opportunity to see a developedand sophisticated way of life not seen by Western culture. Kublai Khan trustedMarco Polo so much that he made him governor of Yangzhou.
MarcoPolo 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 catalogingand describing in detail many huge cities, provinces, and major commercialtowns. 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 bookcontains an excellent early picture of silk culture, weaving, dying, andfinishing. The treasures of the Chinese cities must have seemed unreal tothirteenth century Europe. Marco Polo's description of Hangzhou included thefabled twelve thousand bridges of the city, its many huge markets andbazaars, its cavernous warehouses for its trade with India, and even itsconsumption of six tons of pepper a day.
Marco Poloalso visited India on business and in the same great detail recorded itscommercial life. He also may have visited the steppes of Asia, or the originalland 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 beenpossible that the Venetian made it to Siberia. His accounts of his manyjourneys also indicate great interest towards the islands south of China, including the Philippines.
Around 1292, the three Polos desired to return to their home, butthey were so favored that Kublai Khan would not let them leave. It was veryhard 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.
Ittook them three years to return home even though they primarily traveled byship. On the way Marco Polo recorded his impressions of Java also know as thegreat 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 anend.
Whenthe Polos arrived to their old home their family that was staying there hadpresumed them dead and didn't believe it was they and would not let them in thehouse. After some arguing, the Polos convinced them that they really were whothey said and their relatives allowed them in. Then Marco Polo was captured bythe warring Genoese and imprisoned. While he was in prison, he dictated hisexperiences to prisoner and writer Rustichello of Pisa. The book was called Divisamentdou monde, later turned into The Travels of Marco Polo, 1579. MarcoPolo's uncle and father fell into the background and the young Marco Polo becamethe main figure. The great and in detail story was very readable and made ahuge impression on Europe. The book was received in awe and it was not fullybelieved until other travelers to China verified parts of the tale. ChristopherColumbus may have been stimulated to travel by this book and maybe many otherfamous explorers. Marco Polo's account of his travels in Asia was one of theprimary sources for the European image of Far East until the late nineteenthcentury.