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Marco Polo was a well-known and important explorer. In this section, I will share what I have learned and what Marco Polo observed on his famous voyage to the East18. I focus on one of Europe’s most famous people, Marco Polo, and his medieval voyages on the Silk Road. Polo traveled through Asia and along the Silk Road15 and wrote about his experiences in Livres des Merveilles du Monde or The Travels of Marco Polo. Other explorers such as Christopher Columbus were inspired by Polo’s writings. During his travels to the East, Polo claims to have spent 17 years in China, where he met Kublai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson and even served as a civil servant.

To fully understand the extent of Marco Polo’s travels, consider the following map, which shows what the East would have looked like in the 13th century. This map was drawn by Emanuel Bowen in 18th-century England. Bowen, a British engraver and print seller, drew the map based on Genovese’s originally translated account. Bowen is best known for his realistic atlases and map illustrations.

Marco Polo’s journey began in 1271, alongside his father, Niccolò, and Uncle Maffeo at the age of 17. Marco lived in Venice before his journey, raised by relatives, due to his father, a successful merchant, being in Asia and his mother’s death. Unfortunately, Marco’s mother passed away when he was a young boy, when Niccolò returned to Venice he learned of his wife’s passing and met his son for the first time. Niccolò and Maffeo decided to stay in Venice until a new Pope was elected; Marco, his father, and uncle departed on their journey East along the present day, Silk Road after waiting 2 years for the church to elect a new Pope.[1] From 1271 to 1295, Marco traveled through Europe and Asia, spending 17 years in China as visiting administrator to the Great Khan Kublai before returning home. His father Niccol, his uncle Maffeo and the Mongol emperor, the Great Khan Kublai, play important roles in his story.

Once Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Asia, a 3-year journey, with Marco and documents from the pope and holy oil from Jerusalem, that the emperor Kublai Khan had requested; Niccolò presented his son to the emperor and offered him in service.[2 The emperor was impressed with Marco, he had learned several languages on the 3-year journey and had also mastered four written alphabets.[3] The emperor was in need of a non-Mongol administrator in areas that [3] resisted having Mongol authority, one of the languages that Marco had learned was Mongolian; when Marco learned the speech and customs of the ‘Tartars’ the emperor decided to appoint Marco on various diplomatic and administrative roles from the emperor’s base in Dadu[4]. Marco would spend 16 years in China as a visiting administrator to several wild and distant provinces. On one of his journeys, it is believed that Marco traveled as far as the southern states of India.[5] The emperor was impressed with Marco, he had learned several languages on the 3-year journey and had also mastered four written alphabets.[3] The emperor was in need of a non-Mongol administrator in areas that [3] resisted having Mongol authority, one of the languages that Marco had learned was Mongolian; when Marco learned the speech and customs of the ‘Tartars’ the emperor decided to appoint Marco on various diplomatic and administrative roles from the emperor’s base in Dadu[4]. Marco would spend 16 years in China as a visiting administrator to several wild and distant provinces. On one of his journeys, it is believed that Marco traveled as far as the southern states of India.[5] Marco took notes of the places he traveled to the strange customs of the provinces, he was careful to take scrupulous notes, and the emperor was delighted with Marco’s notes. Marco traveled extensively throughout China and lived in the Emperor’s lands for 17 years. During these years Marco entertained the Emperor with stories and observations of the lands he had visited. The delighted Emperor would continue to send Marco on missions far from the Empire. When Marco returned home and after the publication of his book, the impact of his exploration of the East on Western Civilization was clear. The Polo’s journey to the East was once halted due to a civil war in the area around Bukhara. Fortunately, the Khan’s emissaries provided the Polos with the Golden Tablet, which served as a passport or sort of invocation known as a paiza. The Golden Tablet had an inscription, the words inscribed were: ‘By the strength of eternal heaven, holy be the Khan’s name. Let him that pays him not reverence be killed.’ The coveted invitation came because the Khan wanted to trade with the West and thought that the Polos were the right ticket. [6]

Marco’s long journey was admired, envied, and questioned by many after the publication of his book. The book was an important source of information about the culture, people, government, animals, religion, etc. to the people of Europe, furnishing a fresh view of the world and opening new possibilities for trade and exploration. Marco describes in detail how money is produced from mulberry trees [5] Marco went into detail about how the ‘inner ring which lies between the coarser bark and the wood of the tree’ [7] was steeped and pounded to a pulp until they were made into paper and cut nearly square but longer and how it was authenticated was much like a ceremony, ‘ if it were actually of pure gold or silver.’ [8] Marco’s book and account of Asian customs opened up new business opportunities; However, his book did not initially gain wide acceptance, inspiring even men to set out and become explorers or traders. Many people could not believe Marco Polo’s stories or trust his travelogue because his book was hand-copied and unnecessary changes were caused by translations. The publication of his book and description of Asia helped create maps that were used into the 16th century. His book became one of the most influential travelogues ever written, inspiring the likes of Christopher Columbus to explore.

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As mentioned above, Marco’s book was not welcomed or received in good faith. Many couldn’t believe the tales of the strange animals and of a land unknown to many in Venice, Marco kept most of his stories to himself or only told half of a story so as to not lose believers [9]

Marco talks about his fascination with the grand houses found inside the city walls, he describes them as spacious and beautiful with ‘corresponding courts and gardens’ he also spoke of [10] animals he saw along the silk road one being Persian Lions, a species that is now extinct and of sheep; he, his father and uncle crossed a tall mountain range where he noticed sheep that had large horns [11] the species has since been named, the Marco Polo sheep. The Marco Polo sheep are subspecies of argali sheep and can be found in the mountainous regions of Central Asia. Hearing these tales of grand houses inside city walls and descriptions of exotic animals made it difficult to believe for many, though these critics had not traveled far from Italy, they could not believe the stories of these sheep with large horns or birds that were white as snow with a red beak and feet. [12] Though, as time passed, most of what Marco reported proved to be true, and it was accepted as such.

The Polos were eager to return home, and because they did not expect to be there for such an extended period, they requested to be relieved of their duties and allowed to return to their native country. The emperor was offended by this request because he had grown fond of the three men during their 17-year stay in China. The men knew they needed to leave soon as the emperor Khan was growing old and feared they would not be safe among the Mongols after his death but also, they were still wealthy but knew that without the emperor’s assistance, they would not be able to make the long journey back home before losing their wealth along the long treacherous journey home. Though the emperor was hurt by the request, he eventually allowed the Polos to depart but they were to escort a young maiden to Persia, a gift for the Khan of Persia. They traveled by ship, at the request of the envoys, though the emperor was not happy with the departure of the men he still granted them the Golden Tablet or known as the safe conduct that would allow for the men to secure supplies along the way. [13]The ship had lost six hundred men en route to Persia with the young girl and had taken two years to complete. When the Polos and the young girl arrived, they learned that the Khan of Persia was dead; The young girl was handed over to her son, who greeted the men and graciously accepted the young girl. The son of the Khan of Persia ensured the safe passage of the Polos through Persia; without his kind gesture, the men would never have crossed the country. The Polos learned that their former master, the Great Khan Kublai, had died and returned safely to Venice in 1295. The men were relieved to be home, but their family members did not recognize them because they were dressed in tattered clothing. and they had forgotten most of their mother tongue, making it impossible to communicate with them: only after the men had torn the seams of their clothes and revealed jewelry did their relatives recognize them.

Marco did not stay with his relatives for long, since in a war had broken out between a neighboring city, Genoa. As the Polo family was wealthy, they were requested to outfit a galley in, even before the men returned from Asia.[14] Marco sailed the galley and took charge of it while it was defeated by the Genoese off the coast of Curzola in September; Marco was captured and imprisoned in Genoa for 3 years. In doing so, Marco was able to tell his fellow prisoners about his adventure in the East, during which he met the romantic novelist Rusticiano de Pisa, who also became his cellmate. Rustician was able to write down the memories Marco told him in French and many people consider Marco’s book to be a romance novel, which is no longer due to the author Rustician but to the way he wrote down the memories. Many believe he romanticized the memories Marco related to him and his fellow inmates. When Marco was released from prison, he returned to Venice and married. Little is remembered of Marco after his time in prison, but the book was published and reproduced manually, which may also have resulted in some of the memories being slightly altered or molded into the language into which the book was translated. This is what made so many people suspicious of the book when it was first published because the books were hand translated with human error considered. Years passed and the book was widely established as true; Some still believe it was exaggerated between the flashbacks, but Marco was later able to recount before his death that he only said half of what he did in China, letting others know that he was telling the truth and hadn’t lied anymore. about his adventure east.

Marco’s voyage would not have become known without his book, but his accounts of China would not have encouraged European trade and exploration, and he would inspire many men to venture into the ‘unknown’. Although Marco was the most famous traveler of the Mongol Empire, he wasn’t the first; however, he was the first to arrive in China. A popular book long before the invention of the printing press, Polo’s Book was divided into four books. Polo’s description of his eastward voyage and riches inspired Christopher Columbus to travel to Asia by sea but along a different route. an annotated copy of Polo’s book was among Columbus’ belongings; Despite not reaching China and overthrowing the Kublai Khan dynasty, he was one of the many men who inspired Marco Polo. Reading and researching Marco teaches us that he was one of the few Europeans to see China in all its glory and splendor and we can read and learn about his famous voyage to the East through his book. Although he received no recognition during his lifetime (which he does now), he continues to inspire countless explorers to set out and see the world centuries after his death.

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