Who is Marco Polo?
Early Life and Family Background
Marco Polo was born on September 15, 1254, in Venice, Italy, into a wealthy merchant family. His father, Niccolò Polo, and his uncle, Maffeo Polo, were successful traders who had established business connections with the Middle East and Asia. In 1260, when Marco was just six years old, his father and uncle embarked on a journey to Asia, traveling through the Silk Road to reach the court of Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China.
It wasn’t until 1269, after an absence of almost ten years, that Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Venice, bringing with them a letter from Kublai Khan requesting that the Pope send one hundred Christian scholars to his court. They also brought Marco, who was then fifteen years old, with them on their journey back to Asia. This would be the beginning of Marco Polo’s incredible adventures and travels throughout Asia.
Travels to Asia
Marco Polo’s travels to Asia began in 1271, when he accompanied his father and uncle on their second journey to China. The journey took three and a half years, during which time they traveled through Turkey, Armenia, Persia (now Iran), and Afghanistan, before reaching the court of Kublai Khan in China.
During his time in Asia, Marco Polo traveled extensively throughout the region, visiting places such as India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. He also spent several years serving as a government official in China, and was tasked with various diplomatic missions and trade negotiations on behalf of Kublai Khan.
Marco Polo’s detailed descriptions of his travels, including the people he encountered, the landscapes he saw, and the customs and traditions he observed, would later become the basis for his famous book, The Travels of Marco Polo.
Service to Kublai Khan
During his travels in Asia, Marco Polo gained the favor and trust of Kublai Khan, who appointed him to various important positions in his court. Marco served as a special envoy and diplomat, and was tasked with a wide range of responsibilities, including overseeing construction projects, collecting intelligence, and negotiating trade agreements with foreign powers.
Marco Polo’s most significant role in Kublai Khan’s court was as an advisor and confidant to the emperor. He was respected for his knowledge of foreign cultures and his ability to navigate the complex political landscape of Asia.
Despite his long and loyal service to Kublai Khan, Marco Polo eventually returned to Venice in 1295, after more than twenty years in Asia. He returned to find Venice at war with Genoa, and he was captured and imprisoned during the conflict. While in prison, he dictated his famous book, The Travels of Marco Polo, to a fellow inmate.
The Book of Marco Polo
The Travels of Marco Polo, also known as Il Milione, is a book that recounts Marco Polo’s adventures and travels in Asia. The book was written while Marco was in prison in Genoa, and was later published in 1298.
The book was an instant success, and became one of the most important travelogues of the Middle Ages. It was translated into several languages, and inspired other explorers and adventurers to set out on their own travels and expeditions.
The book is also notable for its detailed descriptions of the people, cultures, and landscapes of Asia. Marco Polo’s descriptions of the Mongol Empire, for example, were instrumental in shaping Western perceptions of the region.
Today, The Travels of Marco Polo is considered a classic of travel literature, and is an important historical document that sheds light on the history and culture of Asia during the Middle Ages.
Legacy and Impact on History
Marco Polo’s travels and his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, had a profound impact on history and culture. His detailed descriptions of the people and cultures of Asia helped to shape Western perceptions of the region, and his travels inspired future explorers and adventurers to set out on their own journeys.
The book also played an important role in the age of exploration and discovery, as Europeans sought to find new trade routes and expand their knowledge of the world. It is said that Christopher Columbus carried a copy of The Travels of Marco Polo with him on his voyage to the New World.
Today, Marco Polo is remembered as one of the greatest explorers of all time, and his legacy continues to inspire and fascinate people around the world. The Marco Polo Bridge, the Marco Polo Sheep, and the Marco Polo Airport in Venice are just a few examples of the many places and things named after him.