Marco Polo

During the Yuan Dynasty, the renowned traveler and explorer Marco Polo traveled over the Silk Road to China (1271–1368). The detailed description of Chinese politics, economy, and culture in The Travels of Marco Polo, which he dictated, tremendously stimulated westerners’ desire to visit China and significantly impacted European sailing.

In 1254, Marco Polo was born into a merchant family in Venice. His father and uncle frequently conducted business along the western Mediterranean Sea coast. On one fortunate occasion, they traveled to China and visited the Yuan Dynasty emperor Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice with a letter written by Kublai Khan to Pope Clement IV. In actuality, Clement IV had passed away the previous year, and a new pope had not yet been selected.

Young Marco Polo was captivated by their travel tales and determined to visit China after hearing them.

A Protracted and Difficult Trip to China by Marco Polo

In 1271, at the age of 17, his desire came true. With a reply letter from the new Pope Gregory X and costly presents, the Polos embarked on their second journey to China from Venice in the east. They traversed the Mediterranean and Black Seas, went through the territory of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and arrived at Baghdad, the oldest city in the Middle East. They traveled south and east to the thriving Ormuz port near the Persian Gulf’s mouth.

They traveled north and east, passing the arid Iran Plateau and the snow-covered Pamirs in succession. They reached Xinjiang after overcoming disease, hunger, dehydration, robbers, and dangerous animals. Marco Polo was drawn to picturesque Kashgar and jade-famous Hetian. The travelers next traveled the Taklimakan Desert, landed in Dunhuang, and saw the Mogao Grottoes, famous for their Buddhist sculptures and frescoes. In 1275 A.D., they traveled down the Hexi Corridor and arrived in Shang-du, Inner Mongolia, the summer residence of Kublai Khan. There, Kublai Khan gave them a warm welcome and led them to Dadu (now Beijing).

Marco Polo’s 17 years of Service at the Court of Kublai Khan

Clever Marco Polo rapidly mastered Mongolian and Chinese and got acquainted with Chinese traditions. Soon after, he became Kublai Khan’s trusted advisor. He was assigned to top court positions and dispatched on several diplomatic trips to China, India, and the Southeast Asian kingdoms of Vietnam, Burma, and Sumatra. Astounded by the luxury of China, the opulent imperial palace, and the thriving towns, he diligently researched the traditions, geography, people, and culture of every location he visited. Then he gave a detailed report to Kublai Khan.

After 17 years, Marco Polo began to miss his homeland more and more.

Homecoming and ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’

In 1292, Kublai Khan granted Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle permission to return home after they arranged for the marriage of the Mongolian princess Kokachin to a Persian ruler. Twelve years later, in 1295, they eventually arrived at Venice through the Black Sea and Constantinople. The knowledge they brought back about China and other Asian countries piqued the curiosity of the Venetians.

Marco Polo joined the conflict between Venice and Genoa in 1298. Unfortunately, he was kidnapped and imprisoned in Genoa, where he met Rustichello da Pisa, a writer. The famous account of Marco Polo’s travels is The Travels of Marco Polo. The book’s extensive descriptions of China’s wealth, Japan’s abundance of gold, and the unusual customs of Central Asia, West Asia, and Southeast Asia made it an instant hit.

The book’s subsequent popularity in Europe prepared the path for the entrance of countless westerners throughout the succeeding centuries.

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