Most of you have heard of “Marco Polo” the entertaining, swimming pool game, but have you heard of Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer who traveled thousands of kilometers to China?
Here are 16 facts about one of the first Europeans to travel across Asia!
Fact 1: Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice, Italy, however the exact date of his birth is not known.
Fact 2: Marco Polo was just 17 when he, his father (Nicolo Polo) and uncle (Maffeo Polo) set off on a trip in 1271, across Asia and through China. The Polo family was well known for trading with the Middle East which brought them great wealth and prestige.
Fact 3: Marco Polo traveled with his father and uncle for 24 long years, 17 of those he spent in China.
Fact 4: Marco Polo knew four languages and was well educated, particularly in merchant subjects such as foreign currency and appraising.
Fact 5: The Polo threesome sailed from Venice, along the Mediterranean Sea to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran, and crossed inhospitable deserts. After four years of travel they reached Xanadu, China, the summer palace of Kublai Khan, located about 200 miles north of present-day Beijing.
Fact 6: Marco’s father and uncle had previously been befriended by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who conquered China and became the first emperor of the Mongol Dynasty. Upon their return with Marco, they were given important positions at Kublai’s court. There Marco studied Chinese.
Fact 7: In 1275, Kublai Khan appointed Marco as his envoy and for the next few years he travelled through China on missions. It is believed that Marco explored far-flung areas of Asia, which had never been seen by Europeans.
Fact 8: Sometime in the 1280’s Marco was appointed the governor of the city of Yangzhou where he ruled for three years. However, modern historians doubt the accuracy of Marco’s account because he was very young for such an esteemed position.
Fact 9: The Polo’s headed back to Venice in 1293 and Kublai Khan died just a year after their departure. The Polo’s decided it was time to return home since Kublai was nearly 80 and his death might have been dangerous to foreigners in an exotic country.
Fact 10: Prior to their departure, the Polo’s joined Kublai’s wedding party. He had arranged for his daughter to be married in Persia. During the trip, Marco visited modern day Vietnam, Sumatra, Sri Lanka and India.
Fact 11: On their way home, the Polo’s passed through the kingdom of Trebizond, modern day Turkey, where the local government robbed them of around 4,000 Byzantine gold coins.
Fact 12: Marco Polo introduced the concept of paper money to Italy! He also described the use of coal, eyeglasses and a complex postal system that he had seen in Mongolia, which led to their use in Europe.
Fact 13: Marco Polo’s book, describing his adventurous journeys through Asia, inspired Christopher Columbus and other explorers to set out on their own travels.
Fact 14: Marco Polo sometimes confused the animals he encountered along his travels with mythical creatures he has heard of as a child. For example, he mistook a crocodile to be a giant serpent that could swallow a man. Marco was also one of the first European’s to lay eyes on a rhinoceros, which he misidentified as a unicorn.
Fact 15: Stories about Marco Polo stem from his colorful narrative about his voyage “The Travels of Marco Polo”. But, did you know that Marco did not write the book on his own? The book was written while Marco was imprisoned in 1298 during the Venetian battle against their rival city of Genoa. In prison, he met Rustichello of Pisa, a talented writer of romance. Polo dictated the tails of his travels to Rustichello who wrote them down in Franco-Italian.
Fact 16: Although many historians claimed his book was fabrications and false, Marco never admitted to exaggerating the tales of his voyage. On his deathbed he is believed to have said “I did not tell half of what I saw”.