Marco Polo (1254–1324) was an Italian merchant traveler from the Republic of Venice whose travels are recorded in Livres des merveilles du monde, a book which did much to introduce Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle, Niccolo and Maffeo, who traveled through Asia, and apparently met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa; Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married and had three children. He died in 1324, and was buried in San Lorenzo.
The Travels of Marco Polo
The book is a 13th-century travelogue written down by Rustichello da Pisa from stories told by Marco Polo, describing Polo's travels through Asia, Persia, China, and Indonesia between 1276 and 1291 and his experiences at the court of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan.
Some skeptics have wondered if Marco Polo actually went to East of Kashgar (now the famous city for Silk Road tours) or he perhaps wrote his book based on hearsay & tales of central China for the reasons that there was no the Mongol or Chinese names but only Persian names for places and no mention about the Great Wall of China, Chinese characters, chopsticks, or footbinding and more Chinese symbols. However, Mongol records indicats someone named Polo was indeed there and Polo's Kinsay (which Yule and Cordier call Hang-Chau-Fu) is Hangzhou.
Whatever the purpose of Polo's tales was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization or for other reason, his travel idea probably was to create an oriental handbook for crusaders, western merchants, essentially a text on weights, measures and distances. Marco Polo pioneering journey inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travellers passion toward the East.
The First Trip East
Istanbul - Sudak - Bokhara - Samarkand - Kashgar - Turfan - Xanadu - Beijing (must-see for China tour deals)
Niccolo and Maffeo brothers set out from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 1260, and sailed across the Black Sea to Soldaia in the Crimea. Today the city is called Sudak and is in the Ukraine. Soldaia was a largely Greek city at that time and routinely traded with various Mediterranean ports.
Today, Bokhara and Samarkand are cities in Uzbekistan, and Balkh is a town with some interesting ruins in Northern Afghanistan. The Persian empire was once much larger than modern Iran, including much of what we now call Central Asia. The brothers lived in Bokhara for three years and became fluent in Persian.
In Bokhara, they learned that the Great Khan, Kublai- grandson of Genghis and, at least in theory, overlord of all Mongols- had never met a European and had expressed curiosity about and goodwill toward them. So they went on, traveling via Samarkand, Kashgar, Turfan and Hami (the Northern branch of the Silk Road) to his summer capital in Xanadu (now it is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site making contribution to local China tourism) somewhat Northwest of modern Beijing. The Khan received them warmly and sent them back West with letters for the Pope, expressions of friendship and requests for missionaries and scholars.
The Second Trip
The brothers went back to Acre, this time with young Marco, and then up to Jerusalem to get some oil from the holy sepulchre which the Khan had requested.
They then set off East again without a papal reply to the Khan's letters. The Khan also invited scholars and missionaries from other places - Tibetan Buddhists and Persian Muslims - and those had a great effect on China.
Their route was indirect, setting out from the Mediterranean port of Laias, North to Armenia and Georgia, then to Mosul in what is now Iraq, then into Persia (now known as Iran) via Tabriz, Yazd and Kerman to Hormuz. The book talks of Damascus and Baghdad, but it is doubtful they actually visited those cities.
The original plan was to take a ship East from Hormuz, but after reaching Hormuz they decided to swing North instead. Marco would later come to Hormuz by sea, taking the Maritime Silk Road on his return journey.
The three men went back to Kerman and on to Persia's Eastern province of Khorasan. This put them on the main Silk Road route. The branch they took involved going Northeast to Balkh, then Southeast toward Kashmir and finally North to reach Khotan in what is now Xinjiang. The major routes today are the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan into Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway North to China, but the Polos' exact route is unclear. They may have taken lesser-known passes such as the route through Ladakh.
The brothers had taken the Northern branch of the Silk Road (now it is the famous travel route included in the China best tours) around the Kalimakan Desert on the previous trip. This time, the first city they reached in what is now China was Khotan, in the middle of the Southern branch, so naturally they continued East on that branch.
Welcome to FC2!