About Marco Polo
Marco Polo opened the eyes of Europe to the geography and culture of the East, which was largely unknown before his travels. His manuscript “The Travels of Marco Polo” became the foundation of European Eastern exploration and influenced the travels of Christopher Columbus, as well as many other explorers.
Towards the East
Most likely born in the Venetian Republic around 1254 to a wealthy merchant family, Marco Polo was raised mainly by his aunt and uncle after his mother died. Throughout Marco’s childhood, his father Niccolo traveled through Asia along side Marco’s Uncle Maffeo.
They became close with Kublai Khan returning to Venice in 1269 as Khan’s ambassadors, to get a papal notice. It was then at age 15, Marco first met his father. Upon receiving the Pope’s letter two years later, in 1271, Marco’s father and uncle once again headed back East, this time bringing Marco along with them.
Moving Through Asia
For the next 24 years, Niccolo, Maffeo, and Marco traveled through Asia, the exploits of which were chronicled later in Marco’s manuscript “The travels of Marco Polo”. Among the mountain of stories included in the book are Marco’s travels through Eastern islands, his time spend as a government official to Kublai Khan, and details about the silk road.
“The Travels of Marco Polo”
The three finally returned to Italy in 1295 to find Venice at war with Genoa. Marco Polo was taken prisoner for two year, during which time he dictated the events and discoveries of his time spend in Asia to a fellow inmate – Rustichello da Pisa. These recounted events became the manuscript “The Travels”, which quickly became better known as “The Travels of Marco Polo”.
While there exists no definitive version of the original manuscript, the spread of Marco Polo’s stories covering Eastern geography and customs was the first major study of the East available to Europeans, a point of distinction that cannot be over stated in importance.
Though at the time of its creation, there was a level of doubt and distrust over his accounts, “The Travels” opened the eyes of Europe to the previously unknown possibility of a sophisticated civilization outside of their own.
Marco Polo’s Legacy
Released from prison in 1299, Marco Polo moved to Venice where he raised a family, dying on January 9, 1324 without returning to Asia.
Centuries after his death, his stores of Asia continued to drive European exploration of the East, where many of his assumed fictions were verified. Perhaps his most cited follower was Christopher Columbus, who carried a copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him when he set out to discover a new trade route West.