Without a doubt, Marco Polo tops the list of perhaps the most famous traveller of them all. But even if the name is familiar to most people around the world, its surprising how many don’t actually know what he accomplished, while some may even think of the Asian hotel chain, rather than the great traveller.
Regardless, the most important thing about Marco Polo was that he was believed to have been the first European to make the long journey to Asia – through the “Silk Road” into China in the 13th century, as you can see on the map pictured above.
Born in 1254, Marco Polo was a Venetian trader and explorer who, together with his father Niccolò and his uncle Maffeo, was one of the first Westerners to travel the Silk Road to China (which he called Cathay) and visited the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan). His travels are written down in Il Milione -“The Million” or The Travels of Marco Polo. The original is lost and there are now several often-conflicting versions of the translations.
The Polo name originally did not belong to a family of explorers, but to a family of traders. Marco Polo’s father, Niccolò (also Nicolò in Venetian) and his uncle, Maffeo (also Maffio), were prosperous merchants who traded with the East. They were partners with a third brother, named Marco il vecchio (the Elder).
Maffeo and Niccolò Polo set out on a second journey with the Pope’s response to Kublai Khan, in 1271. This time Niccolò took his son Marco, along with two friars that did not finish the voyage due to fear.
When Marco Polo arrived at Kublai Khan’s court he became a favorite of the Khan and was employed for 17 years and was sent on voyages and was given permission to trade freely throughout China
On their return from China in 1295, the family settled in Venice where they became a sensation and attracted crowds of listeners who had difficulties in believing their reports of distant China. According to a late tradition, since they did not believe him, Marco Polo invited them all to dinner one night during which the Polos dressed in the simple clothes of a peasant in China. Shortly before the crowds ate, the Polos opened their pockets to reveal hundreds of rubies and other jewels which they had received in Asia. Though they were much impressed, the people of Venice still doubted the Polos.
[tags]famous travelers,travel,Marco Polo history[/tags]