Marco Polo was the son of Niccolò and Dona Lisa Polo. He was born on September 15, 1254, to a family of traders. The family was known for their travel stories and businesses led by his uncle Maffeo. Marco Polo was among the early Westerners to successfully travel to China. He played an envoy to the grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, who established the Yuan Dynasty. He is among the great men we know in history who have added wisdom and thirst for exploration as human qualities. The 'Il Milione', 'Oriente Poliano', and 'Description of the World' offer the reader an insight into the life and achievements of this explorer. In this piece, we would embark and embrace the journey of Marco Polo.
- Marco Polo's father and uncle, Nicollò and Maffeo Polo, were names synonymous with trade and exploration. They traded regularly with the Orient.
- When Marco was born, they were already on a journey and returned to their families only to find Marco had turned 15.
- The regions of Constantinople, Crimea, and Sudak, areas around the Balkans were the major trade destinations for the Polo's.
- The adventures along the land routes helped the family establish good political ties, which helped Marco during his travel later.
- The family then moved base to the Crimean city of Soldaia, in 1259. Their decision to move from Constantinople proved wise, since the region was recaptured by Nicaea, in 1261.
Journey to China
- Marco accompanied his father and uncle on a journey to China, with an aim to cover the far East, India, and Japan. The Polo's frequented Sarai and the court of Berke Khan, Bukhara, and the court of Kublai Khan.
- It was on one such journey where he met the Mongol king. They reached Khanbaliq and interacted with Kublai Khan in 1274 about trade and businesses.
- They used the Northern Silk Route and braved through perils of the terrain and interspersed tribes. They spent 17 years in China, with Marco Polo assisting Kublai Khan for almost 13 years in every aspect of trade and business.
Return From China
- The family returned from China in 1295.
- They chose the Italian city of Venice as their future home and attracted eager crowds to listen to their accounts of China.
- In the war between Venice and Genoa, he was captured and imprisoned, in 1298.
- It was in prison that an Italian cellmate, Rustichello da Pisa, who was a noted romance writer in that era, noted his accounts in 'Il Milione' or 'The Million'.
- The French version took the form of a book called 'Le divisament dou monde' or 'Description of the world'.
- Marco Polo married Donata Badoer in 1300, and he fathered three daughters.
Marco Polo's interaction with the orient has been penned to detail in his travelogue. This has helped us to assimilate information on oriental and occidental interactions even as the crusades were on.
His contribution to the trade and the geographical descriptions in his writings offered a huge benefit to future travelers, who set off on a journey to East Asia and beyond due to Polo.
Marco Polo spent approximately 13 years with Kublai Khan, with whom he traveled extensively in and around the region to begin a movement in co-operation with other known trade destinations and traders and bring equal opportunity for all involved.
Kublai Khan was an individual with varied interests in philosophy, religion and trade. Due to the exposure he received while being with Polo, he sent ambassador Koeketei to Pope Clement IV, with a letter inviting educated followers of Christianity to introduce Western customs to the orient.
The invitation was accompanied by an authorization that mentioned lodging, food, and horses throughout Khan's kingdom during their tenure. This gesture was indeed due to a high influence of Marco Polo on Kublai Khan.
His diary or travelogue maintained details of diplomatic missions and assignments, observations of land, and people of the orient and his tenure as governor of Yangzhou city for three years.
His travel account clearly specifies the love of Kublai Khan for foreign visitors and his versatility as a king, diplomat, administrator, and a friend. His long exposure to Chinese culture gave the European continent a rich understanding about the Silk Route and the initial adventures along newly discovered sea routes to plan their sea voyages.
When he returned to Venice in 1299 after being released from the prison, he started with a seldom and selfless aim to promote exploration and trade to everyone who wanted to be a voyager.
He used his accumulated wealth over the years, in promoting and sponsoring expeditions that would add immense value to the traders along the route and also to himself.
- Marco Polo died on January 8, 1324, from cancer.
- He was in Venice, Italy at the time and the ailment was then referred to as 'consumption' on account of insufficient research and medical assistance available.
- He had wealth converted to gemstones and other precious materials and wanted his wife and daughters to be benefited by it. As he was a trader who traded overseas, the Church was entitled to a part of the wealth, which he readily agreed to give.
- He also ensured that San Lorenzo convent be paid an amount as well, as that was the place he wished to be buried.
He left behind a legacy of travel, adventure, and exploration that inspired a generation of sea voyagers. This list of voyagers, includes Christopher Columbus, who carried a copy of his writings during his maiden voyage. Marco Polo's achievements and attitude towards the people he came across during his voyage, left an everlasting impression on them. And as they say, Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.