The city of Korcula, in the opinion of its many distinguished visitors throughout its rich history, is one of the most attractive and best preserved towns from the Middle Ages in the Mediterranean area. The island of the same name is one in the long string of ‘pearls’ forming great archipelago that runs along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea; rightfully the pride of the Republic of Croatia. Why the modern tourist at the end of the twentieth century (though not acquainted with the details with the rich history) is immediately consciouss of the connection between Korcula and Marko Polo is an interesting question.
Does the knowledge come merely from tourist slogans and publicity, or from a deeper sense of tradition and historical memory? The Depolo family have lived in Korcula for centuries, proof of which exists in the numerous documents held in the Korcula archives; and one of member of the family the young flower decorator Mate Depolo happened to meet in 1993 another young woman girl who is a descendant of the Great Kublai Khan, They were both in Wells at the time under the auspices of the BBC.
A hotel in Dalmatian style was built in Korcula in 1972 and named “Marko Polo”. The tourist agency “Marko Polo Tours” has also existed in Korcula for several years. “Jadrolinija”, the Croatian Shipping Line, gave the same name to its most beautiful and biggest passenger ship. The first question which most visitors ask, while irresistibly attracted towards Korcula in a wish to escape for a while from the trials and burdens of evberyday life, is “Where is the tower of Marko Polo”? Does not its position in the immediate vicinity of the St. Marko cathedral, in the central town square, together with the houses of many old noble families, confirm the Korculan origins of Marko Polo? If we add that the sculptor from Corinth, Polo, lived in Korcula in the 5th century B. C. (according to the Encyclopedia Treccani), and that Korcula at that time, according to Skylac, was the main Illyrian emporium in the Adriatic, then it becomes evident that the traditional hearsay about the Korculan origins of Marko Polo must have its ancient roots in history, which is in itself a kind of word of mouth tradition, and an attractive story.
Moreover, the belief is also fed also by the oldest legend of all regarding the foundation of Korcula, which says that the town of Korcula was founded by the Trojan hero, Antenor, after the fall of Troy. While one old Venetian manuscript also points out that, together with Antenor, a certain Lucius Polus, arrived on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, as an ancestor of the family Polo. In 1995 Korcula celebrated the 700th anniversary of Marko Polo’s return from China to Europe. Korcula had also solemnly celebrated the 700th anniversary of his birth earlier in 1954.
Within the frame-work of celebrating the 700th anniversary of his return from what was then far away though today much more accessible China, the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU) held a scientific symposium under the title “Marko Polo and Korcula in the 13th Century”. Concerts, exhibitions, lectures, boat parades, commemorative stamps, seals were organized and produced, and the house of Marko Polo is now being rearranged in the style of his voyages and happenings. A special attraction is the popular song about Marko Polo on disc.
This arrangement by the best Croatian pop singers was sent to radio stations all over the world under the title “Seven Hundred Years”. One verse in that song speaks about the bright star high in the sky which was guiding Marko Polo during his life-long voyages. this was the North Star, his star of the North Pole, mentioned several times in Marko Polo’s book Million. The purpose of this commemorative work is not to prove that Marko Polo was born in Korcula, though it every Korculan small child feels instinctively that this is so.
Even less is its purpose to challenge the undisputed role of Venice in the life of Marko Polo and his family. After all, Korcula was for many centuries under the government of Serenissima, which is to be thanked for the rising prosperity of Korcula in the 14th and 15th centuries. The real aim of this book is to present to the interested tourist all that connects Marko Polo with Korcula and at the same time to emphasize the significance of his interesting voyages and discoveries when he ventured to unknown worlds.
Marko Polo is the property and inheritance of the whole world. His life story still speaks clearly to today’s man about the richness of various ambiences, races and cultures, and about the instinctive wish of every well-intentioned inhabitant of the Earth to know the world around him, to get more contact with other people, and live his life in an interesting way in friendly relationships with others and not against them. Exactly as did the first world traveller and writer, MARKO POLO