Polo, Marco (1254-1323). In 1298 a Venetian adventurer named Marco Polo wrote a fascinating book about his travels in the Far East. Men read his accounts of Oriental riches and became eager to find sea routes to China, Japan, and the East Indies. Even Columbus, nearly 200 years later, often consulted his copy of ‘The Book of Ser Marco Polo’. In Marco’s day the book was translated and copied by hand in several languages. After printing was introduced in the 1440’s, the book was circulated even more widely. Many people thought that the book was a fable or a gross exaggeration.
A few learned men believed that Marco wrote truly, however, and they spread Marco’s stories of faraway places and unknown peoples. Today geographers agree that Marco’s book is amazingly accurate. Marco Polo was born in the city-republic of Venice in 1254. His father and uncles were merchants who traveled to distant lands to trade. In 1269 Marco’s father, Nicolo’, and his uncle Maffeo returned to Venice after being away many years. On a trading expedition they had traveled overland as far as Cathay (China). Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor of China, asked them to return with teachers and missionaries for his people.
So they set out again in 1271, and this time they took Marco. From Venice the Polos sailed to Acre, in Palestine. There two monks, missionaries to China, joined them. Fearing the hard journey ahead, however, the monks soon turned back. The Polos crossed the deserts of Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan. They mounted the heights of the Pamirs, the “roof of the world,” descending to the trading cities of Kashgar (Shufu) and Yarkand (Soche). They crossed the dry stretches of The Gobi. Early in 1275 they arrived at Kublai Khan’s court at Cambaluc (Peking). At that time Marco was 21 years old.