Posted on 7th January 2021
Marco Polo was born in 1254AD to a wealthy merchant family in, it is believed Venice, Italy. He is famous for a book known affectionately as ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’, about his travels across Asia. Although not the first westerner to visit China, he was the first to chronicle his travels.
Little is known of his childhood, but following the death of his mother, Marco was raised by an aunt and uncle, and received a good education. At the age of fifteen, he was to meet his father for the first time.
Marco’s father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo set off on a trading voyage before Marco was born, and didn’t return until 1269 when Marco was fifteen. They spent these years travelling through Asia and became very wealthy men.
In 1271 Marco, aged seventeen embarked on a trip to Asia with his father and uncle, this trip was to last twenty-four years. It is these twenty-four years that became ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’.
It took three years for the travellers to reach China, visiting many great cities on the way. Marco became a confidante of the Mongol leader of China, Kublai Khan and served in his court for the next seventeen years, finally returning to Venice a very wealthy man in 1295.
At this time Venice was at war with the independent Italian state of Genoa; Marco joined this war but was captured and imprisoned. In prison he met fellow inmate and writer Rustichello da Pisa, and while imprisoned Marco dictated his travels to Rustichello.
This was the first major insight into life in Asia and the detailed written account became very popular, spreading across Europe.
The writings were divided into 4 books:
The land of the Middle East and Central Asia. These he travelled through on his way to China.
China itself and the court of Kublai Khan.
Coastal areas of Japan, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.
Northern areas like Russia and also recent wars within Asia.
Marco Polo was released from prison in August 1299, returning to Venice.
He married Donata Badoer, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and had three daughters, Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.
Due to his wealth, it is believed he financed further expeditions although he himself did not leave the Venetian provinces again.
In 1323 an illness confined Marco to bed. He spent his time putting all his affairs in order.
He died on 8 January 1324, leaving a legacy that has been read the world over.
Tagged as: Junior Middle Ages
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