Marco Polo, one of the most famous explorers of all time, was (along with his father and uncle) the first European to see China, its emperor and the royal palace. He was a Venetian but lived most of his youth in China. His book, The Travels of Marco Polo, was made famous worldwide and is read to this day.
Marco’s father (Niccolo) and his uncle (Maffeo) were merchants who traded with a city in Russia called Suria. One their way back from one trip they got captured by a band of unscrupulous robbers, who held them in custody for three years. At the end of that time they got freed by the ruler of China´s own soldiers, the Kublai Khan. These men took the merchants to meet the great Khan. He welcomed them and they stayed with him for a short time, enjoying the sights and writing in their journals.
After a while the Khan asked them to go back to Europe and bring him three items:
- Letters from the Pope
- 100 learned monks to teach the people
- Holy oil from Jerusalem
Three and a half years after they started, they returned to the royal palace of the great Khan. They brought Niccolo’s young son, Marco, with them.
Marco was dazzled by China’s splendor. Everywhere he looked he saw something new. He saw articles such as paper and coal. Everything he saw he noted down in his journal.
The Polos stayed in China for seventeen years. They finally succeeded in convincing the Khan to let them go. They journeyed back to Europe with enough wealth and gifts from the Khan to last a lifetime. When they arrived back in Venice, however, they had trouble speaking Italian and their relatives didn’t recognize them. However, they managed to fit in after a while.
Then a war broke out and Marco was appointed a commander of a galley. He got captured soon after and was held prisoner for the duration of the war. In the prison he told his fellow prisoners the story of his life. One of them was a writer, and he wrote it all down.
When the war was over, Marco had the book published and it became famous. People didn´t believe that it was actually true (in fact, they nicknamed it ‘the million lies’), but they read it anyway, just for fun. It was called The Travels of Marco Polo.
Marco influenced many explorers. When Christopher Columbus sailed for ‘India,’ The Travels of Marco Polo was one of the treasures on board the ship.