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Marco Polo (sometime in 1254 – January 8–9, 1324)

Marco Polo was born in the Republic of Venice (in modern-day Italy). Marco's father and uncle (Niccolò and Maffeo Polo) were both merchants. They traveled to parts of Asia and even to the Mongol Empire. In 1269, the two men returned to Venice - no doubt filling the young Marco's head full of tales of adventure...

Over two decades of travel

In 1271, Niccolò and Maffeo decided to journey again, and this time they took Marco with them. Between 1271 and 1295 it is estimated they traveled around 15,000 miles and made their fortunes in their 24 years away. Marco told his story to Rustichello da Pisa, who authored a book commonly called The Travels of Marco Polo (published c.1300). It seems Marco Polo thoroughly explored the Far East...

Dan the Info-man
This image shows Marco Polo in a Tatar costume. Tatars were a tribe who were part of the Mongol Empire.

From Venice to Acre and on to Beijing

The Polo merchants had to use the Silk Road to travel to China. They were welcomed to the palace of the Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan, who had become familiar with Marco's father and uncle on their previous expeditions. The emperor was fond of Marco, and the Polos stayed in his court for many years, traveling to places such as the far provinces of China and Burma. The return journey to Venice was not a simple one...

Returning home, war and prison

Polo arrived in Venice in 1295 after a return journey that took years and cost many lives. His voyage had passed by Sumatra, Persia, Sri Lanka and India. Apparently hundreds of people perished along the way, but the Polos survived. Upon arrival, Marco joined in the war that Venice was fighting against Genoa. He was captured in 1296 and sent to a Genoan prison. Polo was eventually released in 1299, returning to Venice...

Dan the Info-man
Whilst in prison, Marco Polo met the writer Rustichello da Pisa, the man who later wrote The Travels of Marco Polo.

The ultimate traveler settles down

With his considerable merchant connections and the gemstones he had brought from the east, Marco Polo was able to settle down as a wealthy man. He married and had three daughters. In 1324, Polo died and was buried in his home city. He had experienced a number of roles in his life: merchant, diplomat, soldier, story-teller. It is likely he exaggerated his recollections whilst in prison in Genoa, but even centuries later he is remembered for his epic travels to the Far East.

Inspiring others...

Christopher Columbus had a copy of The Travels of Marco Polo and even wrote his own notes in it. Because of Polo's experiences in China, Columbus also wanted to visit the same area.

Did he really know where he was going?

There is one suggestion regarding the origin of the name of the popular water-based game Marco Polo - that it is named after the merchant because he didn't know where he was going (therefore with his "eyes closed"). However, this is unlikely, as his father and uncle were already very experienced travelers!

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