Marco Polo - the most famous Venetian of all time

One named not just one airport after him, but also a travel guide and a number of streets, schools and monuments in many countries around the world: Marco Polo, the restless merchant from Venice, according to his own stories traveled through Asian steppes, deserts and cities and served the ruler of the Mongols for almost two decades.

Traveling is in Marco Polo's blood: his father Niccolò and his uncle Maffeo were Venetian jewelers. They embarked on their first voyage by ship in 1260 to trade precious stones on the lower reaches of the Volga on the Caspian Sea. The journey went further than planned and lasted a total of nine years. The two men joined a Persian embassy during their journey and met the Mongolian Khan. When they returned to Venice in 1269, they met the young Marco Polo, who couldn't wait to go on a long journey himself.

Foundation Ponte Lungo

Foundation Ponte Lungo


Marco Polo's big journey

Two years after his father and uncle returned, the Polos decided to leave again. Before their return to Venice, the Khan had given the brothers Niccolò and Maffeo a letter to the Pope in which he asked for 100 scholars. They should spread the gospel in his dominion. He also asked for healing oil from the lamp of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem.

The young Marco Polo saw it as his duty to comply with the requests of the Khan and joined a father and uncle. However, since the Pope had died in the meantime and they lacked missionaries, the Polos initially set off for China with only the holy oil in their luggage.

The Venetians moved east through Mesopotamia and Persia. The original plan to reach China by ship failed because they could not find a suitable boat at the port of Hormuz. In 1272 they crossed the Dasht-e Lut salt desert and came to Afghanistan. As soon as they reached the oasis town of Kashgar, Marco Polo contracted an illness from which he had to recover for a year.

After his recovery, the young explorer traveled on the Wachan Route, an ancient trade route previously known only to followers of Buddhism and Islam. Marco Polo mentions in his stories the hardships he experienced on his journey at an altitude of 4.000 meters. Allegedly he reached the palace of the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan after around 40 days.

The ruler was so impressed by the young explorer that he hired him as a diplomat and confidante. According to Marco Polo's own records, he learned language after language during his 17-year journey and was sent on special missions by the Khan while his father and uncle went about their business. Marco Polo passed through Tibet and reached the interior of Burma and what is now Thailand and Vietnam. From 1282 to 1285 he is said to have acted as governor of the Chinese city of Hangzhou on behalf of the Khan. Equipped with 14 ships and the Princess Kokejin attached, the Polos set off for home again in the late 1295s. When they arrived in Venice in 18, only 600 out of XNUMX fellow travelers had survived. They were only recognized when they presented rubies, diamonds and emeralds.

Rialto Bridge in Venice

Rialto Bridge in Venice


Explorer and storyteller  

Some history experts believe that Marco Polo's travelogues are exaggerated or even lacking in truth. Even if it is said that he has many inventions from China Venice brought - including the card game - so he leaves out important "details" in his stories. The Great Wall of China, for example, is not mentioned by him.

In contrast, he describes the clothes and jewelry of Kublai Khan's ladies-in-waiting in the smallest detail. And, although he is said to have served as governor of the Chinese province of Yangzhou for three years, Marco Polo was completely unknown to the Chinese characters. For most places he did not use the Chinese but the Persian names.

It is believed that Marco Polo mixed the stories of other travelers with his own experiences or sold them entirely as his own. He probably wanted to impress his fellow countrymen in Venice with lots of fantastic stories.

Doge's Palace and Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana

Doge's Palace and Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana


After he published a book about his travels in his homeland, he was even considered a lying baron like Münchhausen in Venice. According to reports, on his deathbed he was pressured by priests, friends and relatives to renounce his lies in order to achieve absolute salvation.

Without a doubt, many of Marco Polo's stories are not based on his own experiences. Nevertheless, he is one of the most famous explorers of all time, and he is arguably the most famous Venetian who ever lived. who Venice attractions visited, the birthplace of the world traveler should not be missed.  


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