Marco Polo's Route `160-1295
Polo sailed south from Venice, Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea to the Middle East. They then went southeast overland to Persia (now Iran), then through the Pamir Mountains and the Gobi Desert, to Beijing, China. They explored the area south of Beijing, including Yunan and Szechuan. Returning to Beijing, they traveled east to Tankchow (at the mouth of the Yangtse River), then south to Hangchow, China. They then sailed south along the coast of China, to what are now Vietnam and Sumatra. They sailed west to Sri Lanka and India, and then back to Ormuz (on the Persian Gulf). They went northwest overland to the Black Sea, then the Mediterranean Sea, and back to Venice, Italy.
Marco Polo's written accounts of his travels were the first Western record of porcelain, coal, gunpowder, printing, paper money, and silk; Polo wrote "Book of Ser Marco Polo" around 1298.
SynopsisThe road to Xanadu: 1271-1275
This time the journey east takes four years. The little party travels by sea from Venice to Syria, then rides or walks the rest of the journey - to Tabriz and by a southerly route, through Yazd and Kerman, before joining the Silk Roadto the north of the Hindu Kush. Eventually, after skirting the Gobi desert, they reach Kublai Khan's summer palace - the stately pleasure dome which he has built north of the Great Wall at Shang Tu, transliterated by Marco Polo into Italian as Ciandu and now widely known as Xanadu.
The Polo brothers receive a warm welcome from Kublai. They present to him young Marco - an encounter which, according to Marco, inspires immediate Mutual admiration. Certainly Marco is offered employment.
Marco Polo in China: 1275-1292
Marco spends seventeen years in China, fulfilling a wide variety of tasks in Kublai Khan's administration. He is in effect a member of an occupying force, speaking Mongolian but not Chinese, so his understanding of the people is limited. But he travels a great deal, often trading on his own account as well as serving the emperor, and he describes many cities.
Hangzhou is his favorite. He pretends not to be certain which is more impressive - the number of its bridges or the number of its prostitutes. His interests seem more with the latter. Those who sample these women, he says (as if speaking of someone else), 'are so much taken with their sweetness and charms that they can never forget them'.
Marco has often been criticized for failing to mention one peculiarity of China - the drinking of tea, which is already by this time a Chinese addiction. The two oddities which strike him most forcibly are a marvelous black stone, useless for building with, which the Chinese dig up and burn (one of the earliest references to coal); and their use of bank notes (see Bank notes in China).
Paper money is not a Mongol innovation, being in use already in the Song dynasty, but Marco gives a fascinating description of government officials stamping the notes with a cinnabar seal.
The Book of Marco Polo: 1298-1299
|Marco has no intention of writing a book. Luckily for us he finds himself a prisoner in Genoa in 1298 (he has been in command of a Venetian galley in a war against the Genoese). A fellow captive is an author of romances, by the name of Rustichello. During a winter of enforced idleness, Marco tells him the story of his adventures. Rustichello writes it down.|
The Book of Marco Polo, wherein is recounted the Wonders of the World becomes so popular that numerous manuscript copies of it are made in several languages.
|Marco's contemporaries see his book primarily as what its title says - a book of wonders, rather than a factual account - and Rustichello's trade as a writer of romances has caused some more recently to question how much of the book is true, or whether Marco even made the journey to China.|
But Chinese sources confirm many details which were unknown in the west in Marco's time. The most he can probably be accused of, in providing one of the world's greatest travel books, are two familiar failings - a selective memory and a story-teller's tendency to exaggerate. There is, however, no truth in the tradition that he brought back the secrets of gunpowder, the compass, printing or noodles.