Marco Polo


Born: c. 1254 in Venice, Venetian Rebpublic
Died: Jan 8-9, 1324 (at age 70) in Venice, Venetian Republic
Nationality: Italian
Occupation: Merchant, explorer
Famous For: Traveling to Central Asia and China

Marco Polo was an Italian merchant and explorer, famous for introducing Europeans to China and Central Asia. He inspired future travelers, including Christopher Columbus. Born presumably in the Republic of Venice around 1254, Marco Polo played an important role in cartography. His pioneering explorations of East Asia, as depicted in his iconic book, led to the 1450 Fra Mauro map which has been considered the “greatest memorial of medieval cartography.” His father, Niccolo Polo was a wealthy merchant who traded with the Middle East and travelled with Maffeo Polo, Marco’s uncle, through Asia. While in Constantinople, the Polos foresaw a political shift in 1260 and headed for the Volga River, reaching the court of Berke Khan, the sovereign of the western territories of the Mongol Empire. These skillful merchants doubled their assets while in Bolghar and also became friends with Kublai Khan, the fifth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. Marco Polo only met his father and uncle in 1269, when the Polo brothers returned to Venice. After the death of his mother, Marco was raised by his aunt and received education in trade-related subjects such as foreign currency and managing cargo ships.

Journey to Asia

In 1271, the Polo family decided to embark on a long, adventurous journey in Asia, travelling around 15,000 miles and passing through China, Japan and India. Marco documented all these experiences and adventures in his historic book based on several manuscripts. After 24 years spent on the Asian continent, the Polos returned to Venice, but Marco Polo was captured in 1298 at the Battle of Curzola by the Genoese army. While captive in prison in Genoa, he dictated his travel-related memoirs to Italian Rustichello da Pisa, who was also an inmate. He was eventually released in 1299 and returned to his native Venice, where he became a wealthy tradesman and got married to a merchant’s daughter.


Published around 1300, this travelogue entitled Il Milione was divided into four volumes. Considered part of the vernacular didactic literature, instead a biography, this famous book describes Marco Polo s travels between 1276 and 1291 as well as his memorable experiences at Kublai Khan’s court. The first volume depicts the territories of Central Asia and the Middle East. Book two describes China and court of the emperor of the Mongol Empire. Book three depicts the coastal regions of the Far East, including India, Japan, Africa’s eastern coast and Sri Lanka. Book Four describes the wars between the Mongol Empire and northern regions such as Russia. Nevertheless, this outstanding body of work is quite controversial, considering that Marco Polo failed to mention important parts of the Chinese culture and traditions such as the Great Wall of China and the use of tea.


Marco Polo passed away either on January 8th or 9th, 1324 in Venice, Venetian Republic. He was survived by his wife Donata Badoer and their three daughters, Bellela, Fantina and Moreta, whom he appointed as co-executrices on his deathbed. He was allegedly buried at the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice, although some historians believe that he was actually buried at San Sebastiano.