Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia
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Interesting Facts & Trivia

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17 - QUESTION:  Who was the famous European Silk Road traveler who worked for the court of Kublai Khan?

Answer:  Marco Polo, from the Republic of Venice.

The most famous of the Silk Road travelers, Marco Polo, was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. Marco Polo was welcomed in Beijing by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. After holding official administrative positions and completing diplomatic missions for the Mongol emperor, he returned to Venice seventeen years later. By his own account, Marco worked for Kublai Khan. He traveled overland through Persia across the Pamirs and south of the Taklamakan Desert. His return was by sea from China around South Asia to Hormuz, from where he went overland to the Mediterranean. Although some of the descriptions not based on direct observation, many of his observations are precise and verifiable. His main associations seem to have been with the Mongol rulers of China and with the Muslim merchant community. Marco Polo's journey and book became well-known in Renaissance Europe, serving as a stimulus for further discovery and travel. Today, his impact upon Western knowledge of the East, as well as on the Western imagination, can still be seen.

His 13th century account of his travels had a profound influence on medieval Europe's view of the wider world. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia to the court of the great Mongol leader Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa. Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his account to a writer who was also imprisoned by the Genoese. He was released in 1299. He died in 1324, and was buried in San Lorenzo. Marco Polo's autobiography, called 'The Travels of Marco Polo' or "Il Milione," provided inspiration for many other explorers including Christopher Columbus. Il Milione was translated, embellished, copied by hand, and adapted, however there is no authoritative version. It documents his father's journey to meet the Kublai Khan, who asked them to become ambassadors, and communicate with the pope. This led to Marco's quest, through Acre, into China and to the Mongol court. Marco wrote of his extensive travels throughout Asia on behalf of the Khan, and their eventual return after what is said to be 15,000 miles (24,140 km) and 24 years of adventures.


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