Marco Polo and His Travels
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Marco Polo and His Travels
“When a man is riding through this desert by night and for some reason -falling asleep or anything else -he gets separated from his companions and wants to rejoin them, he hears spirit voices talking to him as if they were his companions, sometimes even calling him by name. Often these voices lure him away from the path and he never finds it again, and many travelers have got lost and died because of this. Sometimes in the night travelers hear a noise like the clatter of a great company of riders away from the road; if they believe that these are some of their own company and head for the noise, they find themselves in deep trouble when daylight comes and they realize their mistake. There were some who, in crossing the desert, have been a host of men coming towards them and, suspecting that they were robbers, returning, they have gone hopelessly astray.Even by daylight men hear these spirit voices, and often you fancy you are listening to the strains of many instruments, especially drums, and the clash of arms. For this reason bands of travelers make a point of keeping very close together. Before they go to sleep they set up a sign pointing in the direction in which they have to travel, and round the necks of all their beasts they fasten little bells, so that by listening to the sound they may prevent them from straying off the path.”
—- Marco Polo, Travels
Marco Polo (1254-1324), is probably the most famous Westerner traveled on the Silk Road. He excelled all the other travelers in his determination, his writing, and his influence. His journey through Asia lasted 24 years. He reached further than any of his predecessors, beyond Mongolia to China. He became a confidant of Kublai Khan (1214-1294). He traveled the whole of China and returned to tell the tale, which became the greatest travelogue.
The Polo Brothers
In 1260 two Venetian merchants arrived at Sudak, the Crimean port. The brothers Maffeo and Niccilo Polo went on to Surai, on the Volga river, where they traded for a year. Shortly after a civil war broke out between Barka and his cousin Hulagu, which made it impossible for the Polos to return with the same route as they came. They therefore decide to make a wide detour to the east to avoid the war and found themselves stranded for 3 years at Bukhara.
The marooned Polo brothers were abruptly rescued in Bukhara by the arrival of a VIP emissary from Hulagu Khan in the West. The Mongol ambassador persuaded the brothers that Great Khan would be delighted to meet them for he had never seen any Latin and very much wanted to meet one. So they journeyed eastward. They left Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, then came the murderous obstacle of the Gobi desert. Through the northern route they reached Turfan and Hami, then headed south-east to Dunhuang. Along the Hexi Corridor, they finally reached the new capital of the Great Khan, Bejing in 1266.
The Great Khan, Mangus brother, Kublai, was indeed hospitable. He had set up his court at Beijing, which was not a Mongol encampment but an impressive city built by Kublai as his new capital after the Mongols took over China in 1264 and established Yuan dynasty (1264-1368). Kublai asked them all about their part of the world, the Pope and the Roman church. Niccolo and Matteo, who spoke Turkic dialects perfectly, answered truthfully and clearly. The Polo brothers were well received in the Great Khans capital. One year later, the Great Khan sent them on their way with a letter in Turki addressed to Pope Clement IV asking the Pope to send him 100 learned men to teach his people about Christianity and Western science. He also asked Pope to procure oil from the lamp at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Pope Clement IV asking the Pope to send him 100 learned men to teach his people about Christianity and Western science. He also asked Pope to procure oil from the lamp at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
To make sure the brothers would be given every assistance on their travels, Kublai Khan presented them with a golden tablet (or paiza in Chinese, gerege in Mongolian) a foot long and three inches wide and inscribed with the words (Left Fig.): “By the strength of the eternal Heaven, holy be the Khans name. Let him that pays him not reverence be killed.” The golden tablet was the special VIP passport, authorizing the travelers to receive throughout the Great Khans dominions such horses, lodging, food and guides as they required. It took the Polos three full years to return home, in April 1269.
Although the Polo brothers blazed a trail of their own on their first journey to the East, they were not the first Europeans to visit the Mongols on their home ground. Before