marco polo

Marco Polo



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Marco Polo

Marco Polo (1254-1324) was a Venetian trader who traveled to central Asia and China. Although he was not the first European to reach China, he wrote a book that introduced many people to the country.

Early life

Marco was born in Venice. His father, Nicolo Polo, was a merchant. Nicolo and his brother Maffeo Polo had left on a trading mission shortly before Marco’s birth.

Marco’s mother died when he was young, and an aunt and uncle raised him. They trained him to be a merchant. Besides reading, writing, and arithmetic, Marco learned about using foreign money, judging products, and handling cargo ships.

Nicolo and Maffeo’s Journey

Marco’s father and uncle remained abroad for many years. During the 1250’s, they went to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), to conduct trade between Europeans and Arabs and Asians.

In 1260, the Polo brothers decided to make a trading expedition to central Asia, and further east to China.

Journey to China

There they met the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. He welcomed them and wanted to know more about Europeans and Christianity.

The Polo brothers returned to Venice in 1269. But the Khan had invited them to visit China again. They soon left Venice, taking 17-year-old Marco with them.

Second Journey

In 1271, the Polos crossed the Mediterranean Sea to the Palestinian port of Acre (now Akko, Israel). From there, they went by camel caravan to Persia (Iran), and continued overland across Central Asia.

The Polos struggled through the Pamirs, a mountainous region mostly in what is now Tajikistan, and crossed the Gobi Desert.

After more than three years, the Polos reached Kublai Khan’s summer palace in Shangdu, near what is now Zhangjiakou, China.

Official Tours

Marco marveled at the luxurious world of the Mongols and Chinese. Marco knew four languages, and the Khan sent him on many official tours of different provinces of China and parts of Southeast Asia and India.

Marco served as a government official in the Chinese city of Yangzhou for three years.

Return Home

As time passed, the Polos began to yearn for home. In 1292 the Polos departed on a fleet of 14 ships from Zaitun (now Quanzhou) in southern China.

The fleet sailed to what is now Singapore. From there, it traveled around India, and crossed the Arabian Sea to Hormuz in Persia. They then traveled overland to the Turkish port of Trebizond (now Trabzon). The Polos sailed to Constantinople and from there to Venice, arriving in 1295.

Their journey to China and back totaled nearly 24,100 kilometers. The men had been gone for 24 years.


The Polos returned from China with many riches. Kublai Khan had given them ivory, jade, jewels, porcelain, silk, and other treasures.

When they arrived in Venice, the city was at war with Genoa, its long-time rival. In 1296, the Genoese captured and jailed Marco Polo.

While in prison, Polo narrated his travels with a popular writer, Rustichello of Pisa, a fellow prisoner.  Genoa and Venice made peace in 1299. Polo was freed and returned to trading.

The Book of Marvels

Rustichello completed a book based on Polo’s accounts, called Description of the World, in 1298. Later editions were called The Book of Marvels, The Travels of Marco Polo, and The Millions.

In his book, Polo told about Kublai Khan’s rich, advanced empire. He described the Khan’s postal system, which consisted of a vast network of courier stations. Riders on horseback relayed messages from one station to another.

Polo commented on many Chinese customs, such as the mining and use of black stones as fuel. He also marveled at the Chinese use of paper money which bore the seal of the emperor. At that time, Europeans traded with silver, gold, copper, and lead coins.

Marco Polo’s Legacy

Printing had not yet been invented in Europe, and so scholars copied Polo’s book by hand. Descriptions of the World was widely read in Europe and stimulated interest in Asia and helped bring to Europe such Chinese inventions as the compass, papermaking and printing.

The book also influenced many explorers. Among them was the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus who carried a copy of The Travels of Marco Polo on his voyages to the Americas.

When Marco was on his deathbed, visitors asked him if he had made up the accounts in his book. His reply: “I have not told half of what I had seen.”


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1. Marco Polo was Italian. Yes or no? Who was Marco Polo? What did he do?

2. Marco’s mother and father raised him. True or false? Did Marco receive an education?

3. Had Marco’s father abandoned his family? What happened after Nicolo and Maffeo returned to Venice?

4. Did they travel to China mostly by land or sea? How long did it take the Polos to reach China? Describe their route.

5. What did Marco do in China?

6. How long had the Polos been away? How many kilometers had they traveled? What did they come back to Venice with?

7. After Marco returned to Italy, he led an ordinary life. True or false?

8. Did Marco kept his journey a secret? What were some things that Marco described in his book? What were Marco’s last words? What does it mean?

9. Marco influenced the course of history. What do you think?

A. I have been on a long journey. Yes or no? Do you know anyone who has been on a journey?

B. Would you like to go on a long journey? Why or why not? If yes, where would you like to travel to?

C. Everyone, especially young people, should travel during their lifetime. Do you agree?

D. Who are some great or famous travelers from your country?

E. What will happen in the future?


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