You can gauge the magnitude or impact of Marco Polo major accomplishments by the sheer fact that he was a man who inspired the likes of Christopher Columbus. Yet, there are historians who reasonably or unreasonably speculate that some parts of the book ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’ are fiction and not exactly a travelogue or an account of actual travels. Most critics point out to a glaring mistake or omission in the book that argues if Marco Polo ever traveled to China.
1. A Young Explorer
Born in Venice, Marco Polo grew up as a Roman Catholic and became an explorer while in his teens. His explorations were not primarily for trade or discovery but papal mandates. Son of an explorer, he did not meet his father till he was in his teens. The first time Marco Polo met his father Niccolo Polo was when he returned from a long expedition and he was already fifteen years old.
2. Trip to China
The fifteen and sixteenth centuries that we call today as the age of exploration were preceded by an age of widespread traveling across the mainland. Before the Europeans set sails, explorers in the thirteenth century would travel across Europe, to the east and many would travel down south to what is present day Middle East. Across vast deserts, steep mountains, icy and scorching weathers, explorers would end up in China or India and travel further eastward. Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to travel across Asia, and eventually to China. He was on a papal mission and had to deliver some papers from the Vatican to Kublai Khan, the then Emperor of China.
3. 24 Years in China
Marco Polo was a teenager when he accompanied his father to China. He went to Kublai Khan’s court where he made such an impression that the emperor asked him to work on courtly affairs. Kublai Khan appointed Polo to several posts across the Chinese kingdom. He was the representative of the emperor at one point in time, became an ambassador, later a governor of a province. Polo had ruled at least one city and has been among the high ranking officials across cities and in several provinces. During his stay in China, he explored the country, learned the Chinese way of life and spent a good twenty four years before returning.
4. The Travels of Marco Polo
Marco Polo decided to return after the death of Kublai Khan. Within a year of the emperor’s death, Polo bagged his possessions which amounted to substantial wealth comprising of precious metals, jewels and commodities. He returned to Venice, richer and having explored the East. But he did not become famous just then. It was not until the publication of The Travels of Marco Polo that he gained the popularity he still enjoys today. The book was an account of his experiences of having traveled from Rome to China, his travels along the route which is still referred today as the Silk Road and his encounters with the emperor. The book details Polo’s life over the twenty years and offered insights that Europeans were not aware of. When Polo was imprisoned during the Battle of Curzola, he talked about his life and travels with his fellow inmate Rustichello de Pisa, who later wrote and published the book.
5. A Rich and Inspiring Legacy
Marco Polo became a wealthy merchant, had a fruitful life and had an immediate impact on his society. However, in sheer terms of accomplishments that changed the world he did not achieve much. That happened through the book. Over the years, Marco Polo would inspire explorers all across Europe and beyond. He would inspire Christopher Columbus and many others to set sails so they could find India, China and other new lands. Today, Marco Polo is not only revered by explorers and Europeans but he is also hailed in parts of China and wherever some Chinese influence exists in pop culture, history and cuisine.
6. Criticism of ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’
In the thirteenth century, there weren’t as many accounts as today so there weren’t any contrasting, conflicting or contrarian arguments to put forth. No one could dispute the book written and published by Rustichello de Pisa and essentially since Marco Polo approved it. However, some people cite the missing reference to the Great Wall of China which was already built when Polo would have been there, there are no references to chopsticks even when Polo apparently talks about the strange life that the Chinese lead and there aren’t any Chinese characters other than the account of his interactions with Kublai Khan. It is absolutely possible that Pisa did not have impeccable recollection and he did not know the significance of references like the Great Wall of China then so he could have missed out while writing. The criticism can be deemed conjecture but there can be arguments either way.