Marco Polo Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Jonathan Crocker
Do you love the booms and sizzles of a good fireworks show? What about the feel of folding a five-dollar bill to put in your pocket? If so, you can thank Marco Polo. Learn about Marco Polo's life and his travels to China, where he found some of the important ideas and items we use today.

Who Is Marco Polo?

Marco Polo was a famous explorer that lived in the 13th century. He's famous for going to China and bringing back lots of things we use today. His book, The Travels of Marco Polo, which told the stories of his journey, influenced other famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus.

Marco Polo
Marco Polo in Tartar costume


Marco began his famous journey in 1271 when he was only 17 years old. He set off with his father and uncle, who had already traveled to China and met emperor Kublai Khan; the emperor had asked them to return with gifts and 100 educated men.

After leaving their hometown of Venice, they sailed to the eastern Mediterranean, stopping in places such as Jerusalem, where they picked up more gifts for Kublai Khan before continuing overland through Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains, and Persia (Iran) to the city of Hormuz, on the Persian Gulf. They were faced with a decision: take a boat to China, or keep going overland?

Going by sea was risky, so they continued overland, passing through the towering Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains before descending into western China. They followed the Silk Road route along the southern edge of the Takla Makan desert, finally arriving in Shangdu, the capital of Yuan China, in 1275. They presented Kublai Khan with sacred oil from Jerusalem and with letters from the Pope. Their journey of almost four years had taken them through some of the world's driest deserts and tallest mountains.

The Takla Makan Desert in western China
The Takla Makan Desert

Years in China

For 17 years, Marco, his father, and his uncle lived in China and worked for the emperor. Kublai Khan sent Marco on many trips throughout the empire; one trip took him as far as Myanmar in southeast Asia. But the Polos knew that they must return to Venice. The emperor was getting old. If he were to die, the next leader might not treat the Polos as kindly as Kublai Khan did.

They convinced the emperor to let them accompany a Mongol princess to Persia, where she was going to marry a Persian prince. Along with the Polos, 600 others joined in the sea voyage. By the time their ship made it to Hormuz, only 18 people were still alive, including the princess and all three Polos. The Polos continued homeward.

Marco Polo with Kublai Khan
Marco Polo with Kublai Khan

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