Marco Polo's Travels & Routes

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  • 0:08 Marco! Polo!
  • 1:15 The Travels of Marco Polo
  • 2:50 Home at Last
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will become an explorer, just like Marco Polo, as you discover the history of the famous adventurer's travels across Asia. Then, test your understanding about the Renaissance, the Mongol Empire, and Marco Polo with a brief quiz.

Marco! Polo!

Marco! Polo! Marco! Polo! Hey - it's Marco Polo!

Marco Polo was more than the inspiration for a summertime pool game. He was a merchant from the Italian trade city of Venice who lived during a time when the Mongol Empire had conquered Asia. This opened up new trade routes between Europe and China because merchants could access the trade goods of China without having to cross a hundred smaller kingdoms that either taxed or killed foreigners. The result was a period of wealth flowing into Europe that resulted in lots of art, education, and urban growth called the Renaissance.

Marco Polo became involved with the new trade routes through his father and his uncle, who were also merchants. These two men, named Niccoló and Maffeo, were some of the first to travel to China, where they met the Mongol emperor of China, named Kublai Khan. Niccoló and Maffeo returned to Venice in 1269, and in 1271, they left for Asia once again; this time with the 17-year-old Marco Polo. Marco Polo was not the first European to travel to China, but he was the first one who left behind a detailed narrative of his trip.

The Travels of Marco Polo

There is a lot about Marco Polo's travels that we may never know. Marco Polo told his story to another merchant, who then wrote it down, so some details are missing. According to the story, the Polos first sailed across the Mediterranean Sea from Venice to Acre, a city in Israel. From there, the three men rode camels to the Persian port city called Hormuz, in modern-day Iran. The Polos wanted to sail to China but couldn't find good enough ships, so they continued overland towards China. After roughly three years, they reached the palace of Kublai Khan in the city of Shangdu in modern-day Mongolia.

Marco Polo stayed in China for almost 20 years. During this time, he toured the eastern coast of the Mongol Empire; discussed European culture, religion, and economy with Kublai Khan; and was probably appointed as a government official. Marco Polo described seeing great salt mines, paper money, and other novelties of China. The Polos became very close to Kublai Khan, and the Mongol emperor actually refused to let them leave China.

Eventually, however, Kublai let the Polos leave China as part of a wedding party heading to celebrate the marriage of Kublai's great-nephew, the ruler of Persia. The Polos left China in a fleet of 14 ships from the southern coast. They sailed first to Singapore, then Sumatra, Jaffna, in modern-day Sri Lanka, then the Pandyan Empire in modern-day India, and then up the Arabian Sea back to the Persian city, Hormuz. From there, they travelled by land to a port in modern-day Turkey, and sailed home to Venice in 1295. The entire journey lasted 24 years and travelled almost 15,000 miles.

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