Marco Polo was born in 1254 to a wealthy merchant family in, it is believed Venice, Italy.
He is famous for a book known affectionately as ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’, about his travels across Asia. Although he was not the first westerner to visit China, he was the first to chronicle his travels.
Little is known of his childhood, although much of it is believed to have been in Venice.
Following the death of his mother, Marco was raised by an aunt and uncle and received a good education.
At the age of fifteen, he was to meet his father for the first time.
His father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo set off on a trading voyage before Marco was born, and didn’t return until 1269 when Marco was fifteen.
They spent these years travelling through Asia and they became very wealthy men.
In 1271 Marco, aged seventeen embarked on a trip to Asia with his father and Uncle. This trip was to last twenty-four years.
It is these twenty-four years that became ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’.
It took three years for the travellers to reach China, and they visited many great cities on the way. Marco became a confidante of the Mongol leader of China, Kublai Khan and he served in his court for the next seventeen years.
He finally returned to Venice a very wealthy man in 1295.
At this time, Venice was at war with the independent Italian state of Genoa. Marco joined this war but was captured and imprisoned.
In prison, he met fellow inmate and writer Rusticello de Pisa, and while imprisoned Marco dictated his travels to Rusticello.
This was the first major insight into life in Asia and the detailed written account became very popular, spreading across Europe.
The writings were divided into 4 books:
1. Describes the land of the Middle East and Central Asia. These he travelled through on his way to China.
2. Concentrates on China itself and the court of Kublai Khan.
3. Covers coastal areas of Japan, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.
4. Describes northern areas like Russia and also recent wars within Asia.
Marco Polo was released from prison in August 1299, returning to Venice.
He married Donata Badoer, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and had three daughters, Fantina, Bellela and Moretta.
Due to his wealth, it is believed he financed further expeditions although he himself did not leave the venetian provinces again.
In 1323 an illness confined Marco to bed. While confined to bed he spent his time putting all his affairs in order.
He died on 8 January 1324, leaving a legacy that has been read the world over.