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Venetian merchant and adventurer Marco Polo traveled from Europe to Asia from 1271 to 1295. He wrote Il Milione, known in English as The Travels of Marco Polo.
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Marco Polo was an adventurer and merchant from Italy who eventually left Italy and served under the Chinese ruler Kubla Khan for 20 years. When he returned to his homeland, Marco Polo brought the first taste of Asian culture to Europe.
The full biography of explorer Marco Polo.
Legendary explorer Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in a sea town in Italy and began sailing as a teenager. Columbus believed that sailing west would be a faster way to get to India. In August of 1492, Columbus set sail.
Believing that he knows a better way to get to China, Columbus finally convinced the Spanish Queen to fund his expedition. However, she only gave him three small ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
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The Polos had originally planned to be gone for only a few years. However, they were away from Venice for more than 23 years. Debate has swirled among historians as to whether Marco ever really made it to China. There is no evidence outside his famous book that he traveled so far east. Yet, his knowledge of the culture and its customs are hard to dismiss. His later account told of Khan's extensive communication system, which served as the foundation for his rule. Marco's book, in fact,
devotes five pages to the elaborate structure, describing how the empire's information highway efficiently and economically covered millions of square miles.
Khan's acceptance of the Polos offered the foreigners unparalleled access to his empire. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in the leader's Court. Marco, too, impressed Khan, who thought highly of the young man's abilities as a merchant. Marco's immersion into the Chinese culture resulted in him mastering four languages.
Khan eventually employed Marco as a special envoy. As a result, he sent Marco into far-flung areas of Asia never before explored by Europeans. Burma, India, Tibet and other areas were among the places that Marco ventured into. With him, as always, was a stamped metal packet from Khan himself that served as his official credentials from the powerful leader. As the years wore on, Marco was promoted for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city, then later, Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council. At one point, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.
From his travels, Marco amassed not only great knowledge about the Mongol empire, but incredible wonder. He marveled at the empire's use of paper money, an idea that had failed to reach Europe, and was in awe of its economy and scale of production. Marco's later stories showed him to be an early anthropologist and ethnographer. His reporting offers little about himself or his own thoughts, but instead gives the reader a dispassionate reporting about a culture he had clearly grown fond of.
Finally, after 17 years in Khan's court, the Polos decided it was time to return to Venice. Their decision was not one that pleased Khan, who'd grown to depend on the men. In the end, he acquiesced to their request with one condition: They escort a Mongol princess to Persia, where she was to marry a Persian prince.
Traveling by sea, the Polos left with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. The journey proved harrowing, and many perished as a result of storms and disease. By the time the group reached Persia's Port of Hormuz, just 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive. Later, in Turkey, Genoese officials appropriated three-quarters of the family's wealth. After two years of travel, the Polos reached Venice. They'd been gone for more than two decades, and their return to their native land undoubtedly had its difficulties. Their faces looked unfamiliar to their family and they struggled to speak their native tongue.
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Throughout the centuries, brave explorers have fearlessly traveled the globe and beyond to discover new lands, people, animal species, riches and glory. Ferdinand Magellan of Portugal proved the world is round with his mission to sail around the world. His fellow countryman Vasco da Gama commanded the first European ship around the southern tip of Africa to reach India by sea. Norseman Leif Eriksson is regarded as the first European to reach North America, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus, who is credited with discovering the “New World” of the Americas. Juan Ponce de León scoured Puerto Rico and Florida in his quest for the fountain of youth. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark blazed new trails during their Corps of Discovery Expedition across the western half of the United States. Traveling to new heights of discovery were mountain climber Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the peak of Mount Everest, and U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. These intrepid explorers and more have made an indelible mark on human history. See all Explorers.
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