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World Explorers: Marco Polo

6 minutes

(female narrator) In the 13th century, a teenager from Venice named Marco Polo journeyed across the vast continent of Asia, visiting far Eastern lands no European had seen before. Marco Polo returned with amazing tales that inspired generations of travelers and influenced the course of European history.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Marco Polo

(Describer) As a map zooms in on Italy, the pointer on a timeline goes to 1269.

When Marco Polo was growing up in Venice, the most prosperous city on the European continent, his father, Niccolò, and Uncle, Maffeo, were away on a 10-year expedition, trading European goods for silk, furs, spices, and jewels from Asia. They returned in 1269 and told Marco Polo remarkable stories of their adventures on the overland system of trade routes later known as the Silk Road. The Silk Road connected China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, the Horn of Africa, and Arabia. The brothers filled young Marco's imagination with descriptions of strange animals, colorful tapestries, fragrant spices, musical instruments, and fireworks. The two brothers also told him about Kublai Khan, the fifth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire and grandson of the legendary Genghis Khan. The Mongol Empire was the largest empire the world had ever seen, yet it was largely a mystery to Europeans. Kublai Khan was eager to learn about Christianity and asked the brothers to return East with scriptures to teach him more. At the age of 17, Marco Polo had the opportunity to join the expedition to Asia and meet the Great Khan. On this dangerous journey, he might be gone for years, if he made it back at all. But Polo did not hesitate. He was eager to go. For three years, the travelers made their way through vast deserts, high mountain passes, and other difficult terrain, living with people of various religions and cultures along the way. Very few Europeans had ever stayed among the Mongols of Central Asia. Polo learned that Mongols were excellent riders and hunted with falcons. Both men and women braided their hair and they lived in yurts.

(Describer) Big round huts.

Finally, around 1275, three and a half years and six thousand miles after leaving Europe, the explorers arrived at Kublai Khan's summer palace at Shangdu. Marco Polo was dazzled by palace life and the Great Khan took a liking to the smart and enthusiastic traveler. Polo described ceremonies, customs, and systems of trade. The idea of paper currency, rather than gold and silver, astonished him. He was also amazed at their ability to communicate over great distances. Important messages were delivered by riders carrying a special tablet with the sign of the gyrfalcon. About every 25 miles, the rider would sound his horn and a fresh horse would be provided. Polo claimed couriers could travel 300 miles a day in this manner. Polo learned several languages and was sent on special missions to China, Burma, and India. Many of the places Polo saw were not seen again by Europeans for hundreds of years. When it was time to return home, Kublai Khan gave them a golden tablet, a sign authorizing them to be given any assistance they needed on the way. After a difficult journey by sea, the three arrived safely in Venice in the winter of 1295. Three years later, Marco Polo was captured during a war with the rival city of Genoa. In prison, Polo's stories about his travels fascinated a fellow prisoner named Rustichello of Pisa. Rustichello, a writer of fanciful tales, convinced Polo to let him write down his recollections. The book, "Il Milione," known in English as "The Travels of Marco Polo," became one of the best known in medieval Europe. Few believed all the stories were true, but later expeditions supported the validity of most of Polo's claims. All in all, Marco Polo's journey through Asia lasted 24 years. He traveled farther there than any European before him. Returning to share his mesmerizing, detailed descriptions of what he saw, "The Travels of Marco Polo" became an important resource for explorers who followed in his footsteps, as well as historians. And it has inspired generations of adventurers to this day, securing Marco Polo's place as perhaps the greatest overland traveler of all time. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Marco Polo. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

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While still a teenager, Venetian explorer Marco Polo set off to explore parts of Asia. He followed in the footsteps of his uncle and father and journeyed over 6000 miles from Venice. During his travels, he learned many new languages. Part of the "World Explorers" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 6 minutes

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