Marco Polo and his Description of the World

J.A. Boyle describes how the Venetian traveller’s account of his travels sometimes tried his friends’ credulity.

Marco Polo wearing a Tatar outfit, date of print unknown.
Marco Polo wearing a Tatar outfit, date of print unknown.

Marco Polo is perhaps the most famous traveller who ever lived, and the fame he has always enjoyed is amply justified by the immensity of the territories whose very existence he was the first to reveal to the Christian West. His achievement has been eloquently summed up by the greatest of his commentators, Sir Henry Yule.

He was the first Traveller,’ says Yule, ‘to trace a route across the whole longitude of Asia, naming and describing kingdom after kingdom which he had seen with his own eyes; the Deserts of Persia, the flowering plateaux and wild gorges of Badakhshan, the jade-bearing rivers of Khotan, the Mongolian Steppes, cradle of the power that had so lately threatened to swallow up Christendom, the new and brilliant Court that had been established at Cambaluc: The first Traveller to reveal China in all its wealth and vastness, its mighty rivers, its huge cities, its rich manufactures, its swarming population, the inconceivably vast fleets that quickened its seas and its inland waters; to tell us of the nations on its border with all their eccentricities of manners and worship.’

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