Marco Polo, iconic Italian explorer
While Renaissance Italy was all about explorations of the mind, the centuries before were a little more literal in their journeys of discovery. One of the nation’s most famous explorers was Marco Polo, who, in the late 13th century, became one of the first Europeans to explore Asia in an epic 24-year adventure.Starting in Venice in 1260, he set sail for the Middle East, crossing mountains and deserts to reach mainland Asia on what became known as the Silk Road.
He eventually reached Mongolia, after being one of the first Europeans to set foot in China, and became a confidant of Kublai Khan, Mongolian founder of one of the region’s biggest dynasties.
Marco Polo’s expedition was chronicled in the narrative “The Travels of Marco Polo”, drawing from tales the explorer told to the author while they spent time in prison together in Genoa. Some historians question the authenticity of such tales, which were taken at face value by the author. One thing’s for sure, whatever Marco Polo actually achieved in Asia, his pioneering spirit inspired a generation of explorers, including Christopher Columbus, who went on to make some extraordinary discoveries of his own.