Marco Polo - Born 1254 (probably in Venice) Died 1324 (definitely in Venice)
Marco Polo is famous as the first “westerner” to travel to China; the trouble was he wasn’t! There were two people who travelled towards China: Giovanni Carpini in 1245 and then Guillaume de Rubrouck in 1253 had gone as far as the Karakorum Pass. But more significantly, in 1266, Marco Polo’s Father and Uncle had arrived in Beijing after six years away from home; they stayed there for a year and then took another three to get back.
This tells you why it is important to write a good book about your adventures; Signore de Rubrouck, Signore Carpini, Papa Polo and Uncle Polo didn’t do this. The result; Marco is famous and they are not! Marco Polo also reckoned he missed out half the stuff he saw, if he’d put it all in it would have been a huge book and maybe not so many people would have bothered to read it!
During the time Papa and Uncle Polo spent in Beijing (about a year) they were quizzed by the Emperor, Kublai Khan, about the west and the Christian faith. They were able to converse easily as the brothers and the Emperor both spoke Turkic languages. Kublai Khan was obviously after information and the brothers were given a “visa” giving them automatic gifts of food, beds and fresh horses on their return journey and guarantee of safe passage. In return the Emperor wanted some scholars to be sent from Europe, by the Pope, to teach the Mongols and Chinese about the west. Quite what the Emperor’s objective was is not clear, as the Mongol expansion had only ceased a short while before, with the capture of China in 1264, but it is possible he was looking towards further additions to his empire. It is also possible he was just short of friends!