Marco Polo (1254-1324) was an Italian adventurer best remembered for his extended stay in China at the court of Kublai Khan. Upon returning to Italy, he dictated the story of his adventures, and the book inspired generations of explorers.
Marco Polo was born in Venice; his father was a wealthy merchant who had traveled briefly to China. At the age of 17, Marco traveled with his father and uncle on their famous trip to the Orient, returning after a 24-year absence in which they journeyed almost 15,000 miles. The Polos traveled across Asia, sailing first to Acre, traveling by camel to Hormuz, and journeying overland until they reached the court of Kublai Khan somewhere between 1271 and 1275. Marco, because he had learned to speak four languages, became a government official for the Khan.
It was not until 1292 that the Polos were allowed to leave China, traveling to Persia in the wedding party of Kublai Khan’s nephew. It took two years to reach Hormuz, on journey that saw only eighteen survive out of an original group of six hundred.
When Marco Polo returned home, Venice was at war with Genoa. He was imprisoned and dictated his story to a fellow inmate. Released in 1299, he became a wealthy merchant in his own right. He died in 1324 and was buried at the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice. European cartography was greatly advanced by maps that Marco Polo had brought back from China.