• Weird History

20 Things You Might Not Know About Marco Polo

The biography of Marco Polo tells the story of one of the most famous explorers of all time. Leaving Venice with his father and uncle, he spent 24 years going all the way from Israel to China, where he lived for 17 years. His life story involves working for the great Kublai Khan personally, surviving perilous journeys, and eventually writing one of the greatest travelogues of all time.

But who was Marco Polo? In addition to being an explorer, he was a merchant, a soldier, and a keen observer of strange cultures. He also was known to be a braggart and an exaggerator. Some modern scholars don't believe that Marco Polo wrote his famous Travels or even went to China at all. With hundreds of different versions of the book (and some that omit basic facts about life in China), it's likely that the original dictations he made are lost to history. 

Here are some interesting things you might not have known about the great Venetian writer, and the famous journey he took.
  • His Exact Birthplace and Birthdate Are Unknown

    It's generally believed that Marco Polo was born on either September 15 or 16, 1254 in the Republic of Venice. Some scholars have put forth evidence that he was born somewhere else in Europe that was under the dominion of Venice (Croatia has emerged as a possibility), but the general consensus is that he was born and raised in the city itself.
  • Marco Met His Father at Age 15

    Marco Polo's father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo left Venice for Constantinople before he was born, and Marco's mother died at some point, leaving the boy to be raised by his extended family. Little is known of Marco's childhood, except that he didn't meet his father until 1269, when the brothers returned from their long trip.
  • Exploration Was in His Blood

    Marco's father Nicollo and his uncle Maffeo were among the most successful traveling merchants in the Kingdom of Venice. Both brothers were born in 1230, and in 1254, they left Venice for Constantinople, where they lived with fellow Venetians and set up a trading post.

    In 1259 or 1260, they left Constantinople just before it was sacked, and moved their business to a city in the Crimea. Finding it under the control of the Mongols, they made their way east, and eventually found themselves in the court of Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. In 1269 or 1270, they came back to Vencie - with a request from the Khan.
  • The Polo Brothers Returned with Detailed Instructions from the Khan

    During their time in China with Kublai, the brothers apparently made quite an impression. Kublai asked them to go back carrying letters requesting that Kublai be sent 100 intelligent men “acquainted with the Seven Arts." They were also asked to bring back oil from the lamp burning at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and had gifts to present to Rome.