MARCO POLO, 1253-1324, I

On landing there, Nicolo was met by news of the death of his wife, and of the birth of his son, who had been born shortly after his departure in 1254; this son was the celebrated Marco Polo. The two brothers waited at Venice for the election of the Pope, but at the end of two years, as it had not taken place, they thought they could no longer defer their return to the Emperor of the Mongols; accordingly they started for Acre, taking Marco Polo with them, who could not then have been more than seventeen. At Acre they had an interview with the legate Theobald, who authorized them to go to Jerusalem and there to procure some of the sacred oil. This mission accomplished, the Venetians returned to Acre and asked the legate to give them letters to Kublaï-Khan, mentioning the death of Pope Clement IV.; he complied with their request, and they returned to Laïas or Issus. There, to their great joy, they learnt that the legate Theobald had just been made Pope with the title of Gregory X., on the 1st of September, 1271. The newly-elected Pope sent at once for the Venetian envoys, and the King of Armenia placed a galley at their disposal to expedite their return to Acre. The Pope received them with much affection, and gave them letters to the Emperor of China; he added two preaching friars, Nicholas of Vicenza and William of Tripoli, to their party, and gave them his blessing on their departure. They went back to Laïas, but had scarcely arrived before they were made prisoners by the soldiers of the Mameluke Sultan Bibars, who was then ravaging Armenia. The two preaching friars were so discouraged at this outset of the expedition that they gave up all idea of going to China, and left the two Venetians and Marco Polo to prosecute the journey together as best they could.

Marco Polo
Marco Polo.

Here begins what may properly be called Marco Polo's travels. It is a question if he really visited all the places that he describes, and it seems probable that he did not; in fact, in the narrative written at his dictation by Rusticien of Pisa it is stated "Marco-Polo, a wise and noble citizen of Venice, saw nearly all herein described with his own eyes, and what he did not see he learnt from the lips of truthful and credible witnesses;" but we must add that the greater part of the kingdoms and towns spoken of by Marco Polo he certainly did visit. We will follow the route he describes, simply pointing out what the traveller learnt by hearsay, during the important missions with which he was charged by Kublaï-Khan. During this second journey the travellers did not follow exactly the same road as on the first occasion of their visit to the Emperor of China. They had lengthened their route by passing to the north of the celestial mountains, but now they turned to the south of them, and though this route was shorter than the other, they were three years and a half in accomplishing their journey, being much impeded by the rains and the difficulty of crossing the great rivers. Their course may be easily followed with the help of a map of Asia, as we have substituted the modern names in place of the ancient ones used by Marco Polo in his narrative.