MARCO POLO, 1253-1324, II

Armenia Minor—Armenia—Mount Ararat—Georgia—Mosul, Baghdad, Bussorah, Tauris—Persia—The Province of Kirman—Comadi—Ormuz—The Old Man of the Mountain—Cheburgan—Balkh—Cashmir—Kashgar—Samarcand—Kotan—The Desert—Tangun—Kara-Korum—Signan-fu—The Great Wall—Chang-tou—The residence of Kublaï-Khan—Cambaluc, now Pekin—The Emperor's fêtes—His hunting—Description of Pekin—Chinese Mint and bank-notes—The system of posts in the Empire.

Marco Polo left the town of Issus; he describes Armenia Minor as a very unhealthy place, the inhabitants of which, though once valiant, are now cowardly and wretched, their only talent seeming to lie in their capacity for drinking to excess. From Armenia Minor he went to Turcomania, whose inhabitants, though somewhat of savages, are clever in cultivating pastures and breeding horses and mules; and the townspeople excel in the manufacture of carpets and silk. Armenia Proper, that Marco Polo next visited, affords a good camping-ground to the Tartar armies during the summer. There the traveller saw Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark rested after the Deluge. He noticed that the lands bordering on the Caspian Sea afford large supplies of naphtha, which forms an important item in the trade of that neighbourhood.

When he left Armenia he took a north-easterly course towards Georgia, a kingdom lying on the south side of the Caucasus, whose ancient kings, says the legend, "were born with an eagle traced on their right shoulders." The Georgians, he describes as good archers and men of war, and also as clever in working in gold and manufacturing silk. Here is a celebrated defile, four leagues in length, which lies between the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, that the Turks call the Iron Door, and Europeans the Pass of Derbend, and here too is the miraculous lake, where fish are said to exist only during Lent. Hence the travellers descended towards the kingdom of Mosul, and arrived at the town of the same name on the right bank of the Tigris, thence going to Baghdad, the residence of the Caliph of all the Saracens. Marco Polo gives an account of the taking of Baghdad by the Tartars in 1255; mentioning a wonderful story in support of the Christian idea of Faith, "that can remove mountains;" he points out the route from this town to the Persian Gulf, which may be reached in eighteen days by the river, passing Bussorah, the country of dates.

From this point to Tauris, a Persian town in the province of Adzer-baidjan, Marco Polo's route seems to be doubtful. He takes up his narrative at Tauris, which he describes as a large flourishing town built in the midst of beautiful gardens and carrying on a great traffic in precious stones and other valuable merchandise, but its Saracen inhabitants are disloyal and treacherous. Here he seems to divide Persia geographically into eight provinces. The natives of Persia, according to him, are formidable enemies to the merchants, who are obliged to travel armed with bows and arrows. The principal trade of the country seems to be in horses and asses, which are sent to Kis or Ormuz and thence to India. The natural productions of the country are wheat, barley, millet, and grapes, which grow in abundance.

Marco Polo went next to Yezd, the most easterly town of Persia Proper; on leaving it, after a ride of seven days through magnificent forests abounding in game, he came to the province of Kirman. Here the mines yield large quantities of turquoise, as well as iron and antimony; the manufacture of arms and harness as well as embroidery and the training of falcons for hunting occupy a great number of the inhabitants. On leaving Kirman Marco Polo and his two companions set out on a nine days' journey across a rich and populous country to the town of Comadi, which is supposed to be the Memaun of the present day, and was even then sinking into decay. The country was superb; on all sides were to be seen fine fat sheep, great oxen, white as snow, with short strong horns, and thousands of domestic fowls and other birds; also there were magnificent date, orange, and pistachio trees.

After travelling for five days they entered the beautiful and well watered plain of Cormos or Ormuz, and after two days' further march they reached the shores of the Persian Gulf and the town of Ormuz, which forms the sea-port of the kingdom of Kirman. This country they found very warm und unhealthy, but rich in date and spice trees, in grain, precious stones, silk and golden stuffs, and elephants' tusks, wine made from the date and other merchandise being brought into the town ready for shipment on board ships with but one mast, which came in numbers to the port; but many were lost on the voyage to India, as they were only built with wooden pegs, not iron nails, to fasten them together.