Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) was an Italian merchant traveller from Venice, who recorded his travels in Livres des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World, also known as The Travels of Marco Polo). This account did much to introduce Europe to Central Asia and Chinese culture.
Marco Polo learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle, who travelled through Asia and met Kublai Khan. In 1271, the three embarked on a journey which would lead to 17 years spent in China. From his travels, Polo amassed great knowledge of the Mongol Empire. He marvelled at the use of paper money, and was in awe of its economy and scale of production.
Soon after returning to Venice in 1295, war broke out with the rival city of Genoa. While in command of a ship, Polo was captured and imprisoned. It was during this period of time that he dictated stories of his travels to a cellmate. In 1299 he was released, and went on to become a wealthy merchant. While his writings were published in French, Italian, and Latin, few readers allowed themselves to believe his tales of strange lands far away.
Although he was not the first European to reach China, Marco Polo’s detailed account of his experiences was ground breaking for its time. These writings went on to inspire Christopher Columbus and many other travellers. In the centuries since his death Marco Polo has received recognition that was not given during his life time, as much of his journey of discovery has been verified.