Marco Polo was born in Venice, Italy in 1254. His father, Niccolo, was a merchant who traded with western Asia and their family was well off.
Marco had a good education and spent a lot of his late teens travelling Asia with his father along the Silk Road. His mother died when he was very young.
The Silk Road was a trade round that went through over 4,000 miles of Asia – from Turkey to Eastern China, via India and Persia.
It helped to increase trade between different countries and spread different ideas, cultures and inventions.
The main products traded were silk cloth, tea, porcelain and spices. As the journey was so long, mostly expensive, light good were traded.
Trade on the Silk Road started during the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) in China but peaked in the Yuan dynasty, when Marco Polo travelled it.
Merchants could travel safely then because the Mongols, who ruled China at the time, controlled most of the road.
Some bandits were common, but merchants travelled in big groups with guards for protection.
Marco took four years to reach China. When he arrived, his father introduced Marco to Kublai Khan, the Emperor of China and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire.
Marco and Kublai got on well and Marco eventually became a messenger and spy for Kublai. For 17 years, Marco passed on secret information to Kublai during his travels.
Eventually the Mongol Empire collapsed and, in 1295, Marco Polo returned to Venice.
As a favour to Kublai Khan, Marco escorted one of the Khan’s daughters to Persia where she was to marry a prince.
The journey was very dangerous – of the 700 travellers, only 117 survived.
However, Marco didn’t make it to Venice. There was a war between Venice and Genoa and on the way, Marco was captured by people in Genoa and imprisoned.
While in prison, he met a writer called Rustichello da Pisa and told stories of his travels.
Rustichello turned these into a book called ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’. This book is how we know about Marco’s life.
Marco was released from prison in 1299 and made it home. Although he was not the first European to travel to China, he brought back the most information so became the main source in Europe for learning about China. These influenced other explorers, such as Christopher Columbus.
Marco Polo married Donata Badoer in 1300 and they had three daughters. He became ill when he was 69. Many doctors tried to heal him, but he died on 8 January 1324 in Venice.