Marco Polo

Turistički simbol Korčule

The greatest traveller of all times, Marco Polo, was born, according to many serious sources (including Encyclopaedia Britannica – the latest edition from 2003), in Korčula on January 8, 1254.

As a 17-year-old boy he embarked with his father Nikola and uncle Mato, famous merchants, on a great journey along the Silk Road to the court of mighty Mongolian ruler Kublai Khan. His looks and intelligence impressed the most powerful ruler in the world at the time and he admitted him into the Mongolian diplomatic service where he achieved enviable success. The Polos came back to Europe in 1295 and they lived in Venice where they continued to practice trade, although they had already gotten rich on their long journey across the Far East.

Marco Polo fought in the greatest naval battle of the Middle Ages on September 7, 1298 as the commander of a Venetian galley. It was the battle between Venice and Genoa, which took place at Korčula. In the cruel naval battle 7000 Venetians were killed and 7400 taken captive. This was a defeat for Venice which took a long time to recover from. Amongst the captives there was Marco Polo of Korčula who, after four days in the dungeon in Korčula, spent a year in captivity in Genoa. There he dictated his adventures and experiences in China to his cell mate Rustichiano da Pisa in Provence French. It turned into the famous travel book Miracles of the World, printed on parchment in several dozen copies because there was no paper yet invented in Europe.

This book by Polo revealed to the backward Europe of the time a developed and mighty Chinese civilisation and many Marco’s annotations on things and occurrences in China seemed like playful imagination of a talented writer. He spoke, among other things, about the town of Kinsai with 10000 bridges and heated streets with fairytale palaces and gardens, the postal system with horse carriages functioning extremely efficiently, paper money, oil as energy source, miraculous medicinal herbs, rich cloths of all kinds, colours and designs, finding places for gold and diamonds, spices, unusual animals, warfare and ruling techniques, fighting against inflation and counterfeiting by an inerasable royal seal – things Europe couldn’t even dream of.

Marco’s book “Miracles of the World” was read in royal courts and noble mansions with great joy and interest and today it is deemed a greatest travel book in world literature. Its Italian title is Il millione (Million), probably because of the large numbers Marco used in describing his experiences and the English title is The Travels of Marco Polo. It has served as a model to numerous modern novels (Colerus, Jennings, Sharp, Griffiths), plays, operas, films and musicals (Duka).

His friends asked Marco Polo on his deathbed why he had written and told so many untruths, and he had shortly answered: ” I haven’t written a half of what I had seen and experienced because I had known you wouldn’t believe me.” Marco Polo has become Korčula’s legend and its most recognisable image. As a man of Korčula, he has been the topic of many magazines, newspapers and documentary films (film The Historical Battle of Marco Polo, directed by Baldo Čupić, was awarded the best prize at the world documentary film festival in New York in 2001).

The Tourist Office of the Town of Korčula has founded the International Centre of Marco Polo for research and promotion of the life and work of this first tourist and a man far ahead of his time, who led a most interesting life.