Marco Polo Goes to China

By | July 21, 2019

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Marco Polo. Source: (

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear “Marco Polo” is a swimming pool version of the children’s game "tag."  However, those who paid attention in history class will also remember that Marco Polo was the name of the Italian explorer who visited China.

Marco Polo (the explorer, not the game) was born in Venice, Italy, in 1254, the son of a wealthy merchant family. His mother died when he was just a boy and his father and his uncle, jewel merchants Niccolo and Maffeo Polo, spent most of Marco’s childhood in Asia. As a result, Polo was raised by his extended family. Niccolo and Maffeo spent time in China and, by the time they returned to Venice in 1269, had established diplomatic relations with Kublai Khan. At his request, they planned to return to China with one hundred priests and a collection of holy water.

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Grand Canal, Venice. Source: (Wikipedia)

Marco Polo was around fifteen or sixteen when his father and uncle returned to Venice. Pope Clement IV had recently passed away and the explorers waited two years for a new pope to be elected. In 1271, they gave up on waiting and began their return trip with Marco in tow. A few days later, Teobaldo of Piacenza was elected as Pope Gregory X. The Polos returned to get official credentials from the newly elected pope and, instead of the 100 priests they had hoped to recruit, two friars were assigned to accompany them. Unfortunately, even those two friars were unable to face the difficult journey and returned home shortly after beginning the expedition.