Good morning, we are going to look at the story of Marco Polo over three episodes in the series Marco Polo: A Very Modern Journey. The run time for this documentary is 47:38 and is called Another World. This documentary has English subtitles.
Marco Polo journeyed the far reaches of the Mongol Empire. He started in 1271 and his journals reveal an exotic world of riches. How could he have done it? What did he learn about the east? How would his journey look today? Professor Quguang Zhao follows in Marco Polo’s footsteps. Follow the professor as he begins his journey from Venice to the East. What will the professor learn about Marco Polo?
Professor Zhao begins his journey in Venice where Marco Polo lived and set out on his journey east. He was not the first professor to find the explorer in Venice. Professor Zhao is the first to explore Marco Polo in Venice from China. He has studied Marco Polo all his life, even when it was forbidden. Now today, he wants to go face to face with a man who was dead for over 700 years.
Finding Marco Polo is not going to be simple. Professor Zhao meets up with another professor who is an expert in Marco Polo and a Chinese specialist. Marco was between seventeen and twenty years old when he made the journey to China. He was also the first to write about China. Professor Zhao then strolls the streets of Venice and contemplates who Marco Polo would be today. Would he be a student? A young man in Northern Italy? Who was the real Marco Polo?
Marco Polo was seventeen when he traveled. The Holy War in the Middle East was winding down and coming to a bloody conclusion. However, it was the Mongol Empire that was a threat. They had made their way to Moscow and Kyiv. In doing so, they were creating the greatest land empire the world had ever seen. Eventually, they made their way to the Gates of Vienna. However, the Muslim Army put a stop to the Mongol Expansion in Jerusalem. Marco was going to the Mongol Empire with his father and uncle. The Polos had traveled to the Mongol Empire before and were making a return trip to the court of Kublai Khan.
Marco sailed with his father and uncle east. They ended up in the Holy Land in the city of Acre. Acre was still holding on as a hub of the Venice trading empire. The Muslim armies were still looking to conquer the city. It was the last toehold on the Asian continent. Acre was an important place as it was the gateway between the Mediterranean and Asia. It was here they would meet the pope who gave them his blessing for the journey. Professor Zhao contemplates that Marco Polo was a teenage nobody who became somebody. He had connections between both the east and west.
Marco Polo was being drawn into a mission. The Pope and the Great Khan were sending messages to each other. They had a common enemy the Muslims. Pulling off this task would be a challenge. Would the Polos be able to take on the challenge? From Jerusalem, the Polos went north and traveled through Turkey. This was territory owned by the Mongols but it was not the most direct route to Kublai Kahn’s court. The Polos would witness the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols. The Mongols massacred the people in Baghdad. The rivers ran red with blood. The Polos continue to journey east, trying to avoid war where they could. However, Marco Polo writes that are robbers and bad characters on these roads.
Professor Zhao continues his search for Marco Polo. Why did he travel east? Was he a spy? Was he a merchant? Or was he a special envoy for the Pope? Tune into the rest of this episode to find out more about the journey of Marco Polo.
I am not sure how much I liked the mixing of modern life and history in this documentary. I think it would have been a better episode if the Professor and the other historians focused strictly on history. This would be one episode to skip because of the mixing of modernity and history.
It is the 13th Century and Marco Polo is going to embark on a voyage to China. However, doubts exist that he made it to China. The scale of his adventures defies belief and his account becomes a best seller of the Middle Ages. Is there legitimate proof that Marco Polo was in China? Even on his death bed, he hinted that he had only told half the story. Today, historians are looking at the documents to prove that he was there. Who was the real Marco Polo?
It is 1298, and Genoa and Venice are at war. Marco Polo, a Venetian Merchant is arrested and ends up in a Genoese jail. Here he is imprisoned with an author of chivalric romances. Marco entertains this author with his travel tales. The author is fascinated by the tales and together they put Marco Polo’s tales in a book. What if these tales were hearsay?
One historian doubt that Marco Polo made his way past Constantinople. Here he would have met a variety of merchants who did make their way to China. These merchants would have told Marco their tales. Marco would have passed those tales off as his own. So was Marco Polo a plagiarist? Other historians disagree with that assessment. They go even further and turn to the Chinese sources to match what Marco Polo said. Even back then he was called a braggart as nobody believed him. Even the house where he lived is called “Braggart’s Court.”
One historian turns to the Venetian archives to see what they have to say about Marco Polo. Marco Polo was the most famous merchant in Venice. He was seventeen when he went on his first voyage to eastern Asia. His father and his uncle had traveled these routes before. They had gone to Mongolia and met with Kublai Khan. On one journey, the Kublai Khan had expressed interest in Christianity, so he sent Marco Polo’s father and uncle back to Venice to bring back priests. To ensure that the pair made it back safely with the priests, they were sent with currier tablets. These tablets belonged to Kublai Khan and would have ensured safe passage. These served as ambassadorial passports for the Mongolian Empire. Did these tablets exist? Historians turn to the archives to find out.
The first step of the journey back to Mongolia and the court of Kublai Khan was the Holy Land. Here Marco Polo would meet the newly elected pope. The pope sent along with two monks and a vial containing a couple of drops of oil that belonged to the lamps that burned at the tomb of Christ. One historian pokes holes at Marco Polo’s journey pointing out that there was no pope at the time and the Vatican letters. However, Marco Polo provided the names of the two monks in his story. The two monks fled, fearing for their lives. Marco Polo, his uncle, and his father continued to press on. They traveled over the deserts, on the Silk Road and ran into bandits.
Marco Polo describes the trail he took. One historian points out the gaps in Marco Polo’s record during this journey. He does not mention the Great Wall. It would have been a feature that Marco Polo would have seen. However contemporary sources at the time also fail to mention the wall as well as maps at the time overlook the wall. The first appearance of the wall was on a 16th Century map.
After three years, Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle arrived at the court of Kublai Khan. He had just declared himself Emperor of China, unifying China once again under one Emperor once again. It is here, Marco steps back and highlights Kublai Khan. He talks about how Kublai Khan dressed and the clothing customs in the Imperial Court.
This is a German-produced documentary with English narration. This was a fascinating watch and tells an excellent story of Marco Polo. I thoroughly enjoyed the counterpoints to the assertion that Marco Polo did not make his way to China. At times I felt that particular historian was condescending. This would be a documentary to show in a history class and it would be a good documentary to show to an English class on how to debate.
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