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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