THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO
When the entrepreneur and Italian traveller Marco Polo returned home to Venice from a long trip he spent in China, many found it difficult to believe his stories about the mysterious lands he visited. Under the rule of Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler and founder of the Yuan dynasty, Marco apparently spent twenty years in the region working as an advisor for the emperor. At the time of his travel with his father and uncle in the mid-11th century, Venice was one of the wealthiest southern European states with a population of 100,000 citizens. So those who knew Marco found it difficult to imagine there was a faraway empire, which is so much grander and far more powerful than Venice. By then, Marco’s family had established a deep and profound relationship with Kublai Khan and the Mongol ruler issued them with his own personal seal to ensure their safe passage through his land. They were, therefore, able to travel and trade freely between Venice and China. In a way, enterprise was a national duty for Venetians because the survival of the island depended on the volume of trade docking on its shores.
Hence, Marco like all other wealthy Venetian boys received an education on entrepreneurship with a focus on maths and finance to facilitate his gradual takeover of the family business. And at just 17 years old, he found himself travelling through the vast arid terrain of the Middle-East and Asia. Along the way he learned how to negotiate with different tribes and cultures. This guaranteed a safe passage for himself and his family in a mysterious, yet mystical frontier. In his book - “The Journey of Marco Polo” - the Venetian traveller notes in detail geographical facts about the terrain, local traditions and stories related to him by people he came across, which makes it difficult to believe that what he is saying is a weave of imagination. Indeed, among the communities he came across there were many liars who told fibs, both to scare and delight foreigners. But despite the inaccuracies, Marco’s account about the royal road intercepted every few miles by relay stations with inns where travellers could eat, sleep and switch to fresh rides, placed him right at the heart of the Chinese Empire. This advanced system of communication through an efficient courier service, using a squadron of super-fast horsemen, was inherited from ancient Persia. Also, the canals which loop the garden city of Suzhou impressed the European explorer so much, that he labelled Suzhou the "Venice of the Orient" when he arrived there in the 13th century.