Marko Polo and Korcula by dr. Zivan Filippi

Marko Polo experienced the cruellest destiny that his homeland, Venice, and medieval Europe could give him. Though it admired his diamonds, it neglected his discoveries. It gave him the derisive nickname "Il milione", and the word "million" was the only one which could, in some measure, express the disproportionate levels of civilization between medieval Europe and the greater world discovered by Marko Polo. Instead of honouring him as the discoverer of new trade routes, which would be of great use to the Venetian Republic and the whole of Europe, it sentenced him to keep silent about his achievements. Why do the Venetian books not speak about that shame. His book The Million was read as a collection of fantastic stories, similar to the Arabian Stories from A Thousand and One Nights. It described new and enchanting geographical regions: Persian deserts, fertile plains, wild mountain canyons of Badakhshan, Cotan rivers throwing up jade. It spoke of Mongolian steppes, the cradle of the biggest empire on earth which threatened Europe itself, enormous space and the flourishing culture of China, with its big towns. It described the well developed infrastructure, diligent and inventive inhabitants, and their art and crafts. It marvelled at the numerous fleets of sailing ships which linked the Chinese interior waters; Burma's jungles where the golden pagodas are erected, Japan with its pink pearls, which will incite the rich imagination of future explorers. It goes on to descibe the Indian archipelago, full of wonders and the beauty of mysterious scents and aromatic spices, big island-monarchies, Java and Sumatra, where the cannibals live with whom the great diplomat, Marko Polo, managed to come to terms. The sacred mountains of Ceylon with Buddha's tomb are mentioned, and the huge subcontinent of India, with its deposits of diamonds and the strong sunshine which gives birth to various uncommon sects, ascetic yogis and honest Brahmin tradesmen... .That enormous catalogue of distant regions unknown to Europe, would alone be sufficient to secure the fame of the first Traveller.

But it was only in 1426 that the Portuguese prince Pedro brought to Venice the geographical map which Marko Polo had drawn. Marko's description of Japan ("Zipangua") later led Christopher Columbus finally to the decision to depart towards the land of the rising sun in the year 1492. Columbus's notes are written in the Latin version of Marko's book The Million, which has been kept in the Colombina library in Seville. They disclose the deep interest with which he read about Polo's travels. Therefore Genoa, unlike its trade opponent, Venice, set up in its Municipio a mosaic portrait of Marko Polo vis-a-vis a similar portrait of the Genoese, Christopher Columbus; while a Catalan map dated 1375, to be found in the big Paris library, is the most complete account of Polo's geographical knowledge and the art of cartography. Another great Korculan, the naval theoretician and cartographer Vicko Palatin, was among the first in Europe to make, after his adventures in America in the second half of the 16th century, a large globe following Marko's description of Asia. He made this globe while staying in the Franciscan monastery on the island of Badija in the Korcula archipelago, which at that time was the nursery school of the geographical knowledge and art.

Marko's travel opus served as a great inspiration to many ethnographers, zoologists, botanists, geologists, climatologists, sociologists, tradesmen, administrators, diplomats and statesmen and, surely, to later travel writers and authors. Even the Persian historians drew their information from Marko's wondrous book. Marko Polo brought from China examples of wooden letters whose images were transposed on to paper. Gutenberg used them as the basis for his first printing machine.

During Marko Polo's lifetime, few people in Europe were aware of the significance of those far-reaching discoveries that he had made. But one exception was Pietro from Aband, a famous physician and philosopher, who personally knew the first Traveller, as well as John of Ypres, the abbot of saint Bertin, known as John the Long, who included Marko's Travels in his collection of historical-geographical discoveries.

But Marko Polo did receive the real recognition as the first world tourist in "The Declaration from Samarkand" on October 5th 1994. The World Tourist Organization (WTO), announced, in this declaration, on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of his return from China to Europe, its far-reaching project, the renewed discovery of the ancient Silk Road, over which the Polo's caravan was travelling. The main aim of this project was to reconstruct the historical routes between China and Europe and to open up the still insufficiently discovered lands on that route, such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenstan, Kazahstan... for European and world tourists. This would be a beginning in the modern development of these countries, as well as a renewal and renovation of cultural monuments of priceless value. The WTO appealed, in the first instance, to the governments of all countries to facilitate (in their wish for peace and cooperation among the peoples) travels for ordinary people who would be able to discover again the legendary routes of the Silk Road.

Tourist publications (newspapers, periodicals, travel books, guides...) all over the world, connect the name of Marko Polo with his birth place on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, among the magnificent waters of the southern part of the Republic of Croatia. Therefore, the postmodern tourist goes more and more frequently searches for of the real origins of Marko Polo, and that pearl of the Mediterranean, the medieval town of KORCULA.

BACK (Literary Works that Feature Marko Polo)
MARCO POLO Homepage ---- Korcula.NET