In the XIII century many Venetian merchants had established themselves in Constantinople, the Mediterranean terminal of commercial routes with the far East, and had become wealthy, thanks to the exchanges with Arab merchants. Among them were Niccolò and Matteo Polo, father and uncle of Marco.
In 1271, they departed taking with them Marco who was 17 years old.
Before reaching Cambaluc, today's Beijing, the three crossed countries that correspond to today’s Turkey and Iran. They overcame immense desert zones, imposing mountainous chains, verdant plateaus and the fertile pastures of Afghanistan and Pamir before arriving to the city of Kashgar, in what is today the Chinese autonomous region of Sinkiang Uighur. They followed ancient southern caravans from the basin of Tarim and through the Gobi desert, and they reached the court of Khubilai, the Gran Khan, after a trip that lasted for three and a half years.
During his journey Marco Polo notated some interesting things: the mountain of Armenia on which Noah’s Ark was said to have stopped, the presumed place of burial of the Three Kings in Persia. In western literature Marco Polo was the first to mention oil. He revealed that the "salamander", was far from the being the animal wool resistant to fire, as he believed, it was in fact a mineral (asbestos) that is extracted in the region of the Sinkiang Uighur. He told of black stones that burn (coal) that are so common in China that every day warm baths can be made. Everywhere he went, Marco Polo took note of ornaments, foods, drinks, also of religious and magic rites, works and merchandises. Entirely new for him was the paper money used in the kingdom of the Gran Khan.
The Polo family left China towards 1292. Marco said that the consignment required a 21 month trip, departing from what is today Quanzhou, stopping in Vietnam, in the Malayan Peninsula, in Sumatra and in Sri Lanka, then it followed the coast of India to reach Persia. The last trip brought them to Constantinople and finally to Venice, where Marco died in 1324.
Whether Marco Polo was indeed the protagonist of all he told or simply repeated stories heard from other travellers, his remains an important testimony of discoveries and findings of distant countries. "Neither first nor later", quoted a historian, "only one man has furnished such a massive structure of new geographical information to Europe".