Why Was Marco Polo Important?

  • Marco Polo
Marco Polo
Credit: Stock Montage/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

While Marco Polo is best known in modern popular culture as the namesake for a children’s swimming pool game, the Venetian explorer was a crucial figure in world history in the years leading up to the Renaissance. His popular book, commonly called The Travels of Marco Polo — though it was originally titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) — was a lavish description of his journey through Central Asia and China in the late 13th century. 

Polo’s travelogue was much more than an account of the paths he took across the globe; he also described the people and environments he encountered along the way. By doing so, he introduced his European audience to Asian cultures that were previously unknown to them, and planted the seeds of the modern era’s global perspective. But the book was also filled with exaggerations, supposed run-ins with mythical creatures, and supernatural events. Those aspects, combined with a dearth of historical records to corroborate some of Polo’s more tangible claims, have led some scholars to doubt that he ever made it to China at all. Let’s make some sense of this famed explorer and his influential book.

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