Marco Polo: travel writer fraud

Did Marco Polo exaggerate his travels?As a child, I was fascinated by stories about Marco Polo. History told us that the 13th Century Italian merchant and explorer famously traveled to the Far East, where he witnessed the wonders of Chinese and Mongolian cultures, and even served as an ambassador to the court of Kublai Kahn. For more than 24 years, Marco wandered throughout Asia, where he traded with the locals and became intimately familiar with their way of life.

Eventually, Marco returned to Venice, where he mesmerized people with tales of his far-flung adventures. Those stories would later be documented in a book entitled Description of the World, a work that was incredibly popular, even long after Polo’s death in 1324. Many historians consider it to be amongst the first travel books ever written and it helped to cement Marco’s stats as a legendary figure in history. So much so, that 700 years after it was first published, we still revel in the tales of Polo’s fantastic travels.

But what if the famous merchant wasn’t exactly honest about his exploits? What if he hadn’t traveled as far and wide as he claimed in those tales? What if Marco Polo was a travel fraud?

That’s exactly what archaeologists have now come to believe after pouring through Description of the World and lining up what Polo described in the text with what we now know about historical events and places. In fact, according to a story published in The Daily Telegraph a few days ago, historians now believe that Marco Polo never even went to China. Instead, they think that he picked up his stories from Persian merchants that he dealt with directly along the Black Sea. Polo may have then taken those stories, embellished them a bit, adding in his own details for good measure.For example, when describing the fleet of ships that Kublai Khan used on his failed attempt to invade Japan in 1281, Polo claims they had five masts, when archaeologists know that they had just three. Something he could easily have forgotten or overlooked you say? Agreed. But his book doesn’t mention the Great Wall of China at all, nor does he make even a passing reference to drinking tea or using chopsticks while visiting that country. Marco also uses a variety of Persian words to describe locations in China as well, which also indicates that he may have been getting his stories second-hand.

Dr. Frances Wood, the head of the Chinese section of the British Library, also says that there was nothing from China ever found amongst the Polo family’s possessions and that throughout his book, Marco rarely mentions that he witnessed something first hand. She believes that he actually came across a Persian guide book on China in his travel and simply used that for the basis of his tales.

So, let me get this straight. Marco Polo not only helped to launch the travel writing industry, he also became one of its first writers to plagiarize and exaggerate his content? This guy really was ahead of his time.

Endangered spaces: Kashgar’s Old City

Kashgar is an ancient city in the western part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. It’s origins date back more than 2000 years, when it was an important trade stop on the Silk Road. Over the centuries it has been visited by the likes of Ghenghis Khan and Marco Polo, amongst many others, and it has a rich history as a trade outpost.

Today, Kashgar is no longer the focal point of a major trade route, but it is a fantastic tourist destination, with history around every corner and down every narrow street. More than 220,000 people live and work there, but according to this story, from the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, the Chinese government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to demolish the historic Old City in Kashgar to make way for modern structures, which will take the place of centuries old buildings, many of which are still inhabited by artisans and craftsman.

When the demolition begins next year, more than 85% of Kashgar’s Old City will be destoryed, with thousands of inhabitants being relocated to newer, safer buildings. When the project is complete, Kashgar will practically be a completely new city, and the unique and intresting historical sections will be almost completely gone. The question is, when they are gone, is there any reason for travelers to still make the journey to the city?

If you’re an adventurous traveler who enjoys visiting unique, historical places, and you haven’t made it to Kashgar yet, you may want to book a trip in the next few months. The days are numbered for the Old City, and soon Kashgar will be just like so many other modern cities in China.

Epic round-the-world cruise follows in the wake of famous explorers

In March of 2010, an adventure cruise of epic proportions will get underway from Singapore that will send travelers on a round the world expedition, following in the footsteps of some of history’s most revered explorers.

Cruise West’s Voyages of the Great Explorers will send 120 luck passengers on a 335 day cruise aboard the Spirit of Oceanus, the flagship of the Cruise West fleet. Departing from Singapore on March 6, 2010, the ship will sail west, and eventually return to its starting destination on February 3, 2011. In between, passengers will be treated to 24 individual voyages, encompassed by six defined “chapters”.

Each of these six chapters correspond to a historical figure who explored the world by sea. The first chapter follows the path of Marco Polo, while the second takes the route of Odysseus and the Phoenicians merchants. Subsequent chapters follow the adventures of Lief Eriksson, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and Ferdinand Magellan. Each cruise within each chapter will follow historical routes and offer insights into what the explorers experienced as they went about their own voyages.

Through the course of the cruise, travelers will experience 242 ports of call spread across 59 countries. They’ll aslo visit 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites, cross 14 seas and oceans, and traverse the Suez, Corinth, and Panama Canals.

So how much will this epic cruise set you back? Good question! You can book any single cruise or combination of cruises starting at $4995. But if you want to do the whole thing, spending all 335 days circumnavigating the globe, it’ll set you back a cool $233,995. I wonder what Marco Polo would think of that.

For more information on the cruise read the press release here.