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Marco Polo Truth or Lies

Updated on June 23, 2018

The History of Marco Polo and his World Travels

I'm not going to go into details about what Marco saw or where he went - precisely because the book is so well known, even today in 2011.

Anyone can read his book - there are links to the book on Gutenberg in the resources section.

Marco Polo did not draw any maps and he used only the time taken to travel as his measurements, He did not do any actual measurements or even make any estimates for distances.

This lens is made purely to debate whether or not you think Marco Polo told the truth, or whether he lied (or exaggerated) about his travels.

Image Source - Italian stamp of Marco Polo

Marco Polo
Marco Polo

So what did Marco leave out?

Some experts say that Marco Polo never travelled all the way to China, that those stories he wrote about, are second and third hand stories gleaned from other travellers.

In which case - what did he do and where did he go for those 25 missing years? Is it possible that he (and his father and uncle) were in a jail cell somewhere with other people who told him these stories. When he got back to Venice, he is repeated these stories from memory and claimed them to be his own travels? That is one possible scenario.

Other experts say that he did go to China because some of the details are incredibly accurate and he can only have known about them because he saw them for himself.

Archaeologists say he missed out a lot of details about Chinese life that should have been commented on. Details such as the use of chopsticks, women having bound feet, the Great Wall and drinking green tea. None of those details are mentioned whatsoever. Why not?

But then Marco Polo also says at the end of the book - I have not written half of what I have seen and heard - so maybe those details were just some of what he chose not to write about.

Then there are those who say that Marco himself spoke the plain unvarnished truth, and his cell mate Rustichello - who was a writer and a romantic at heart, and who was also prone to exaggeration - maybe Rustichello exaggerated these claims, and not Marco himself?

Anyway, the question is - What do YOU believe? As stated in the book - did Marco Polo tell the truth or was he a liar?

Image source - Marco Polo - Wikipedia Commons license

Did Marco Polo really go to China?

Did Marco Polo go to China? by Frances Wood 1995
Did Marco Polo go to China? by Frances Wood 1995

Image Source - Goodreads

F. Wood's Book - Did Marco Polo Go To China?

A Critical Appraisal by I. de Rachewiltz

In this book, first published in 1995, Frances Woods states her belief (theory) that Marco Polo most likely did NOT go to China, and indeed, probably never even traveled past Constantinople. She states her reasons for making this claim.

Dr Igor de Rachewiltz is a history professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He refuted Ms Woods book by writing an article in defence of Marco Polo saying that Yes Marco Polo did go to China and lists reasons as to how and why certain omissions in Marco's book are NOT lies. You will have to read the link to find out what he said.

Mike Yamashita also went to China (in 2004) to investigate and to find out if Marco really did go to China and just how these "important omissions" could have occurred. (see videos below)

Just recently - last month in fact (August 2011) - an article appeared in the Telegraph Newspaper (of the UK) saying that archaeologists now feel that Marco Polo never actually went to China. It is far more likely, they said, that he picked up stories from other travellers.

Marco Polo Map

Marco Polo Map
Marco Polo Map

Map originally created by Encyclopedia Britannica.

I found it on this blog - My Adventure in China

Marco Polo - Truth or Lies? - National Geographic Magazine investigates

There is a 3 part episode and then the same episode is repeated as a 2 parter. This series was made and aired in 2004. But there are also other parts as well - for example the Introduction and being in Venice, as well as the Great Wall and the foot binding. The one thing that we do know is true - these are all done by the same person - Mike Yamashita.

Marco Polo - idealized as a Scholar

Marco Polo Mosaic at Genoa, Italy
Marco Polo Mosaic at Genoa, Italy

Mosaic of Marco Polo located in Genoa, Italy

Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Marco Polo was not educated. He could not read or write although he obviously had a good memory. But the Italians have idealized him as an educated scholar and traveller and they made this mosaic of him. Part of the reason why he has been idealized, is because there are very few personal facts about Marco Polo. It is this lack of personal data which makes it very difficult to ascertain what sort of character Marco Polo had - what his morals were and what previous experience he had with factual reporting.

Image source - Copyright to National Geographic Magazine 2001 .

Marco Polo - TV series - 1982

Back in 1982, a miniseries aired on TV. It starred a young actor named Ken Marshall as that historical traveller - Marco Polo. This series is now almost 30 years old. For those of you who have not seen this series - Now is your chance.

The first episode (The Prologue) is in 6 parts.

The second episode is in 4 parts.

Marco Polo - TV series - 1982 - Continued

1982 TV miniseries continued

Episode 3 - Journey to China - in 6 parts

Episode 4 - Adventures in China - in 6 parts

Marco Polo - TV series - 1982 - Continued

1982 TV series continued

Episode 5 - Court Intrigue - in 5 parts

Episode 6 - Last Days in China - in 5 parts

So where do you fall on the Marco Polo debate?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      What a magnificent lens. I loved it and all the videos.

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image


      5 years ago

      Great read!

    • mikes-cool-stuff profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting lens. As to whether I believe or not I'm not quite sure. Also thanks for liking one of my lenses.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      5 years ago from Concord VA

      Great info about Marco Polo!

    • jlshernandez profile image


      6 years ago

      I believe Marco Polo. Just because he did not remember everything does not make him a liar. Besides, I honestly believe he got the recipe for pasta from China. LOL.

    • siobhanryan profile image


      6 years ago

      I believe

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I believe him and admire him. I admire this lens too and giving it a Squid Angel blessing:)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      nice lens

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I do believe the story overall, but maybe he might have slipped a few lies here and there. Great lens!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Of course! I'm a believer in Marco polo and quite willing to overlook a little fancy or two. He was an adventurous man, and a brave one


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