Strange stories

Was Marco Polo really in China?

(Published in GralsWelt 69/2012)

A common saying of my history teacher was: "That's how it is in mythology, that's what Homer told us - but in history you never know what is true and what is only fictitious."

The great traveler - a braggart?

We all got to school from the world traveler Marco Polo (1254–1324) who, as the companion of his father and his uncle, traveled from Venice across Asia to Beijing to the court of Kubilai Chan (1215–1294) came, the Mongol ruler of China. There the intelligent young Venetian caught the attention of the emperor, who took him into his service and had him touring large parts of the huge Chinese empire on imperial orders.

After two adventurous decades at the imperial court, the three Venetians finally found a way to travel home. They arrived in 1295 safe and sound and with great wealth, in the form of precious stones, in their hometown, where their relatives had difficulty recognizing them.

It was lucky for historiography that Marco was captured by Genoa in a war between Genoa and Venice in 1298/99. Because there he dictated his travel memories to a compatriot.

They stopped in Venice Marco Polo for a braggart and ridiculed him as "Messer Milione", since his descriptions of the Chinese empire and its huge cities seemed all too untrustworthy to the Venetians. Even today, “Marco Milione” or “il milione” is a popular mockery that should not be missing on carnival parades.

Historians held Marco Polos Report for centuries for a reliable source; Some inconsistencies or gross errors were attributed to the fact that Marco believed unreliable witnesses when describing areas that he had not visited himself. What he had seen himself, however, he seemed to describe quite honestly. But in the last few decades historians have had serious doubts as to whether Marco Polo was really further east than the Black Sea.

A questionable "description of the world"

Presumably the author of the famous “Description of the World” actually resorted to foreign sources without ever having been to China.

What leaves modern researchers to the China trip Marco Polos doubt? Several facts stand out:

• In Chinese sources there are no references to the presence of the Polos, which would have been expected if Marco had even remotely played the role he reported at court. Even a long guest stay by the three foreign merchants in China should be noted in the chronicles.

• Marco Polo nowhere mentions that the Chinese drink tea, which at the time must have seemed remarkable to a Westerner.

• On his alleged travels, he had to cross the Great Wall of China several times. Why doesn't he mention them?

• He did not notice the old Chinese bad habit of constricting women's feet. Did he only have contacts with Mongols, not with Chinese?

• Nowhere does he speak of the Chinese script.


The “Description of the World” is not a travelogue and is also not suitable as a travel guide. Seasoned travelers who tried Marco Polos Following traces had to give up this project without exception.

Maybe has Marco Polos Compatriot Rustichello, A writer by profession, the exciting stories in the boredom of captivity Marcos collected and processed into a book. The sources on which the fantastic stories are based are difficult to pin down. In addition to private notes from the Polos Persian or Arabic travel guides and historical works could have supplied data.

But even if Marco Polo Should not have got as far as Karakoram, Beijing and India, that does not change the fundamental meaning of his “description of the world”: It brought useful information about the Far East and helped the Central Europeans, two centuries before the age of the great seafarers, to regain their size of the earth and to realize that the Mediterranean is not the center of the world.

According to ZDF Terra X from July 24, 2016 "Marco Polo - discoverer or liar?", recent research has shown that it is almost certain that Marco Polo was in China and described many things very accurately. Perhaps his chronicler Rustichello sometimes let his own imagination flow in.


Rübesamen Hans Eckart, The Travels of the Venetian Marco Polo, Heyne, Munich, 1983.

Wood Frances, Marco Polo didn't get to China, Piper, Munich, 1998.