The Description of the World

Marco Polo dictated his famous stories to his prison mate, the writer Rustichello of Pisa, who may have added some of his own embellishments to The Description of the World (public domain).

While he was in prison in Genoa in the last years of the 13th century, Marco Polo dictated an account of his adventures to a fellow prisoner, a writer of romances named Rustichello of Pisa. The story that Marco Polo told became one of the most famous books in history. He called it The Description of the World or The Travels of Marco Polo. His colourful tales made his book one of history's first bestsellers. The book was published in 1307 and when the printing press finally appeared in Europe in the 1400s, it was one of the first to be printed.

Polo's book describes his travels across Asia to China in the 1270s, his life at the court of the grandiose Mongol emperor Kublai Khan, as well as his later travels through South China, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and India.

The book had a tremendous impact on contemporary Europe, even though many readers were skeptical that Marco Polo was telling the truth. Some called the book Il Milione, "The Million Lies." They doubted it not so much for its fables as for his description of China, which showed it to be much grander and more advanced than Europe. Yet Marco insisted that "I have only told the half of what I saw!" As proof, he brought back a Chinese servant, and valuable items of silk and gold, including a "golden tablet of command" that he said had been given to him by the Great Khan.

Learn more:
The travels of Marco Polo the Venetian
Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World