Marco Polo Firsts

Marco Polo’s house has been replaced by the Teatro Malibran

Marco Polo, that indefatigable and well-traveled Venetian, is often credited with bringing a number of things from China to Europe. But Laurence Bergreen’s book, Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, dispels some of the misconceptions, and his thorough research uncovered a few facts that may surprise you. Thanks, Marco, for carrying these Chinese ideas to the Europeans!

The Corte del Milione, named for Polo’s supposed “million” lies about his travels

“Paper money, virtually unknown in the West until Marco’s return, revolutionized finance and commerce throughout the West.

Coal, another item that had caught Marco’s attention in China, provided a new and relatively efficient source of heat to an energy-starved Europe.

Eyeglasses (in the form of ground lenses), which some accounts say he brought back with him, became accepted as a remedy for failing eyesight. In addition, lenses gave rise to the telescope–which in turn revolutionized naval battles, since it allowed combatants to view ships at a great distance–and the microscope. Two hundred years later, Galileo used the telescope–based on the same technology–to revolutionize science and cosmology by supporting and disseminating the Copernican theory that Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun.

Gunpowder, which the Chinese had employed for at least three centuries, revolutionized European warfare as armies exchanged their lances, swords, and crossbows for cannon, portable arquebuses, and pistols.” (321) from Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen

My autographed copy of Bergreen’s book!


(Image of Corte del Milione from

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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4 Responses to Marco Polo Firsts

  1. Christopher says:

    Hi there…first of all I love, love, love your blog! Thank you for sharing a bit of Venice. In response to this post in particular, I’ve always wondered what influence Venice had in China. I live in Salem, Massachusetts in the United States. Salem had a brisk and very important trade in China in the 18th and early 19th century. An early American ambassador to China lived on the same street I live on. The Peabody Essex museum here in Salem has a large collection of Chinese art and artifacts. One piece that always reminds me of Venice is a 19th century bed. At the top of the bed is a molding that looks remarkably like the crenelation on several Venetian buildings. Here’s a link with an image. If you scroll down and click on the image of the bed you can see what I’m writing about. What do you think? Very Venetian right?!

  2. Interesting post. Thank you!

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