The Italian explorer and merchant Marco Polo (1254-1324) is famous in history for his epic journey along the ancient Silk Route where he traveled into Iran, the Persian Gulf, reaching emperor Kublai Khan in China to then return to Venice.

A mosaic depiction of Marco Polo (made by Salviati in 1867) as seen at Palazzo Doria-Tursi in Genoa, Italy (Image source: Public Domain).

Marco Polo knew the Persian language (see Michele Bernardini’s article “POLO, MARCO” in the Encyclopedia Iranica, July 28, 2008) and as noted by Glen Alberto Salazar:

“Long before French or English, Persian was the lingua franca, the international language. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo spoke it during his journey to the East, including at the court of Kublai Khan. Persian language was in vogue in Mughal India, eventually becoming the official language of the elite (Salazar, G.A. (2013). A Little Book of Persian Poetry. Splendor Books; page 19).

It was between 1271-1295 when Marco Polo (accompanied by his father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo) traveled from their native Venice in Italy to the Far east and China. Marco Polo, who knew Persian, arrived in Iran with his father and uncle in 1271.

A map of Marco Polo’s travels between 1271-1295 (Image source: SY in Public Domain).

The Polos traveled through Iran, first arriving there in 1271. They visited the tomb of the ancient Magi at Saveh in Iran; the Persian Magi reputedly witnessed the birth of Christ. Later Roman authorities appear to have altered the reference to the “Persian Magi” into “Magi from the East“.

The Three Magi as depicted in Ravenna (Sant’Apollinare Nuovo), Italy (Source: Public Domain). Note the European depiction of ParthianSassanian Iranian dress, caps and cloaks.

As noted by Bernardini:

“Seventeen years later, in 1291,they [Marco, Niccolò and Maffeo] left China by sea from Zaytun (Quanzhou), traveling via the the Persian Gulf and Tabriz. By 1295 they were in Venice.”

Marco Polo’s return voyage led him, his father and uncle to arrive at Hormuz from India. An interesting depiction of this portrays the Polos arriving with elephants and camels into the Persian Gulf.

Picture by the French-Flemish manuscript illuminator, Boucicaut Master whose works were created in circa  1375-1400 (Source: فوسکا). As per the above manuscript “Marco Polo with elephants and camels arriving at Hormuz on the Gulf of Persia from India“.