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Albert von Le Coq

Marco Polo


Marco Polo (1254-1324): The most famous foreigners to make the great overland journey were the Polo family. Around 1263 the Venetian traders, Nicolo and Maffeo Polo (Marco's father and uncle), set off to sell their luxury goods in the Volga River region. Unable to return home due to a war, they joined a Mongol tribute mission to Khanbalik, Kublai Khan's capital at Beijing. The Great Khan took a liking to the Polos and through them asked the Pope to send 'a hundred men learned in the Christian religion, well versed in the seven arts, and able to demonstrate the superiority of their own beliefs.


In 1271, Marco, then 17, joined the Polo brothers on their return journey, which carried blessings and credentials from the Pope. They took the overland route via Persia and Central Asia to the Oxus River, across the Pamirs into present-day Xinjiang, and along the Southern Silk Road to Dunhuang, finally arriving at the Great Khan's court of Shangtu in 1275. The Polos were to remain in China for about 17 years, and Marco, who became something of a court favorite, is believed to have held an official post. They left in 1292 by sea, escorting a Mongol Princess to Persia and arriving back in Venice in 1295.

Benedict de Goes

Benedict de Goes (1562-1607): Even as late as the early 17th century, the debate continued whether or not Marco Polo's Cathay and the Empire of China were one and the same. In 1602, Benedict de Goes, a lay Jesuit from the Azores, was chosen by his order to follow in Marco Polo's footsteps. He set off from India disguised as an Armenian trader.


He was haunted by the constant fear of being exposed as a non-Muslim but managed to join a caravan of 500 merchants bound for Kabul. There, he joined another caravan, which in spite of great caution was attacked, and its remnants struggled over the Pamir passes to reach Yarkand (Shache) in 1603. A year later, he joined an eastbound merchant caravan and, from travellers along the way, learnt that Jesuits had found favour at the Ming Court.


This convinced him that Cathay was indeed China. While his caravan waited in Jiuquan for permission to continue, de Goes was made impoverished by Muslim merchants. Despondent at not hearing from the Jesuits in Beijing, he soon fell ill. The Jesuits' emissary arrived in 1607, just in time to watch brave de Goes die.
From Book "The Silk Road Xi'an to Kashgar"-Judy Bonavia

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