The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps

The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps

Benjamin B. Olshin

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226149820

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book, The Mysteries of the “Marco Polo” Maps, introduces the reader to a very curious collection of little-known maps relating to the voyages of Marco Polo. As far as history tells us, Marco Polo himself never drew any maps recording his travels to the east. Maps such as the 1375 Catalan Atlas use information from the famous Polo narrative in the depiction of Asia, but it does not seem that this or other such cartographic works were based on works that Marco Polo might have brought back. Fra Mauro’s fifteenth-century world map uses Marco Polo’s toponyms, and the Venetian historian, diplomat, geographer, and writer Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) claimed that this work was a copy of one brought back from China by Marco Polo, but gave no evidence for his claim. In this new book, however, the reader can explore maps that may suggest new leads in the case—with a detailed look at these obscure but fascinating materials, some fourteen maps and related documents currently held in a private collection (with one at the Library of Congress). The text takes the reader of a broad adventure, with encounters in many areas of knowledge—from early exploration in Asia to medieval Italian history, and from tales of the remote reaches of the northern Pacific Ocean to ancient Chinese legends. This is an exciting exploration of knowledge, delving into old manuscripts and deciphering texts to find clues as to the origin of these mysterious maps.