Author: Marco Polo (with Rustichello da Pisa)
Title: Description of the World
Destination: Venice to Beijing and back (alleged)
Length: around 23 years
Type: overland and by ship
Slow but good.
This could well be the most famous travel book of them all. It’s a slow read though. The 400+ pages of my German edition are divided into 224 chapters, each dealing with a place or phenomenon. There is no storyline and no strict chronological order of events.
Instead, MP tells the reader about the things that he has either seen or heard about, and which he finds noteworthy. Some parts consist of mere fable and hearsay, while others seem fairly correct and paint a vivid picture of the world at the time.
The famous Lugouqiao or Marco-Polo bridge is one of those examples: Even if MP possibly only recorded what other travelers had been telling him, and even though the structure itself has undergone substantial renovations over the last 8 centuries, still… the bridge that MP describes in chapter 58 is really there, and one can almost feel the stories flow along the ancient Silk Roads serveral hundred years ago.
Marco Polo’s humor shining through
That being said, the book is still a slow read: I struggled with the boring stuff, the place names and with the historical figures. Also, I felt a bit distant from MP himself, except for the parts where his humour shines through – like in chapter 106, when he tells us of an area where all young girls are promiscuous and says: “That is a fine country for young men from sixteen to twenty-four to go to!”
The historical moments and the humorous parts gain this book a favorable rating.
A slow but good read.