Marco Polo Museum Exhibition – Scene : Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa
Marco was sitting on the straw in his cell, occasionally a rat would run across the floor. Marco was not bored since everybody knew he had spent twenty-four years travelling, of which seventeen were lived on the court of Kublai Khan. The cell door opened regularly to let guards, captains, gents, merchants and noblemen in to listen to his stories.
And Marco did tell stories of miracles, incredible stories, many of which provoked laughter and disbelief, so lots of listeners thought he was making them up. That’s how the term million was coined: it was derived from his middle name Emilio, emilions that was supposed to mean ‘exaggerating in story-telling.’
Once, while walking in the prison yard, Marco spotted a man he knew, Rustichello, a writer from Pisa. Marco instantly asked him in French to write down his travels through distant China. By doing that, Marco wanted to present the land of Kublai Khan to the Europeans and introduce them to a different civilization. Authorities accepted Marco’s demand and transferred Rustichello to Marco’s cell.
The former was given the paper, some ink and pens. So Marco started retelling his adventures: ‘Here starts the book of master Marco Polo, citizen of Venice. In it stories are told of circumstances and countries Marco Polo investigated while living in this world and this book be called Melione. It talks of many novelties from Tartar land, three Indias and other parts.’ Daily did Marco dictate stories and so the first big travelogue novel was being created.
Marco spoke quickly and Rustichello recorded numerous adventures and events that took place in Armenia Minor, Hormuz, the Gobi Desert, Chinese provinces, towns Shangta and Cabulaca or at festivities . Titles of chapters followed in a row: About Armenian province, About Turcomania, About Armenia Major, About the King of Georgia, About Mossul Kingdom.
Rustichello wrote down whatever Marco said, he would change some lines according to Marco’s wish, and the manuscript was getting longer. Marco proceeded by telling of his great friend Kublai Khan, and the wealth never seen before, then of Tibet, where it was custom never to take for wife a virgin for all gold of the world. The more intercourses a girl had with different partners, the more she was presented with jewels and could marry sooner and better. He also spoke of the heavenly town, Quinsa of a million inhabitants, which Rustichello could not believe.
This famous town boasts with twelve thousand stone bridges, and the largest ship can easily pass under their arches. All its streets are paved with stone or brick, there are three thousand steam baths where men and women often enjoy because they take good care of corporal cleanliness. These baths are the biggest in the world and up to a hundred persons can be together at once. Marco purchased candles so they worked by night too, and Rustichello only sighed and nodded, for he only partly believed these stories. Then Marco went on to talk about things he had brought from China.
He mentioned icy beverage made of fruit juices, snow and milk that he used to drink at Kublai Khan’s court. That was in fact ice cream which Marco himself made in Venice and which he would like to taste that very moment. The story continued with spaghetti, pasta half a metre long that must not be broken before cooking because it may bring bad luck. It is three milimetres thick and made of millet flour.
Marco spoke of paper money which is used for all payment in China and nobody must refuse it. Paper money can buy gold, pearls, diamonds, pepper, spices, and if one forges it, they are sentenced to death. Thefollowing story was that of the compass, invented during the reign of Hoang Tee. Its magnetic needle points at all four sides of the world and enables sailors to navigate safely. Marco narrated of black powder, gun powder in fact, which he had brought to Venice and which can blow up buildings and ships and kill people. Rustichello tried to understand what it was all about and what these things might be used for.
Today we know of what use they are! Marco told Rustichello of India, Indochina, Java, Ceylon, islands Scotra and Madagascar, towns Dufar, Calata, Hormuz, of Turkey. Marco was released on 31st of July 1299, holding the manuscript of his book Discovery of the World or in other words Il Milione of Marco Polo in his hands. He had a few copies made and the first of them appeared in 1307 owing to Friar Thibault de Cepoy, who took it over.
The first printed version came up in 1477 in Nurnberg in German. Having returned from prison, in 1299 Marco Polo married Donata who gave birth to three daughters: Bellela, Fantina and Moretta. In his home Marco prepared spaghetti and the dish very soon gained popularity in Italy.
Everybody at European courts went mad with ice cream and the pepper was paid in gold. Being in poor health for years Marco Polo died in 1324 in Venice, where he was buried.
All Exhibition Scenes in the Museum: