Doge's Palace in Venice
Doge's Palace in Venice
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When Marco Polo was captured at the Battle of Curzola in 1298 and imprisoned in the Palazzo San Giorgio in Genoa, he dictated his famous book 'The Travels of Marco Polo' to his cellmate Rustichello da Pisa. It became a bestseller in an age when everything had to be copied by hand.

You can't miss Palazzo San Giorgio when you drive along the motorway past the old port of Genoa. It is opposite Eataly and the Maritime Museum. It is a building with an exuberantly painted façade that looks a little kitschy. The frescoes were painted to mark the anniversary of Christopher Columbus. Marco Polo would be turning over in his grave, he did not like anything too gaudy. The prison was on the top floor, he was there for 2 years and had plenty of time to document his memories, which after his release in 1299 would be the best-seller of the century. The stories were so fantastic that no one wanted to believe them. Rustichello, a poet by profession, probably embellished here and there, although Marco Polo is said to have said on his deathbed that he had not told half of what he saw.

palazzo san giorgio

Marco Polo was born in Venice, according to all but the Croatians who believe he came from Korcula, to a powerful maritime trading family. His father, Niccolo, and uncle, Maffeo, were frequent travellers to Asia and the Middle East, bringing goods back to Venice. At the age of 17, Marco was allowed to join them for the first time. It was to be a 24-year journey during which father and son spent most of their time at the court of the son of the legendary Djenghis Khan.

From there they travelled along the Silk Road to China, Japan and India. When they returned to Venice after 24 years, they barely spoke Italian. The family bought a house in the contrada (neighbourhood) of San Giovanni Crisostomo. The house was known as "Polo Emilioni", hence the name "Corte del Milion", given to the two small squares near the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo, not far from the Rialto Bridge. The house was destroyed by fire in 1598 and later replaced by a theatre. Recent archaeological excavations in the area have found traces of a large medieval villa and many of the decorations carved in stone around the piazzas date from the 13th century.


According to legend, the famous Venetian merchant Marco Polo fell in love with one of the Great Khan's daughters during his stay in China and, after marrying her, brought her back to Venice. She was a sweet young girl, but she did not feel at home in the lagoon city and Marco's sisters were jealous of her. When Marco Polo was captured by the Genoese in 1298, the jealous sisters-in-law told the Oriental princess that he was dead; the girl, overcome with grief, set fire to her clothes and jumped out of the window into the canal below.

Legend has it that if you walk through the courtyard of the Milion (where Marco Polo's house stood) at night, you can at times see a white figure floating in the sky or hear an oriental chant. There are no reliable sources for this story (we hardly know anything about Marco Polo's life), but a few years ago, during excavations in the foundations of the Malibran Theatre (built on the foundations of Polo's former house), the human remains of an Asian woman were found, buried with objects of obvious Chinese origin and a tiara with the imperial emblem.

map 1

Venice was at that time engaged in a fierce struggle with the equally powerful Genoa, which had become super-rich from the Crusades, which they had profited from by supplying ships, weapons, food, and so on. To defend their commercial interests, the merchant families of both city-states left relatives in various places in the Middle and Far East. For example, the Polo family had cousins stationed in strategic Constantinople (now Istanbul) and on the Black Sea, in Crimea. From there, expeditions were organized to more distant areas along the Silk Road.

Not only spices and silk, but also perfumes, precious stones and rice made the Venetian merchants extremely wealthy. In 1295 the Polos returned to Venice from the Far East. On the 7th of September 1298, the fleets of Venice and Genoa met in a great battle. In the battle the Genoese captured the entire Venetian fleet, killed 7,000 men and took important Venetians prisoners, including Marco Polo. Most were released for ransom, but the Genoese refused to release Marco Polo until 1299.


Little is known about Marco Polo's private life. One of the few documents that has survived is his will, which also states that he wished to be buried in the church of San Lorenzo in the Castello district. Unfortunately, the church was deconsecrated in 1920 and abandoned. Sadly, no trace remains of the famous traveller's grave.

San Lorenzo

Palazzo Ducale: Sala dello Scudo in the Doge's Palace in this so-called "Map Room" there is a map showing Marco Polo's journey through Asia. Special feature: the map is painted upside down, with the south at the top.

Palazzo Ducale, San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy -

Museum Mocenigo: This museum is dedicated, among other things, to how the Venetians made perfume from ingredients that came from the East.

Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo - Centro Studi di Storia del Tessuto, del Costume e del Profumo, Santa Croce, 1992, 30135 Venezia VE, Italy -

Marciana Library: In the antechamber of the main room of the Marciana library is Fra Mauro's "World Map", which dates from around 1450. It is a beautiful depiction of the world as it was known before the discovery of America, with many inscriptions describing different places and people. This map also appears to have been made upside down. Many maps and compasses in the 15th century were derived from Islamic models, which placed the south at the top.

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, San Marco, 7, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy -

Museum Correr: A large collection of drawings and paintings related to Marco Polo and the history of Venice.

Museo Correr, San Marco, 52, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy -

Meraviglie in Venice, a cultural project that allows access to cultural assets of incredible quality and value via the use of new technologies: we hope that the result we are sharing with you will arouse the sense of wonder that gives its name to the project!

Meraviglie di Venezia -

Palazzo San Giorgio, Genoa: Discover the splendor of Palazzo San Giorgio, the historic seat of the Port Authority of the Western Ligurian Sea.

Palazzo San Giorgio, Palazzo San Giorgio, 2, 16126 Genova GE, Italy -

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Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia
Piazza San Marco 52

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