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In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

How much do we really know about the Italian explorer Marco Polo? (No, he did not introduce pasta from China to Italy.)

Portrait of Marco Polo, date unknown Full-length portraits of Marco Polo and the Florentin Humanist historian Poggio (1380-1459) above scene of harbor at "Calicu" (Calicut, India?)

The Asian Division of the Library of Congress and the Embassy of Italy/Italian Cultural Institute presented a symposium on March 23 titled "In the Footsteps of Marco Polo." Marco Polo (1254-1324) is supposed to have arrived in China in 1275. Most historians believe he did reach that nation, which he called Cathay. Some historians, however, believe he only wrote what he had heard about the Far Eastern country.

Whether or not he himself was there, his work, "The Travels of Marco Polo," was widely circulated and regarded as containing the sum total of European knowledge of China between the 13th and early 16th centuries. The book was immensely influential.

In this symposium, in addition to Marco Polo's writings, the literature of travelers and missionaries such as Giovanni da Montecorvino, Odoric da Pordenone, Giovanni de'Marignolli and many others were discussed. With the arrival of Matteo Ricci in 1583, the Jesuit mission reached the peak of this process of cultural exchange, which covered art and architecture, religion and philosophy, science and technology, and trade and government as they existed at that time in Europe and China.

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A. Portrait of Marco Polo, date unknown. Reproduction information: Not available for reproduction.

B. [Full-length portraits of Marco Polo and the Florentin Humanist historian Poggio (1380-1459) above scene of harbor at "Calicu" (Calicut, India?)], 1503? Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-68313 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Illus. in G370.P8 (1928) [General Collections]