Marco PoloAdventurer / Explorer
Born: c. 1254
Died: c. 1324 (Natural causes)
Birthplace: Venice, Italy
Best known as: The exotic traveler who "discovered" the Orient
As a teenager, Marco Polo traveled to China (then known as Cathay) with his father and uncle. The trio spent 20 years at the court of Kublai Khan -- this at a time when few Europeans had ever visited that country. Polo eventually returned to Venice and collected the stories of his travels into a book, Il Milione (also known as The Travels of Marco Polo), which was widely read and is the basis of his lasting fame. Polo is now remembered as the man who introduced Europeans to the Orient, and his name is synonymous with exotic travel. Some historians have claimed that Polo made parts of his story up, if not the whole thing, but this has never been proved.
Extra credit: The old legend that Polo introduced pasta to Italy is almost certainly not true.
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