Marco Polo - An Epic Journey

Starting May 6th 2014

From May 6 to October 26, 2014

Pointe-à-Callière loves to take its visitors on a journey. From May to October, 2014, the Museum is inviting its guests to retrace the route of one of the most famous journeys ever made: that of Venetian Marco Polo, who left his hometown port in 1271 at the age of 17, returning 24 years later, at age 41. Along a path filled with adventure and wonder, visitors will delve into an account of the explorer’s journey, learning about the particular customs of various peoples, different religions, strange fauna, endless landscapes, inventions, rare materials, plants, and wood.

The explorer’s travelogue—also known as The Travels of Marco Polo or Description of the World—was transcribed by the writer Rustichello da Pisa when he was imprisoned with Marco Polo in Genoa from 1296 to 1298. Thus was born a magnificent book that has fuelled the dreams of many a reader—no doubt the most famous travel guide ever written!

The exhibition takes us to the end of the Middle Ages, more specifically, to the 13th century. The Earth, or what was known of it at the time, was comprised of just three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. It was the time of the great trade routes, along which treasures from China, Southeast Asia, and India made their way to the West… Venice was a key player in these exchanges between East and West. This prosperous city-state rising up from the middle of a lagoon was a leading maritime and trade power. This was also the era of the Crusades—Christian-led war expeditions with the aim of taking back the Holy Land and Jerusalem from the Saracens. Further to the east, the Mongol Empire was at its peak. In fact, Asia was under the control of descendants of Genghis Khan who, a century earlier, had seized a vast territory stretching from China and Korea to Poland and Russia. Among his descendants was Emperor Kublai Khan, who ruled over China, and who employed Marco Polo.

The exhibition, which features rare and valuable objects from major international lenders, is sure to captivate visitors. No effort has been spared in making this a powerful and unforgettable experience: an immersion into the atmospheres of sublime places and landscapes, from Venice to China and the court of the great Khan, by way of Persia, the Mongolian steppe, and the shores of India; an examination of the know-how of Europe and Asia’s master craftsmen; a multi-sensory exploration, inviting visitors to touch furs, silks, and woollen fabrics, and to experience the scent of rare spices that evoke exotic places visited along the way. And of course, the words of our guide, Marco Polo, providing observations that are both realistic and magical at the same time. A true call to far-off places!

Image from the book The Travels of Marco Polo or Description of the World (Bibliothèque nationale de France).