Marco Polo was born on 15 September 1254 in Venice, Italy. Born in a family of traders, he grew up hearing family stories of travel and adventures. His father, along with two brothers, moved about for years, living and trading everywhere from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea to modern day Uzbekistan. This instilled in him two of the biggest loves of his life: traveling and trading.
It was Marco Polo's father who first traveled the famous China's Silk Road. A couple of years after the original trip, Polo joined his father on a repeat trip to see Kublai Khan. What had been originally planned as a short visit turned into a 17-year residency in the Chinese Empire. Marco became the Khan's favorite, and accompanied him in official business throughout the kingdom.
He returned to Europe in 1291, where he immediately became involved in the family trading business. During this time, he also dictated many of his adventures to Rustichello da Pisa, a romance writer, who penned the book Il Milione (The Million), later traduced into English as "The travels of Marco Polo." Polo is sometimes mistakenly identified as the first Westerner to reach China, but he wasn't. In fact, many explorers before him visited the Khan's court. What makes him so memorable is the fact that he lived in China for enough time to learn its customs and experience everyday life first-hand.
When Il Milione was published, he became an instant celebrity. In a time where Asia was clouded in such mystery to the Western world, the book was a portal into a mysterious and magical world. This was both a blessing and a curse for the man, who often had to endure cruel jokes from locals who didn't believe the stories told in the book.
Marco Polo became a wealthy trader later in life, but he never again left Italy on his own expeditions. He did act as a consultant or sponsor to other travelers, and he often helped other merchants establish their trading businesses with the East. He married late, at the age of 46, and had three daughters. Polo died on 8 January 1324.