The Travels

Marco Polo

Introduced by Nigel Cliff

Translated by Nigel Cliff

Penned from a prison cell in Genoa, Marco Polo’s fantastical first-hand account of his 25-year travels through the Mongol Empire remains the greatest travel book ever written and is now presented in a luxurious new Folio edition.


Few books can be said to have changed the world but The Travels is one of them. Despite being written nearly 800 years ago, its epic scale and accounts of near-mythical exploits have ensured its continued popularity. This exceptional new edition reproduces Nigel Cliff’ meticulous and accessible translation ‘the first English translation of the original text in nearly 50 years’ as well as his compelling introduction. Essential reading for newcomers to The Travels, it will also inform and entertain those familiar with the book.

Adorned with decorative borders and chapter titles, the text is illustrated with the complete collection of 84 miniatures from the 1410 Duc de Berry manuscript housed at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. A quarter-bound buckram binding and marbled paper sides add the finishing touches to this beautiful collector’ edition.

Production Details

Quarter-bound in blocked buckram with textured paper sides printed with a marbled design by Jemma Lewis

Set in Centaur with Fournier Ornaments

400 pages

84 integrated colour illustrations

Plain gold slipcase

11˝ x 7¼˝

Arguably the greatest journey in human history

Born into a family of affluent traders, Marco Polo’s predilection for wanderlust was never in doubt. However, when he joined his father and uncle for his first voyage abroad in 1271, he could hardly have imagined that it would be 25 years before he next set foot in his native Venice. Ostensibly travelling as an apprentice in the family business and as part of a flamboyant public relations exercise, Marco initially set out for the Beijing court of the Mongol Emperor Khubilai Khan. On arrival he endeared himself to the Emperor, becoming his diplomatic envoy and travelling across huge swathes of Asia in his role for the next 17 years. Polo became the first recorded European to set foot in Indo-China, Sumatra, India and Sri Lanka, and the first to cite the existence of Japan and the Pacific Islands.

An incredible travelogue that shattered Western perceptions

The Travels gathers together young Marco’s tales from around the empire: the Muslim caliph locked up to die with his treasure; the shoemaker of Baghdad whose faith moved mountains; the three Magi of Persia; and the Georgian fish that only appear at Lent. Above all, he offers a wondrous first-hand account of the magnificent court of the Emperor. It’s no coincidence that his narrative is expressive, vivid and embellished with mythical references. While languishing in a Genoese prison cell, following his capture during a sea battle on return to Italy, Marco met a man named Rustichello of Pisa. A professional romance writer with a penchant for Arthurian legends and plenty of time on his hands, Rustichello must have thought his luck had changed when the greatest ghost-writing opportunity in history walked into his cell. With their combination of eloquent penmanship and an endless pot of incredible tales, the duo couldn’t fail.

When first published, The Travels shattered the insular world view of medieval Europe by sharing the wonders, innovations and glories of the East, civilisations infinitely more advanced than their own and hitherto unknown outside of hearsay and the luxury goods brought back by merchants. Marco Polo described how they tamed mighty rivers with canals; built palaces bigger than Western cities; and traded with banknotes at a time when paper was barely known in Europe. Marco Polo’s incredible work is now honoured with the greatest translation, the most eloquent illustrations and a stunning design: a fitting treatment for the book that informed the West’s perception of the East’s geography and culture for hundreds of years.

About Marco Polo

Marco Polo (c.1254–1324) was born into a wealthy and cosmopolitan Venetian merchant family. Polo’s father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, were jewel merchants. In the late 1250s they left Venice to travel across the Black Sea on a trading venture, moving onwards to central Asia and joining a diplomatic mission to the court of Khubilai Khan, the Mongol ruler of China. The Khan asked the Polo brothers to return to Europe to act as his emissaries to the Pope, and they arrived back in Venice in 1269. In 1271, they set out again for the East, this time with Marco, and for the next 17 years they travelled and lived on the Khan’s lands. Marco quickly learned the Mongol Empire’s languages and customs, and became a favoured agent of the Khan, who sent him from his court in Beijing on long missions. The purpose and exact route of these journeys is still a matter of debate, but Marco almost certainly made at least one journey as far south-west as Burma, another south to modern-day Quanzhou in China, and a third by sea to south and south-east Asia. The Polos returned to Venice in 1295, and shortly afterwards Marco was captured during a naval battle and imprisoned in Genoa. In prison his stories attracted the attention of a writer from Pisa, Rustichello, who wrote down Marco’s stories and together they compiled The Travels. Its unprecedented scope and detail made it among the most influential of medieval books. On his release Marco returned to Venice, where he remained until his death in 1324. 

About Nigel Cliff

Nigel Cliff is a writer, translator and reviewer specialising in cultural history and the history of exploration. His books include The Shakespeare Riots (2007), The Last Crusade: the Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama (2011) and Moscow Nights (2016). His acclaimed translation of Marco Polo’s The Travels (2015), for which he went back to the early Old French, Italian and Latin texts, was the first new translation in more than 50 years.


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