Famous Venetian Characters – Marco Polo

1. Introduction

Photograph by Michael Yamashita [1]

The central theme of our project is “Famous characters of Venice”. As a protagonist, we chose Marco Polo. The choice came naturally, considering that he is a Venetian and also one of the most famous people who walked the Earth. Choosing Marco Polo as our famous character will provide us with not just very interesting information, but also with the opportunity to dive into the world of digital humanities. We plan on using digital maps to illustrate his adventurous journeys in a way that will make users understand the impact he had on cartography and European navigation.

2. Project Objectives and Deliverables

This blog has the main objective to present one famous character representative for the Venetian sphere. And this is Marco Polo. Here, we will gather the most important information about his existence and the activities he had during his life. With the help of books specialized in the expeditions that Marco Polo did around Asia and also using specified tools, we will reconstitute this journey and make a digital map of all the places that this man visited. In this way we will obtain a classical combination of art and digitization, an idea which makes the subject of many scholars’ studies.

3. Methodology

As one may guess, such a project should lie upon a solid informational background as well as an appealing visual component, in order to fulfill its purpose as a rather academic blog. The following paragraphs describe the steps we wish to take in achieving our aforementioned objectives.

Our project is designed as a blog which will serve as a source of information for anyone who is interested in Marco Polo. Our intent is to surpass the regular structure of a blog – that of one’s monologue – and to turn it into a living platform, a dialogue with its visitors, be those scholars or regular people.

 In order to accomplish the above, we will create a blog that suits our purpose. It will gather a precise biography of the traveller, beginning from his early childhood years and ending with his famous last words: “I did not write half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed”. The information shall be retrieved from books such as “From Venice to Xanadu” by Laurence Bergreen, “The travels of Marco Polo” by Thomas Wright and also from the Internet. We plan on structuring the information according to the important stages in Marco Polo’s life, such as childhood, journeys to China, India, Tibet etc., his life as a merchant of Kublai Khan’s court, and finally his late years.

 Our main focus shall be Marco Polo’s great journey through Asia. We aim to reconstruct his itinerary by pinpointing all the places he visited on a digital map. This will be done by employing the information found in the aforementioned sources, which precisely mention his travels. It is important to note that “The travels of Marco Polo” has actually been written by Marco Polo himself under the name of “The Description of the World”, but has been translated under the former name. Of course, we need to match two historical maps: the one described by Marco Polo, corresponding to the 13th century, and the modern map provided by Google Maps. We will do this with the help of online information as well as books concerning the subject. Illustrating Marco Polo’s travels on a digital map will serve for a better understanding of the variety of experiences which sum up his life.

We shall generate the map with the help of Google Maps API, which allows us to pin locations and also draw polygonal lines between them. This intuitive visualization will serve as a complementary source of information, allowing the user to geographically place the events presented in the biography section. The information regarding Marco Polo’s travels shall be stored in a relational database and retrieved each time a user wishes to deepen his knowledge with respect to a section of the traveller’s journey. For example, if one is interested in details regarding his journey through the famous “Silk road”, simply clicking on the polygonal line corresponding to it will trigger a database query. This query will retrieve the desired information which will be displayed alongside the digital map. This approach aims to transform the blog into an interactive source of information which engages the user through its ease of use and rich content.

The third section of our blog shall discuss Marco Polo’s influence in modern cartography. It shall describe anything from encounters with fellow travellers to the way he inspired explorers such as Christopher Columbus. We plan on retrieving such information from the Internet. The aim is to structure the information in a causal way, such that the reader can get a grasp of the extent to which Marco Polo has influenced the world’s evolution.

The final section included in our blog is going to reveal how this world-renowned character is present in modern society. More precisely, we will try to gather all the information related to modern day entities which bear the name of Marco Polo, including the well-known game and even places such as airports and streets. The main source of this information will be the Internet. Also, we will try to uncover the reasons behind the naming of these entities. This part of the blog aims to be a light and refreshing read for the users.

To conclude, our blog aims to be a rich yet intuitive source of information for users of any background. We aim to accomplish this objective through a mix of text and visualizations, dense information and light reads, thus providing a pleasant learning experience for anyone who is interested in the life of the great Marco Polo.

4. Milestones

Considering the fact that the project is going to spread over 13 weeks, the anticipated milestones for this project are:


In the first two weeks we are going to gather the information from the Internet, “Travels of Marco Polo” by Thomas Wright and “Marco Polo: from Venice to Xandau” by Laurence Bergreen.

Organization of the blog

The next week is going to be dedicated to the actual site organization and graphics. In this part we are going to logically organize the structure of the site so that is it appropriate to the content it is going to present. Also, we are going to adjust its appearance so that it matches the chosen content.

Write the biography

Writing the biography of Marco Polo’s travels is expected to be a three week process, since there are going to be very sensitive details which need not be overlooked. This process is going to be accompanied by selecting the elements which will need to be stored in the database for further use.

Generate a digital map of his travels

This step is a bit more elaborate and it is expected to spread over 4 – 5 weeks. It includes designing and implementing the database of the locations he visited during his travels. Also, a mini description will be put together for each of them. The plan is to illustrate journeys as polygonal lines with the endpoints in the start and arrival cities in Google Maps. While clicking the polygonal lines, the user is going to be able to see written details of the trip, as well as significant encounters or struggles of Marco Polo.

Create a graph of all the 21st century things related to Marco Polo

In the last 2 weeks we are going to search for interesting, unexpected links between Marco Polo and today’s world. To help us express this, we will use a graph (i.e. vertices and edges) which will illustrate both the actual concepts and the frequency of their appearance in quotidian life.

5. References

[1] National Geographic,  Photo Gallery: The Adventures of Marco Polo, National Geographic, 10 December 2013

6. Appendix

1. Bergreen L.,  Marco Polo – from Venice to Xanadu,  Random House LLC, 2007

2. Polo M., Wright T. The travels of Marco Polo The Venetian, London, Bohn, 1854, University of Virginia