In September 1298, the rival Italian republics of Genoa and Venice fought a fierce sea battle at Curzola off the rocky coast of southern Dalmatia. Against the odds the Venetians, led by Admiral Andrea Dandolo, son of the Doge, were defeated. Among the thousands of Venetians captives was one Marco Polo, gentleman, merchant of Venice, and sometime traveller to East Asia. Incarcerated in a Ligurian fastness, he told his story to a fellow-prisoner, a writer of romances named Rustichello of Pisa.
The account of his travels that Marco Polo dictated to Rustichello in captivity - Il Milione - would be exceptionally widely read and would stimulate European interest in the East and its riches. Marco Polo: from Venice to Xanadu is Laurence Bergreen's thrilling and masterly reconstruction of the life and wanderings of one the great adventurers of world history.
Between 1271 and 1275 Marco Polo accompanied his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo on a journey east from Acre into central Asia along the Silk Route, eventually reaching China and the court of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan. Entering the service of the Khan, he travelled extensively in the Mongol Empire. The three Venetians returned home by sea in 1292-5, calling at Sumatra and southern India before reaching Persia, and making the last part of their journey to Venice overland. Three years later came that fateful encounter with the Genoese fleet in the Adriatic.