In the thirteenth century, Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo traveled from Venice to the far reaches of Asia, a journey he chronicled in a narrative titled Il Milione, later known as The Travels of Marco Polo. While Polo's writings would go on to inspire the likes of Christopher Columbus, scholars have long debated their veracity. Now, there's new evidence connected to this historical puzzle: a very curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents said to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo himself. In The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps, historian of cartography Benjamin B. Olshin offers the first credible book-length analysis of these artifacts, charting their course from obscure origins in the private collection of Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s; to investigations of their authenticity by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI; to the work of the late cartographic scholar Leo Bagrow; to Olshin's own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps. Are the maps forgeries, facsimiles, or modernized copies?
Did Marco Polo's daughters - whose names appear on several of the artifacts - preserve in them geographic information about Asia first recorded by their father? Or did they inherit maps created by him? If the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and why? Regardless of the maps' provenance, Olshin's tale takes readers on a journey into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography.
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
Number of pages: 176
Weight: 449 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
"For a guy who claimed to spend seventeen years in China as a confidant of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo left a surprisingly skimpy paper trail. No Asian sources mention the footloose Italian. The only record of his thirteenth-century odyssey through the Far East is the hot air of his own Travels, which was actually an 'as told to' penned by a writer of romances. But a set of fourteen parchments, now collected and exhaustively studied for the first time, give us a raft of new stories about Polo's journeys and something notably missing from his own account: maps. . . . But as Olshin is first to admit, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is hardly settled. The ink remains untested, and a radiocarbon study of the parchment of one key map--the only one subjected to such analysis--dates the sheepskin vellum to the fifteenth or sixteenth century, a sign the map is at best a copy. Another quandary is that Polo himself wrote nothing of personal maps or of lands beyond Asia, though he did once boast: 'I did not tell half of what I saw.'"--Ariel Sabar "Smithsonian Magazine "
"A needed, not wildly speculative contribution to the history of cartography, The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps carefully considers the content, context, and translation of these documents, and does not attempt to fill in missing links if the evidence is not sufficient to support a valid conclusion. Olshin presents well-informed speculation considering the implications of this set of maps, whether they are pure fabrication, created at some time after the purported events, or are actually what they appear to be. If the latter is the case, they represent a remarkable survival of fourteenth-century manuscripts that document in part Marco Polo's travels through Asia to China, and possibly a much earlier discovery of North America (than Columbus's), particularly along its northwestern coast. A very balanced interpretation."--Ronald E. Grim "Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library "
"The major value of The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps is that this is the first really comprehensive research on this issue ever attempted and that, as his reasoning and his conclusions suggest, Olshin seems to have maintained a balanced approach: the Rossi affair is risky ground indeed. . . . A book that deserves to be discussed in depth in order to unmask, once and for all, this (not so sophisticated) forgery."--Isis
"Olshin . . . brings to The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps linguistic skills acquired during work and travels in the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America, as well as an interest in cartography and in the history of exploration. . . . He is on firm ground when noting the known influence on cartography of Marco Polo's travel tales, starting with the Catalan Atlas of 1375, and he is commendably cautious about the documents' provenance, their interconnections, and their purported relationship to the Polo daughters and other named persons. Moreover, The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps is lucidly written and attractively produced with a number of useful illustrations."--Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography