Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant, adventurer and writer who traveled back and forth from Italy to China during the late 1200s. Polo's family went to China in 1271 when he was 17. The adventurer returned to Venice in 1295, after which he published a book of his travels. He died in 1324, several decades after the publication of "The Travels of Marco Polo."
Polo's mother died when he was young, and his father and uncle were away for much of his youth. They were successful jewel merchants in the Middle East and Asia. In 1271, his father and uncle left for Asia again, bringing Polo, then a teenager, with them. The journey to Kublai Khan's court in Beijing took four years, and Polo stayed in China for 17 years as a tax administrator, translator and governor in Khan's government.
The trip back to Europe lasted two years, during which nearly 600 of Polo's caravan were killed due to storms and disease. By the time he reached the Port of Hormuz, only 18 people survived, including Polo's family.
Polo's descriptions of Middle Eastern culture, Khan's marble palace of Xanadu and exotic locales of India enthralled Europeans who read his masterpiece. Despite Polo's assertions that everything he told in his book was true, some of the tales were so fantastic many people disavowed them as fiction.