After leaving Changan, the home of many Tartar palaces, Marco Polo travels through a wealthy and well-populated province filled with “idolators, using paper money, [who are] subject to the Great Khan” (The Travels of Marco Polo, 213). “Then he reaches the splendid city of Kinsai, whose name means ‘City of Heaven” (Marco Polo, 213). Despite being located in a province of idolaters, who might have a different concept of afterlife or heaven, Polo translates the city in a way that the western, Christian, reader would understand. Like in his translation of the city’s name, Polo uses this section to relate the beauty of a city thousands of miles away back to his home in Europe. However Rustichello complicates his accounts by creating doubt in whether or not the details are true.
In describing the layout of the city, Polo is incredibly invested in the waterways. He describes the large clear lake on one side of the city that is connected to the huge river through different channels and streams that carry off waste and provide transportation (Marco Polo, 214). “And through every part of the city it is possible to travel either by land or by these streams” (Marco Polo, 214). There are over 12,000 bridges connecting roads over channels, which are both big enough to transport goods to market in (Marco Polo, 214). Polo’s investment in describing the waterways makes sense given that he is from Venice, a city with a similar plan to it. His attention to the water could demonstrate admiration for the engineering and city planning that accompanies the extensive channel network and large number of tall bridges. The passage demonstrates the intelligence of the city’s builders, as well as creates a link back to the west. Venice is also a city made of channels and waterways with large amounts of markets – just as Kinsai boast ten main markets and countless smaller ones. Here the reader can see the importance of trade, mobility, and engineering to the educated Italian merchant.
Despite the familiarity presenting a potentially personal moment for Polo, the reader can not help but be skeptical of its authenticity. Instead of relying Polo’s personal experience in the city, Rustichello includes “the account of it sent in writing by the queen of the realm to Bayan, the conqueror of the province, when he was besieging it” (The Travels of Marco Polo, 213). This account was meant to be passed on to the Great Khan, in order to convince him not to ransack and destroy the entire city while conquering it (Marco Polo, 213). This account invites skepticism of its accuracy, given that it was written by a queen attempting to keep the heritage of her city intact. In order to reassure its accuracy, Rustichello includes his common aside to the reader: “…and it is all true, as I, Marco Polo, later saw clearly with my own eyes” (Marco Polo, 213). The description reads as if it came from Polo’s own memory, and not the letters of a woman who has lived, probably, her entire life in the city. The combination of admittance that the account is not his own, followed by the reassurance that he was indeed there, and then the account reading as the rest of the story creates a confusing effect. It highlights Rustichello’s apathy towards accuracy and inclination towards romance and spectacle, demonstrating what the Medieval reader would have wanted from Polo’s story.