Author: Avani (Page 2 of 2)

The Travels of Marco Polo: Motupalli

In his section about India, Polo speaks of the kingdom of Motupalli. Polo starts out his description with noting the government and political leader of the kingdom. The kingdom was previously ruled by the king, but he had passed away, therefore the queen took control of the kingdom and created such a great reputation “that never was lady or lord so well beloved as she is by her subjects” (Polo 272). Polo seems to be mostly interested in the environment of Motupalli, briefly mentioning in one sentence the religion and diet of the individuals who reside in this kingdom. However, there seems to be some unreliability in this passage and his section on India, as he did not visit it in reality and is basing his writing on stories that he has heard. His previous accounts focus more on the people and unique aspects about the communities, but in this passage and others in the section on India, there is simply mention that they are idolaters and eat rice and milk. Another aspect that Polo repeats and that makes an appearance in the passage about Motupalli is the hot weather.


Polo then goes into great depth about the singular commodity that this kingdom is well-known for, which is diamond. Due to his mercantile nature, Polo has always included details like these surrounding the trade and the economies of the places that he visits, but there are some slight differences concerning the diamonds in Motupalli. His tone seems to be overconfident, as he seems to be overcompensating for his lack of details and the fact that he is writing these accounts based on things he has heard and not witnessed in person. For example, when introducing the diamonds, Polo mentions that “[y]ou must know that in the kingdom there are many mountains in which the diamonds are found, as you will hear” (Polo 272). The use of the word “must” puts more emphasis on the information that he is sharing, making it seem more important than it is. The phrase “as you will hear” could refer to his continuance in speaking of diamonds, but it seems to be more of in reference that his information can be consulted with other individuals and proven to be truthful. His overconfident tone makes his accounts less reliable and trustworthy.


He accompanies his short paragraphs about the information and characteristics of the kingdom of Motupalli with emphasis on the production and creation of the diamonds, which seems to more fantastical and rooted in storytelling. He mentions that the diamonds in this kingdom can be gathered in three different ways, one being that men throw pieces of flesh that then become attached to multiple diamonds and then snatched up by eagles that fly up the cliff and eat the flesh, leaving only the diamonds. The description does not sound plausible at all, which is why Polo includes the detail that these diamonds do not get shipped to Christian or European countries, but “they are exported to the Great Khan and to kings and noblemen of these various regions and realms” (Polo 273). This inclusion is rooted in sound logic; however, it also serves as reasoning and an excuse as to why to why no one has seen these diamonds, which strays away from the fact that Polo has not seen these diamonds and they might not even exist.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Kashmir

Marco Polo travels “some seven days’ journey to the south-east” (78) from Pashai and arrives in Kashmir. Polo mentions that he will speak of India in depth later in his travel narrative, so it is interesting to note what Polo describes to his readers, when giving a general description of Kashmir.

The first characteristic that Polo notes about Kashmir is the belief system of the Kasmiri people, insinuating that religion is a strong aspect that Polo finds important to his travels. He notes in depth that the Kashmiri are “idolaters” (78), or individuals who worship idols of their god or gods, and practice strange and amazing magic. It is interesting however to apply the concept of magic on a religion that Polo is not a part of or deeply familiar with, because that conceptualizes the religion is a Eurocentric way, as this “magic” that Polo describes could be something different within the religion. Polo does not go into depth of the sort of idols that the Kashmiri people worship, but instead repeat and emphasize that “[the Kashmiri people] accomplish such marvels by magic and craft that no one who has not seen them could believe them” (78). This seems to align with the idea that Marco Polo is writing to entertain, so to play up on the parts of exoticism and magic would assist in the entertainment purpose.

Another characteristic that Marco Polo goes into depth about are the Kashmiri people; Polo goes into depth about their looks, diet, preferences to the weather, etc. The large focus on people was interesting to read about, since Polo seems to focus on marvels and miracles more than anything. Polo interestingly states “[t]he inhabitants are brown-skinned and thin; the women are very beautiful with such beauty as goes with a brown skin” (78). Polo is making a distinction between beauty standards and emphasizes that the standard for beauty for light-skinned women and brown-skinned women are different. This complicates and shines light onto the way beauty functions in the Middle Ages, because it seems to be that Polo finds these women beautiful, but only in a way that beauty functions for women of color, whatever that may be.

Lastly, Polo once again focuses on the idea of idolatry and asserts that “they live to a great age; and this avoidance of sin is all exercised for love of their idols (79). The sheer repetition of the concept behind the Kashmiri belief system also emphasizes that this is not a concept that is readily practiced where Polo is from and he seems to be othering the Kashmiri to an extent, but more accurately diminishing their entire belief to a simple concept of idols. I think it was curious to see that Kashmir was described heavily by their belief system and their independence, which Polo mentions in the section straight after his description of the Kashmiri. This is because Kashmir today is still a country that places large important on its independence. It was also interesting to read as a modern reader specifically due to the tensions that Islam and Hindisum have in the country, which is drastically different to the central and strong belief the Kashmiri people had in the past.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Baghdad

Marco Polo arrives to Baghdad after visiting Lesser Armenia and Greater Armenia. Polo immediately points out the size of the city and makes a connection between Baghdad and Rome by pointing out that the “Caliph of all the Saracens in the world” (Polo 51) reside in Baghdad, as “the head of all Christians” (Polo 51) resides in Rome. This comparison insinuates the weight that this city has on an international level, as well as points to the religious significance that this city has for Muslim individuals, as the word “saracen” refers to a Muslim individual. True to his mercantile interests, Polo describes the main route that travelers, particularly merchants, take in order to travel from the sea to Baghdad, which Polo states “is a journey of fully eighteen days” (Polo 51). The narrative continues on to describe the goods and services that Baghdad specializes in from pearls to the study of law. Polo further goes into depth about the jewels and precious metals that Baghdad has by telling the tale of how Baghdad, but more specifically the Caliph became in possession of so many riches. The emphasis that the tale had on economic prosperity highlights the wealth of Baghdad.

The section on Baghdad ends with what Marco Polo describes as a “miracle” (Polo 53), but is essentially a tale that describes a Caliph who hates Christians and receives a prophecy of sorts that states that a Christian of great faith will be able to move a mountain. The Caliph uses this as a way to kill off the Christians, as he thought no one would be able to move the mountain, so he stated that all non-Saracens had to move the mountain or be met with death. Long story short, the shoemaker in the town caused mountain to crumble, which shocked so many people and caused them to convert to Christianity, even the Caliph. Polo does not go into any depth of the weather or length of his stay. The miracle that Polo recites paints Christianity in a positive light and Muslim individuals as negative or “evil”, since the Caliph threatened to kill others who did not followed his religion. This point is further supported by the sentence “indeed, it is a fact that all the Saracens in the world are agreed in wishing ill to all the Christians in the world” (Polo 53-54). Polo purposefully breaks his narration of the story to include this “fact” and this statement reveals a negative understanding and stereotype of Islam and Muslim individuals as Polo asserts that they desire strife and problems for Christian people. This reveals a key aspect on how his culture views religion and the relationships that different religions and individuals with religious backgrounds interact and view each other.

Overall, Polo seems to have a focus on storytelling in this section on Baghdad, which is seen in this religious tale, as well as the historical reciting of how the Caliph became in possession of his treasures. Polo’s purpose of writing about Baghdad seems less about informing the audience of Baghdad, which could come from the fact that they have a large presence on an international scale, and more so interested in entertaining.

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