A Mystery of History: Explore Marco Polo’s Origins

February 2nd, 2018

Marco Polo's alleged birthplace is still debated by historians today.

One of history’s most famous explorers, Marco Polo forever changed the world when he chronicled his adventures on the Silk Road. Although details of his travels are well documented, his birthplace remains a mystery. Venice and Croatia both claim to be the rightful native home of the great explorer; a debate that continues to this day.

To follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo, take a walking tour in Venice, Italy.

The great city of Venice, accredited home of the famous explorer and capital of the former Republic of Venice, boasts the extravagant artistry of St. Mark’s Cathedral, the elegant architecture of the Doge’s Palace, and the iconic romantic ambiance of the Grand Canal. The City on the Lagoon embodies the wealth of the republic once reaping the rewards of Marco Polo’s extravagant explorations. Visitors to the city constantly pass Marco Polo’s former home at Calle Scaleta. The structure blends into the historical palaces of the city overlooking a small triangular walkway near the canal. Walking tours of the fantastic city reveal the grandeur of the Serenissima Repubblica. Tours trace the ripple effects of the celebrated traveler’s footsteps by visiting the section of the Rialto Market established to sell spices from around the world, a tradition established by Marco Polo from his travels to Asia and one continued by Venetian merchants.

The Venetian Republic's influence remains strong in the town of Korcula.

The treasures of Venice and its connection to Marco Polo are known far and wide around the world. Far less noticeable, and much less visited, is the Dalmatian Island of Korcula, in Croatia that also claims to be Marco Polo’s birthplace. More than 300 years have passed since the Venetian Republic reigned over the Dalmatian Islands, and today Korcula hosts vestiges of the former republic’s exuberance. The Republic’s influence remains in the winged lions adorning the entrance to the town, as well as in the island dialect, which remains distinct from both the official Italian and Croatian languages.

The shores of Korcula glow with azure waters from the crisp and clear Adriatic Sea. Limestone cliffs tower over the coastline in dramatic contrast to the small sandy beaches. The island reaches nearly 110 square miles with dense woods, quiet coves, and picturesque harbors. The medieval heart of the town of Korcula beats in a maze of cobblestone lanes leading to ornate churches and hidden cafés. The high fortifications protect the antique streets from the seasonal winds blowing inland from the water.
The preserved Venetian architecture decorates the town and provides unforgettable views around the walls, the coastline, and winding lanes 400 miles from the former Republic of Venice. The town and greater island of Korcula retain a sense of magic emanating from their timeless beauty. Houses shine with red rooftops and palm trees rustle in the sea breeze. Like Venice, the town has a cathedral dedicated to St. Mark. The stunning 15th-century design features Gothic and Italian Renaissance style with limestone quarried from the island. Instead of golden mosaics decorating the façade, sculptured details adorn the door, pillars, gables, and cornices.

Church and Marco Polo tower in Korcula, Croatia.

Pay a visit to Marco Polo’s home in Korcula.

Fans of history visit the island and town of Korcula to view the preserved home attributed to Marco Polo as marked by a thin tower dominating the structure. The barren interior shows the immensity of the rooms, but conceals any sense of style connected to the Polo family. It has been over seven centuries since the family famous for traveling has lived within its walls. The true appeal of the home, aside from wandering through the possible rooms of the great explorer, is the vista from the tower. The panoramic view overlooks the red-tiled rooftops of the city spreading to the sea.

Whether Marco Polo will forever be considered Venetian or Croatian, we may never know. Follow the explorer’s passion for discovery and visit off-the-beaten-track destinations such as Korcula, a town reflective of the great republic on the Adriatic Sea. To learn more about the types of adventures you could embark on in Croatia, consider browsing our Croatia tours page for more inspiration.