"Marco was from a merchant family who was traveling with trade in mind, yet he recorded in infinite detail the cities, cultural practices, technologies and beliefs he encountered – almost like a 13th century anthropologist," Hohmann said. "Our visitors will see a variety of artifacts that offer a glimpse into many of the experiences he shared in The Travels of Marco Polo."
Visitors will learn that Marco Polo is believed to have traveled the Silk Road longer and farther than any Western predecessor. Along the way he became an experienced merchant, knowledgeable explorer and keen observer. Marco's journey included travel through the Middle East, where he marveled at the thriving commercial and cultural centers. He also explored the Biblical stories of Noah's Ark and The Three Magi. Historic paintings and artwork depict the scenery he likely encountered, providing visual cues to stories he heard about the tombs of the Three Magi, his search for Noah's Ark, the view of Jerusalem from Mount Oliveto, and more. A collection of 12th-14th century pottery and architectural tiles shows how traditional Persian design was influenced by practices in the Far East as a result of cultural interaction from the Silk Road.
Visitors also explore the Mongol culture as they follow Marco Polo’s journey. Marco described the grasslands with horses and herds of sheep, the mountain passes, deserts of the region, and many details about the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols. Visitors can walk inside a full size ger, or yurt, as they explore this nomadic culture. Paintings, traditional Mongol clothing, a wolfskin pelt, headdresses, armor and a horse bridle offer a glimpse into this society that lived entirely off their natural surroundings and herds.
Much of Asia was under Mongol control in the 13th century, and Marco spent 17 years in the kingdom of Kublai Khan. As an emissary of Kublai Khan, Marco traveled extensively throughout China. Historic silks, porcelain, a merchant seal, models of Chinese “junk” ships, and other artifacts show the incredible export industry Marco observed there. After the Polos were granted permission by Kublai Khan to return home, they traveled for two years before reaching Venice.
After the Polos returned to Venice, the family continued to live and work as Venetian merchants. Through archaeological excavations, the Polo home has been located and documented. Marco Polo: Man & Myth includes includes several artifacts recovered from the Polo home site, including glass and ceramic tableware as well as an amphora. Amphorae like this were often used to transport a product of great value like sweet wine of the Eastern Mediterranean or honey from the islands of Aegean Sea.
As the exhibition closes, visitors can explore the myths of Marco Polo, which surround his travelogue. The Travels of Marco Polo, published after Marco Polo's return to Venice, was a dictated story of an incredible journey along the Silk Road through Asia. The original book, now lost, was handwritten in Old French and titled Le Divisament dou Monde, or "The Description of the World." Throughout Europe, it was commonly known as Il Milone or the "Million Lies" because many were skeptical of his accounts.
Both man and myth today, Marco Polo is forever recognized as the ultimate travel adventurer and his account remains one of the greatest travelogues ever written. On his deathbed at the age of 70, he is said to have declared, “I have only told half of what I saw.”
- ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES: The exhibition features several additional activities, including an interactive cart staffed by Fernbank's youth volunteers on weekends, a family-friendly gallery guide, and "Where's Marco?" maps offering more information on his journey. Fernbank will host Marco Polo Celebration Days, featuring a variety of activities, on September 28 and October 12.
- TICKETS: Marco Polo: Man & Myth is included with museum admission, which is $17.50 for adults, $16.50 for students/seniors, $15.50 for children ages 3 to 12, free for ages 2 and under, and free for Fernbank Members. Purchase tickets at 404.929.6400 or fernbankmuseum.org.
- MARTINIS & IMAX® VIEWING HOURS: Special evening viewing hours will be available during Martinis & IMAX® on Fridays from 6:30-11 p.m. Tickets to Marco Polo during Friday-night Martinis & IMAX® are $10, which include the cover charge, are free for members, and are only $3 when combined with the purchase of an IMAX® ticket.
- LOCATION: Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located at 767 Clifton Road, NE in Atlanta. For tickets and visitor information, call 404.929.6400 or visit fernbankmuseum.org.
Marco Polo is made possible by the support of The Rich Foundation, Inc.
The exhibition is organized by Contemporanea Progetti of Florence, Italy and Expona, Bolzano, Italy in collaboration with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.