A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.
In the 13th century, a young Venetian named Marco Polo set out with his father and uncle on a great adventure. Following a series of trade routes, they traveled across the vast continent of Asia and became the first Europeans to visit the Chinese capital (modern Beijing). Marco so impressed the reigning emperor of China, Kublai Khan, that he was appointed to the imperial court. For the next 17 years, Marco was sent on missions to many parts of Kublai's sprawling empire. The Polos finally returned to Venice via the sea route. Marco later wrote a book about his experiences, which inspired new generations of explorers to travel to the exotic lands of the East.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to
Read through the entire lesson plan and become familiar with the content and resources. Bookmark relevant websites for later reference.
After resting up and replenishing their supplies in the trading city of Kashgar, Marco Polo and his father and uncle continued eastward on their journey from Venice to China. They had some difficult times ahead.
The Taklimakan is Asia's driest desert, a vast expanse of pebbles and sifting sands nestled between two mountain ranges. The Polos chose a route that skirted the southern edge of the desert, trudging through the arid landscape from one oasis to the next. Each oasis was a welcome haven, offering fresh water, food supplies, and pack animals. Some of these stopping places were famous for fresh fruits, such as melons and grapes—a great treat for the weary travelers whose diets consisted mostly of hard bread, cheese, salted meat, and water. Today, a few of the ancient oases offer welcome relief to hot and thirsty tourists.
At the eastern edge of the Taklimakan lay the city of Dunhuang, long famous for its Buddhist temples, statues, and paintings.
Learn about the ancient city of Dunhuang by accessing the following links available through Asia Source.
Most people associate desert crossings with camels, and rightly so. The merchants who transported goods across the Taklimakan and the Gobi would have been in a bad way without their sturdy, resilient camels—the “ships of the desert.”
Access the following sites about camels and study the texts and images:
From Dunhuang, the Polos set out across the Gobi, Asia's largest desert. For over a month they trekked through this harsh wasteland. Marco described how travelers in the Gobi were often plagued by strange mirages (phantom figures of friends in the distance) or frightening sounds (weird murmuring or repetitive drumbeats). Such illusions were caused by the intensity of the sun, the lack of water, and the seemingly endless stretches of the "unfriendly" landscapes.
Divide the class into groups of three. Have each group select a desert—the Taklimakan or the Gobi—and then make a poster, referring to the websites visited in this lesson. The posters can be illustrated by images downloaded, by images cut from magazines, or by original drawings.
1-2 class periods