Category Archives: Italy

The World in the First Half of the 20th Century


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj
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In the first half of the 20th century, four flagrant men with their competing egos drove almost the entire human race to the brink of extinction with their charismatic personalities and grandiose visions.

The four, deemed notorious, are:

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

Adolf Hitler

 Adolf Hitler

Hideki Tojo

Hideki Tojo

  • Joseph Stalin – General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, from April 3, 1922, to October 16, 1952.
  • Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party, ruling the country as Prime Minister from 1922 until his ousting in 1943.
  • Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945.
  • Hideki Tojo, who was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA), and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan from October 17, 1941, to July 22, 1944.

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The Communists of Russia

 

Communist symbol

The Russian Revolution of 1905 is considered the major factor that led to the February Revolutions of 1917. This series of revolutions, collectively known as the Russian Revolution, led to the creation of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR) after demolishing the Tsarist autocracy.

The first Russian revolution in February 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar since the old Julian calendar was in use in Russia at that time) focused around Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). The February Revolution took place in the context of heavy military setbacks during the First World War (1914–18), which left much of the Russian army in a state of mutiny. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution and Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, abdicated. During the chaos, members of the Imperial Parliament or Duma assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government. The Soviets (workers’ councils), which were led by more radical socialist factions, initially permitted the Provisional Government to rule but insisted on a prerogative to influence the government and control various militias.

During the second Russian revolution in October (November in the Gregorian calendar) 1917, the Provisional Government in Petrograd was overthrown by the Bolshevik (communist) party, led by the revolutionary, politician and political theorist Vladimir Lenin, and the workers’ Soviets. The Bolsheviks appointed themselves as leaders of various government ministries and seized control of the countryside.

Joseph Stalin was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who took part in the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was named the general secretary of the party’s Central Committee in 1922. Following the 1924 death of Vladimir Lenin, he managed to consolidate power while eliminating any opposition. By the late 1920s, he was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union.

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The Fascists of Italy

 

Fascism was a unique radical force that emerged in Italy in 1919. It had no clear predecessor, but developed out of World War I. Fascism in Italy was the offshoot of two other movements: nationalism and syndicalism.

Angered by Italy’s treatment after World War I, the nationalists, combined the idea of a class struggle with that of national struggle; and the syndicalists postulated that economic life in Italy should be governed by groups representing the workers in various industries and crafts. Italy was a proletarian nation, they said, and to win a greater share of the world’s wealth, all of Italy’s classes must unite.

Benito Mussolini, Mussolini was a syndicalist who turned nationalist during World War I.

Originally Mussolini was a revolutionary Socialist, and editor of “Avanti” (Forward) the socialist newspaper. He was later expelled from the Socialist Party. Mussolini rose to power in the wake of World War I, as a leading proponent of Fascism. At the start of World War I, like all socialists, he condemned the war as workers were forced to fight other workers while the factory bosses got richer at their expense. He forged the paramilitary Fascist movement in 1919 and became prime minister in 1922.

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The Nazis of Germany

 

Nazi symbol

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In 1914, Adolf Hitler joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He fought on the Western Front and was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery in battle. In 1918, he was temporarily blinded by a gas attack and was invalided out of the war.

After the war, in 1919, Hitler joined the German Worker’s Party led by Anton Drexler and was in charge of the political ideas and propaganda of the party. In 1920, the party announced its 25-point programme and was renamed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party – NAZIs.

In 1921, Hitler became the leader of the party and soon began attracting attention, with his powerful speeches. Hitler stirred up Nationalist passion, giving the people the fodder to blame for Germany’s problems. Hitler’s opponents tried to disrupt the meetings so for protection Hitler set up the SA – Stormtroopers. Though the actual membership of the NAZI party remained quite low in this period, Hitler, through his meetings and speeches gained a very high profile.

By 1932, the Nazi party was the largest party in the Reichstag but did not have a majority. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. A month later, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building was burned down. The Communists were blamed for the fire and the Communist party was banned in Germany, giving the Nazis a clear majority in the government.

On August 2, 1934, Paul von Hindenburg, the second president of Germany from 1925 to 1934, died. Hitler then combined the position of Chancellor and president and made himself Fuhrer of Germany and began building his Third Reich. Ignoring the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, he began building up the army and stockpiling weapons. The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 defined Hitler’s ideal pure Aryan German citizen and barred Jews from holding any form of Public office.

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Statism in Shōwa Japan

 

Japanese symbol

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Statism in Shōwa Japan also referred to as Shōwa nationalism or Japanese fascism, was a union of Japanese right-wing political ideologies, developed over a period of time from the Meiji Restoration. It was a mixture of ideas such as Japanese nationalism and militarism and “state capitalism” that was proposed by a number of contemporary political philosophers and thinkers in Japan. This statist movement dominated Japanese politics during the first part of the Shōwa period, during the reign of Hirohito.

Hideki Tōjō (December 30, 1884 – December 23, 1948) was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during most of World War II. Politically, Tōjō was a fascist, nationalist, and militarist. He had a sharp, legalistic mind capable of making quick decisions, and was nicknamed “Razor”.

Even before he became the Prime Minister of Japan, Hideki Tōjō had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. When he assumed office on October 17, 1941, he put his plan into effect and attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and thereby initiated the war between Japan and the United States.

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A Plethora of Refugees in Europe


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj.

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Europe has a population of 740 million of which 500 million are in the European Union (EU). According to the European Union border agency the plethora of refugees entering Europe had increased over the past 10 months. More than 150,000 refugees entered the EU in August 2015 increasing the total influx of refugees to more than half a million for the year 2015.

Although this amount of refugees is not large enough to construe it as an invasion or being over-run when compared to the population of Europe, the European leaders were slow to respond. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner has called it “the worst refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II.

 

Europes refugee crisis (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)
Europes refugee crisis (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)

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For many refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and the abominable ISIS, the Greek islands have been the gateway to enter the European Union.  This year alone, more than 259,000 refugees entered Greece by boat via Turkey. The arrival of about 88,000 refugees in the Greek islands in August 2015 was the largest so far, an eleven-fold increase compared to the same month a year ago.  Almost 75% percent of the refugees seeking asylum were Syrians.

The Schengen Area

Six founding members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany created the European Economic Community (EEC) by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. This regional organization aimed to bring about economic integration between its member states, including a common market and customs union.

When the ten member states of the then EEC were not able to reach a consensus on the abolition of border controls, five of its members signed The Schengen Agreement on June 14, 1985, paving the way to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area. The treaty signed near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg was not implemented in full until 1995.

The Schengen Agreement proposed the gradual abolition of border checks and allow vehicles to cross the common borders of the signatories of the treaty without stopping. It permitted residents in the border areas to cross the borders away from fixed checkpoints.

In 1990, the Schengen Convention supplemented the Schengen Agreement by proposing the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. For most purposes, the Schengen Area with a common visa policy functions as a single country for international travel purposes. The Schengen Agreement and the rules adopted under it were quite separate from the EU structures.

Map of Schengen Area (Source: wikipedia.org)
Map of Schengen Area (Source: wikipedia.org)

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The Schengen Area now comprises 26 European countries. These member states have strengthened their external border controls with non-Schengen states. Out of the current 28 European Union member states, 22 are participants in the Schengen Area.

Countries comprising The Schengen Area
State Area (km²) Population
Austria 83,871 8,414,638
Belgium 30,528 11,007,020
Czech Republic 78,866 10,535,811
Denmark (excluding Greenland
and the Faroe Islands)
43,094 5,564,219
Estonia 45,338 1,340,194
Finland (Including Åland Islands) 338,145 5,391,700
France (mainland and Corsica only) 551,695 63,929,000
Germany 357,050 81,799,600
Greece 131,990 10,815,197
Hungary 93,030 9,979,000
Iceland 103,000 318,452
Italy 301,318 60,681,514
Latvia 64,589 2,245,357
Liechtenstein 160 36,010
Lithuania 65,300 3,207,060
Luxembourg 2,586 511,840
Malta 316 417,608
Netherlands (excluding Aruba,
Curaçao,  Sint Maarten
and the Caribbean Netherlands)

41,526

16,703,700

Norway (excluding Svalbard) 385,155 5,063,709
Poland 312,683 38,186,860
Portugal (Including Madeira and Azores) 92,391 10,647,763
Slovakia 49,037 5,440,078
Slovenia 20,273 2,048,951
Spain (with special provisions for
Ceuta and Melilla)
506,030 46,030,109
Sweden 449,964 9,415,570
 Switzerland 41,285 7,866,500
Schengen Area 4,189,111 417,597,460

Source: en.wikipedia.org

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Currently, the Schengen Area has an area of 1,617,4245 square miles (4,189,111 square kilometers) and a population of over 400 million people.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are four of the six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area, are legally obliged and wish to join the Area. The other two, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, maintain opt-outs.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland have signed the Schengen Agreement even though they are member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and are not in the EU.

The three European microstates, the Vatican, Monaco, and San Marino do not have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them. Though considered as de facto within the Schengen Area they have not officially signed documents that make them part of the Schengen Area.

The influx of refugees

 

Since many Eastern European countries are guarding their borders in the face of the influx of refugees, the distribution of refugees among the 28-member EU is somewhat skewed. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), EU countries received more than 437,000 asylum applications from January 2015 to July 2015. Germany received the most applications, followed by Hungary, Sweden, Italy and France.

The migrants from African countries enter the EU through Italy and Spain. Many of those who enter Italy apply for asylum on landing there. Some try to cross into France.

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A group of migrants gathering near a line of trucks on the motorway that leads to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais, northern France. (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)
A group of migrants gathering near a line of trucks on the motorway that leads to the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais, northern France. (Source: uk.businessinsider.com)

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From France, a few try to enter the United Kingdom by perilous means such as getting smuggled in containers through the Eurotunnel from Calais, northern France.

Many Syrians try to reach Italy from Greece while others head to Austria via Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Most refugees try to reach the Schengen Area. From there, they move into Hungary through Macedonia and Serbia. Also, some refugees from Turkey reach Hungary via Bulgaria and Romania. The popular route to enter the Schengen zone is through Norway, by way of Russia and Lebanon.

From Hungary, most refugees continue their journey to richer countries such as Germany and Sweden that have liberal immigration policies.

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A European in the Orient: Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:

I have not told half of what I saw!

​Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.

Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled  Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.

Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.

Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.

Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.

New Evidence

It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.

In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These  documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.

The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.

Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles?  They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?

While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.

Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.

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Marco Polo's 'Map with Ship' (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Marco Polo’s ‘Map with Ship‘ (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

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The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.

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The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin

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Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.

After a  thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.

Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.

Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.

Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):

“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”

The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.

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← Previous: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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A European in the Orient: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo,  arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.

Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.

While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.

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Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo
Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo

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After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.

Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.

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John of Plano Carpini's great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the "Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)
Giovanni da Pian del Carpine’s great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)

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During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.

Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.

The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.

Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.

Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.

On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear  their allegiance to him.

When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”

Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.

The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.

A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.

In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux,  a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.

In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of  Emperor Toghon Temür.

A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.

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An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo's fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)
An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo’s fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)

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Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.

The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form.  It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient,  the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.

The Travelogue is divided into four books:

Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.

Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.

Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.

Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.

No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.

The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.

A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their  1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.

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Probable view of Marco Polo's own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)
Probable view of Marco Polo’s own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)

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Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.

To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.

After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.

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Next → Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?

← Previous: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo.

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A European in the Orient: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.

The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.

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Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)

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Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.

In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by  Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.

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Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.

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Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them  the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout  his dominion.

Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.

In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.

Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.

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Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.
Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.

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In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.

The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars:  Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.

At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.

Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.

When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.

The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.

Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.

In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.

The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.

Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.

Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy.  He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.

The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.

In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.

The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”

The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive.  They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).  The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.

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Marco Polo's Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)
Marco Polo’s Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)

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Next → Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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World’s Tightest Parallel Parking Records


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Myself 

 .By T.V. Antony Raj

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World’s Tightest Parallel Parking Record Broken In China on November 14, 2014  (Source: motorbeam.com)
World’s Tightest Parallel Parking Record Broken In China on November 14, 2014 (Source: motorbeam.com)

In some countries, the test for parallel parking is the hardest part of getting a license to drive a vehicle. Even for the most experienced drivers, parallel parking might not be the easiest of all manoeuvres. Now, in some cases, electronic gadgets takeover much of the work and help the drivers in parallel parking.

In recent years, one of the most popular Guinness World Record has been the hotly contested “tightest parallel parking” title. In this high-speed parking contest, the drivers accelerate their vehicle towards the space between two parked cars and veer sideways into the spot. They use only the hand-brake and the steering wheel to glide their vehicle into a space with just a few inches longer than their vehicle.

Records are set to be broken. During the last four years, the record for “tightest parallel parking” has changed hands many times.

German stunt driver Ronny Wechselberger aka Ronny C' Rock  (Source: legend.az/)
German stunt driver Ronny Wechselberger aka Ronny C’ Rock (Source: legend.az)

On April 2, 2011, German stunt driver Ronny Wechselberger aka Ronny C’ Rock achieved the tightest parallel parking record. On the set of the Guinness World Records’ TV show “Wir holen den Rekord nach Deutschland” (“We bring the record to Germany”) in Berlin, he parked a Volkswagen Polo into a space with just 26 cm (10.24 in) to spare.

On July 21, 2011 the Chinese driver Zhang Hua of the Chery Car Stunts Performance Team bettered Ronny C’ Rock’s achievement. On the set of Zheng Da Zong Yi-Guinness World Records Special TV show at Zhengzhi Driving School, Linyi City, Shandong Province, China, Zhang Hua drifted his vehicle into a tighter fit. The gap measured only 24 cm (9.45 in) longer than his vehicle.

Patrik Folco, the Italian stunt performer cum precision driver (Source: tvblog.it)
Patrik Folco, the Italian stunt performer cum precision driver (Source: tvblog.it)

In April 2012 Patrik Folco, the Italian stunt performer cum precision driver,  slid his car into a gap measuring just 22 cm (8.66 in) longer than the car he was driving.

Chinese master wheelman Han Yue (Source: shockmansion.com)
Chinese master wheelman Han Yue (Source: shockmansion.com)

A month later, during the third week in May 2012, the Chinese master wheel man Han Yue managed to shave off an incredible 7 cm (2.76 in) from the record. During an attempt at the launch in Beijing of a new special edition of the Mini called The Chinese Job, he  drifted into a space of just 15 cm (5.91 in) longer than his vehicle.

On June 18, 2012 at Flugplatz Kindel in Eisenach, Germany, Ronny C’ Rock recaptured the tightest parallel parking record from Han Yue by drifting into a space 14 cm (5.51 in) longer than his car. The feat was recorded for the Guinness World Records’ TV show “Wir holen den Rekord nach Deutschland” (“We bring the record to Germany”). It was aired on RTL2 (Germany).

Ronny used a VW Up with a length of 3.54 m (11 ft 7.37 in). He parked the vehicle into a 3.68-cm-long (12 ft 0.88 in) space, marked by two other Ups. The distance was measured electronically with a laser device as well.

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Stunt Drive UK Instructors and Gloucester based brothers Alastair Moffatt (33) and John Moffatt (31) (Source: stuntdriveuk.com)
Stunt Drive UK Instructors and Gloucester based brothers Alastair Moffatt (33) and John Moffatt (31) (Source: stuntdriveuk.com)

On December 10, 2012 the Moffatt brothers Alastair and John from Gloucester, UK, beat Ronny Wechselberger’s record measuring 14 cm (5.51 in).

The brothers compete in various forms of motorsport since the age of 8. At that time, they had a combined experience of over 47 years and had won 10 national championships. They are also Master Instructors for Stunt Drive UK, the countries first stunt driving experience day company.

The Moffatt brothers were invited to attempt the tightest parallel parking feat for Guinness World Record as part of a new children’s TV Series called “Officially Amazing.” This show features some of the funniest, most ridiculous, scariest and Amazing record attempts from around the world. It airs on the CBBC Channel and throughout the International BBC Network.

On the set of “Officially Amazing” (Lion TV) in Hereford, UK, the Moffatt brothers driving British vintage Mini Mayfairs successfully pulled off the stunt with just 13.1 cm (5.16 in) to spare between the cars – a gap about 0.72 cm (0.28 in) longer than the length of an iPhone 5 (12.38 cm long).

The younger brother John was the first of the pair to break the record. After a few failures, he drifted his Mini into a space with 13.1 cm (5.16 in) to spare, to enter the history books.

It was then up to Alastair Moffatt to match his brother’s feat. Alastair skidded his car into the same space at 2.40 and equalled his younger brother John’s feat.

The new record was held in joint names as both John and Alastair achieved the 13.1 cm (5 in) gap within 20 minutes of each other.

Alastair was obviously thrilled for John. He said:

“When I achieved the record all I felt was relief, we were running out of light, as filming had taken a huge proportion of the day and I there was only time for 1 or 2 attempts left, so the pressure was on. The fact that we now hold this record jointly is great, as we are very competitive with each other, however, John continually reminds me that he achieved it first!”

 In July 2013, Alistair Moffat reduced the gap to an impressive 8.6 cm (3.385 in) which many motoring experts thought unbeatable.

On November 14, 2014 during the “China Drift Championship” held in Chongqing, the Chinese master wheel man Han Yue did the seemingly impossible. He regained the title by setting a new tightest parallel parking record. He drifted his MINI 3-Door Hatch into a space with just 8 cm (3.1 in) to spare between two other cars just like it.

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