by Gian Luigi Lenzi
During the recent Christmas holidays I went back to one of my youth’s favourite books, a book published more than 700 years ago: “IL MILIONE”, that is the journey of Marco Polo to the Far East. He told this story freshly imprisoned after the defeat of the Venetian Navy near Curzola on 8th September 1298. While being in prison for many months he told this story to his fellow inmate who had been imprisoned for 14 years in the Genovese jail called the “Malapaga” (i.e. bad reward). This fellow was a langue d’oil writer – Mr. Rustichello da Pisa. Marco Polo spent more than 5 years in Genova, one in the Malapaga jail, the other in a more comfortable palace. He returned to Venice when he was already 50 years old.
Why I went back to this book? …because I wanted to look at Istanbul at Marco Polo’s time. I was curious to read on his Istanbul experience, to compare it in a few months from now, when making my own at the Joint Congress of European Neurology in June 2014.
Helàs, Marco visited Istanbul, but only on his way back from Cathay, and apparently in a big hurry, since there is no information on how many days he spent in Istanbul at that time where he was lodged and so on. The only object we have is a painting, a miniature showing the Polo family in Istanbul. But none of the men depicted is Marco. The miniature – that is shown (Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris) in the 1st Chapter of the “Le devisement du Monde” only later surnamed “IL MILIONE” – shows the two older Polo brothers, Nicolò (Marco’s father) and Maffeo, while taking leave from Istanbul’s authorities. It was the year 1254. Only in the spring of the year 1271, Maffeo, Nicolò and his son, Marco, then 17 years old, will leave again Venice to fulfil their promises to the Great Khan. But they did not trust Istanbul and sailed directly to San Giovanni d’Acri now on the Israel shores. However Marco will pass through Istanbul on his way back 24 years later in 1295, but in the IL MILIONE there are no comments, no feelings, no impressions, about the town, the people, anything. So nothing to nourish my curiosity, to stimulate my taste confronted with Marco Polo’s fabulous memories. It will be my personal experience in 2014. Perhaps something that I will submit to NEUROPENEWS after the Joint Congress of European Neurology… Who knows?