Pictured is a 17th Century model of a Venetian Galley which is on display at the “Marco Polo: Man & Myth” exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History. (Special Photos)
ATLANTA — If your children think Marco Polo is a game you play in the pool, it’s time to bring them to Fernbank Museum of Natural History.
The Atlanta venue welcomes “Marco Polo: Man & Myth,” which made its North American premiere at Fernbank on Friday. The exhibit highlights his epic 24-year journey from Venice to China along the Silk Road, and showcases Marco Polo as the ultimate adventure traveler.
“Few people are aware that Marco Polo was only 17 when he left Venice on what might possibly be history’s greatest father-son road trip,” said Bobbi Hohmann, Fernbank Museum curator and anthropologist. “Like something we might see produced in Hollywood today, the Polos’ trip through Asia included bouts of unidentified illnesses, encounters with bandits and thieves, unusual customs and practices, and some of the most spectacular and harsh landscapes in the world.”
Featuring excerpts from his memoir, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” the exhibition includes rare and extraordinary objects from private collections and museums in Italy to show the cultural practices, artistic traditions, landscapes and unusual animals he encountered. It also show the encounters he had inside the Mongol Empire, including the Court of Kublai Khan.
There are more than 80 objects (such as coins, ceramics, artwork, maps and navigational tools) that take visitors from his Venetian homeland to China. The exhibit takes attendees on Polo’s route, showing how travel has changed since the 13th century, including a look at his tools.
“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.’”
On the “myth” side of the exhibition, visitors can explore the legend of Marco Polo, which surround his travels. “The Travels of Marco Polo” was published after Polo’s return to Venice and told a story of epic proportion about 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 story.
Beside artifacts, there are several family friendly activities, including an interactive cart staffed by Fernbank’s youth volunteers on weekends, a gallery guide and “Where’s Marco?” maps offering more information on his journey.
Fernbank will host Marco Polo Celebration Day with a variety of activities on Oct. 12.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 5.