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The most remarkable adventurers from ancient times

The tourism industry is mostly a new idea. But people have been traveling to other countries for their own achievements and curiosity since ancient times. In the early parts of history, Rulers liked it when peaceful pilgrims and traders came to their lands and told other people about them.

Flat illustration of reyes magos arriving to the nativity scene. © Freepik

Like the travel bloggers of today, the adventurous people of the past also wrote a lot about their trips abroad. Here are the most famous travelers from the past who set the standard for tourism back then:

Marco Polo

Marco Polo wearing a Tartar outfit, print from the 18th century. © Wikimedia Commons 

A well-known name in history, Marco Polo lived in Europe during the Renaissance. This famous merchant from Venice in the 1300s was known for traveling along the Silk Road. Additionally, he is credited with being the first European to join the Chinese imperial court. Several modern pieces of literature talk about how close he was to Kublai Khan. One is the Netflix show “Marco Polo,” which was canceled too soon.

Polo’s ancestors, especially his father Niccol and his uncle Maffeo, did a lot of the hard work to get him where he is today. The family had done business with the Middle East for a long time, making a lot of money and gaining respect. Even though it’s not clear if the Polos were noble, it didn’t matter much in Venice, which had a long history of being a republic and a trading city.


Painting of Xuanzang. Japan, Kamakura Period (14th century). © Wikimedia Commons

This Buddhist monk wrote about the interactions between India and China during the early Tang Dynasty (600 AD). Xuanzang went to India on a 17-year pilgrimage because he was very religious. His trip took him to Nepal and what is now Bangladesh. “Journey to the West,” an epic story from the Ming Dynasty, was based on Xuanzang.

The story of a Chinese monk who spent 17 years traveling from India to China to bring Buddhist teachings. After that, Xuanzang became an important part of the great Chinese epic Journey to the West.

In 629 C.E., a Buddhist monk from China named Xuanzang wanted to go to India to learn more about Buddhism, but the emperor at the time forbade people from leaving China. Xuanzang respected authority, and it was hard for him to decide whether to go on the journey. Xuanzang was smart and religious, and in the end, he thought that the only way for Chinese Buddhists to find answers to their questions was to go to India. That year, he began a seventeen-year journey, most of which he spent on the run and traveling at night.

Ibn Battuta

Handmade oil painting reproduction of Ibn Battuta in Egypt, a painting by Hippolyte Leon Benett. © Wikimedia Commons

This Moroccan explorer from the 12th century was one of the best of his time, if not the best of all time. Ibn Battuta has been to almost all of the countries in the Islamic world, as well as places like North Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia, India, and China. His famous name has become common for every Arab who followed in his footsteps and did something exciting.

His trip continued across the Black Sea to the Caspian Region, then to the northern Caucasus, and finally to Saray on the lower Volga River, the capital of Oz Beg, the khan of the Golden Horde (ruled 1312–41). He traveled up the Volga and Kama from Saray to Bulgaria, but this may not have occurred.

On the other hand, the story of his trip to Constantinople (now Istanbul) with khan’s wife, a Byzantine princess, seems to be a first-hand account, even though there are some small problems with the order of events. Ibn Battuta’s description of the capital city of the Byzantine Empire is vivid and, for the most part, true. Even though he had the same strong feelings about non-Muslims as his fellow Muslims, his story of the “second Rome” shows that he was a tolerant man with many questions. Still, he was always happier in the land of Islam than in Christian, Hindu, or pagan lands that were not Muslim.

Lewis and Clark

Portraits of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. © Wikimedia Commons

Every (educated) citizen of the United States knows that Lewis and William Clark were the first in history to explore the United States’ western hemisphere. The Lewis and Clark Expedition still symbolizes what it means to go into uncharted territory.

As a result of the expedition consisting of 16 members, the group, called the Corps of Discovery, traveled nearly 8,000 miles from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean and back (13,000 km). The 40 men moved their 10-ton keelboat and two excellence (dugout boats) up the Missouri River by pushing, pulling, and poling. Each day, they went 16 to 32 km or 10 to 20 miles.

Christopher Columbus

Posthumous portrait of Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. There are no known authentic portraits of Columbus. © Wikimedia Commons

The writings of Marco Polo and Pliny, the Elder, gave the Genoese explorers ideas for finding a new sea route from the Common market to Asia. He used these ideas to persuade the Spanish monarchs to help him fund his dream. He went to North America and the Caribbean on his trip. Even though he wasn’t the first explorer to visit what is now the United States, he founded the first permanent European settlement there.