What mythical creature did Marco Polo discover?


Marco Polo, the renowned Italian merchant, explorer, and writer, embarked on a monumental journey to the East during the 13th century. His travels took him through various regions of Asia, including China, India, and Persia. Throughout his expeditions, Marco Polo encountered numerous incredible sights and encountered various cultures and people. Among the many fascinating encounters he had, one stands out – his alleged discovery of a mythical creature. This article will delve into the details of Marco Polo’s encounters, exploring the mythical creature he claimed to have discovered.

The Journey Begins

Marco Polo’s journey commenced in 1271 when he, along with his father and uncle, set sail from Venice to explore the vast unknown territories of the East. Their primary objective was to establish trade and diplomatic relations with the Mongol Empire, ruled by Kublai Khan. The journey spanned over 24 years, during which Marco Polo witnessed incredible landscapes, diverse cultures, and encountered various creatures, both real and mythical.

Arrival in the Mongol Empire

After years of arduous travel, the Polos finally arrived in the Mongol Empire in 1275. They were warmly received by Kublai Khan, who was intrigued by their tales of European civilization. Marco Polo became a trusted confidante of Kublai Khan and held various administrative positions in the empire. His close association with the Mongol ruler allowed him to embark on exploratory missions throughout the empire, which led to his alleged encounter with a mythical creature.

Exploration in the Kunlun Mountains

During his service in the Mongol Empire, Marco Polo was assigned to undertake a mission in the Kunlun Mountains, a range extending across present-day China. The Kunlun Mountains were known for their treacherous terrain and rumored to be home to mystical creatures and hidden treasures. It was during his exploration of this region that Marco Polo claimed to have discovered a mythical creature.

Encounter with the Qilin

According to Marco Polo’s accounts, he stumbled upon a creature known as the Qilin during his expedition in the Kunlun Mountains. The Qilin is a mythical creature deeply rooted in Chinese folklore and often associated with good luck and prosperity. It is described as a creature resembling a deer with the body of a horse, the tail of an ox, and a single horn on its forehead.

Marco Polo was captivated by the sight of this enchanting creature, which he described in vivid detail in his writings. He noted the Qilin’s graceful movements, its shimmering coat, and the aura of tranquility that seemed to surround it. His encounter with the Qilin became one of the most captivating and widely discussed aspects of his travels.

The Debate Surrounding Marco Polo’s Discovery

While Marco Polo’s tales of the Qilin have fascinated readers for centuries, there has been ongoing debate among historians and scholars regarding the authenticity of his claims. Some argue that Marco Polo’s account of the Qilin was a result of cultural misunderstandings or exaggerated storytelling, while others believe that he may have indeed encountered a creature matching the description of the Qilin.

Evidence and Interpretations

Supporters of Marco Polo’s account point to various pieces of evidence and interpretations that lend credibility to his claims. They argue that Marco Polo’s detailed description of the Qilin aligns with the mythical creature depicted in traditional Chinese art and literature. Additionally, they highlight the cultural significance of the Qilin in Chinese mythology, suggesting that it would have been unlikely for Marco Polo to fabricate such a creature.

Alternative Explanations

Those skeptical of Marco Polo’s discovery propose alternative explanations for his encounter. They suggest that he may have mistaken a real animal for the mythical Qilin or that his encounter was merely a product of his imagination influenced by the local folklore and legends.

Historical Context

Marco Polo’s journey occurred during a time of limited scientific knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is important to consider the historical context in which Marco Polo’s accounts were written and the potential influence of cultural beliefs and stories on his perception of what he encountered.

The Legacy of Marco Polo’s Discovery

Regardless of the ongoing debate surrounding the authenticity of Marco Polo’s encounter with the Qilin, his tales have left a lasting impact on the world. His writings, collectively known as “Il Milione” or “The Travels of Marco Polo,” introduced Europeans to the wonders of East Asia and sparked a newfound curiosity about these distant lands.

Cultural Exchange

Marco Polo’s accounts of his travels brought knowledge of Eastern civilizations, traditions, and mythical creatures to Europe. His writings inspired future explorers and navigators, such as Christopher Columbus, who sought to uncover the mysteries of the East.

Exploration and Expansion

Marco Polo’s journey also played a significant role in expanding European knowledge of the world and opening up new trade routes. His tales of the Qilin and other mythical creatures further fueled the imagination and curiosity of explorers, driving them to venture into uncharted territories in search of new discoveries.

Legacy in Literature and Art

The influence of Marco Polo’s discovery can be seen in numerous works of literature and art throughout history. His encounter with the Qilin has been depicted in paintings, sculptures, and written accounts, further perpetuating the mythical creature’s presence in popular culture.


Marco Polo’s alleged discovery of the Qilin remains a captivating aspect of his legendary journey to the East. While skepticism surrounds his encounter, the legacy of his writings and the impact they had on European understanding of the world cannot be denied. Whether Marco Polo truly stumbled upon a mythical creature or his account was a product of cultural influences and storytelling, his tales continue to inspire exploration and ignite the imagination, leaving an indelible mark on history.

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