The Road Marco and Columbus Didn’t Take


As Europeans, we learn in school that civilization developed rapidly in Europe during the Middle Ages. Kings and queens, nobility and rich merchants stood in line to spend their money on risky expeditions. Adventurers and explorers like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus were sponsored to venture out into the Grand Unknown. Those who stayed behind sincerely prayed they would not fall of the edge of the world. One couldn’t be too careful in the safe confinements of a Venetian mansion or Spanish court…

Zheng He’s Flagship.

The voyages of Marco Polo and Columbus have been etched into our knowledge of world history – and we have their rich patrons to thank for that. Marco followed that long road through Central Asia, China and Mongolia to the court of Kublai Khan. Today, we call it the Silk Road. A few hundred years later, Columbus ventured out towards America, convinced he would find India. He did find a whole continent, America instead of India, and gave the Spanish crown its Golden Age as their armies conquered the land and people for unimaginable wealth. Their voyages have been handed down in time through memoirs, art and chronicles.

What we don’t know a lot about, is how the Asians perceive(d) this period in time. Thankfully, as we travel more extensively and everything about the world enters your living room via tv and computer – we have a great opportunity to add the Asian version of history to our own. Therefore we now know that when Marco and Columbus trotted around the globe, the Chinese had already been exploring a bit of their own. They had so many established trade routes that dated from ancient times that the Chinese ruler and his general Zheng He were now thinking of controlling all the lands connected to these routes. The one route Zheng He had in mind, was called the Maritime Silk Road. He ventured out in the 15th century with an enormous fleet to travel down the seas towards Africa.

The Maritime Silk Route.

If you or your children want to have an interactive experience of the Maritime Silk Route – visit the Maritime Experiential Museum in Singapore. On one floor, you’ll cross continents and countries, seas and cultures – stretching from China, via the Strait of Malacca to India and Persia and from Oman down the African coast to Kenya. The museum allows you to actively experience different cultures of these people and their. The climax of the museum is the movie – don’t skip it! Enjoy the rough waters as you sail in the dark, Chinese sea during a storm – it’s wet!

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