Nick Squires and Malcolm Moore
April 24, 2011
Italians have reacted with fury to an attempt by Croatia to claim the legendary explorer Marco Polo was one of their own.
The outcry came after a museum dedicated to the Venetian explorer in the Chinese city of Yangzhou was opened not by Italian dignitaries but by a former president of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic.
The exact date and place of Marco Polo's birth are unknown but most scholars believe he came from Venice. It has been argued by some historians, however, that he was born on the island of Korcula on the Adriatic coast, in what is today Croatia.
According to this theory, his father was a merchant from Dalmatia named Maffeo Pilic, who Italianised his surname to Polo when he established himself in Venice.
The museum was built in Yangzhou because Marco Polo was an official there from 1282 to 1284. Inaugurating the museum this month, Mr Mesic described Marco Polo as a "world explorer, born in Croatia, who opened up China to Europe".
Italy's leading broadsheet newspaper, Corriere della Sera , described the Croatian claim to Marco Polo as "ridiculous" and a "provocation".
"Attributing Croatian nationality to Marco Polo or anyone else born on the island at that time, just because it is now part of Croatia, is stretching historical facts too far," the paper said.
It pointed out that Garibaldi, the hero of the Risorgimento movement to unite Italy in the 19th century, was born in Nice but was never described as French.
The paper criticised Italian diplomats in China for allowing "someone as incredibly famous among the Chinese as (Marco Polo) to slip through their fingers, to the possible detriment of friendly relations, commerce and tourism".