Chronology of European exploration of Asia

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The Fra Mauro map, completed around 1459, is a map of the then-known world. Following the standard practice at that time, south is at the top, the map was said by Giovanni Battista Ramusio to have been partially based on the one brought from Cathay by Marco Polo.

This is a chronology of the early European exploration of Asia.[1]

First wave of exploration (mainly by land)[edit]


Middle Ages[edit]

Trade routes in Eurasia and north Africa c. 870 CE

[The true extent of Marco Polo's travels is open to debate. Some archeologists believe that he only made it as far as Persia, with the rest of his story cobbled together based on tales he was told by others, due to the following reasons: 1) His story has many inconsistencies and inaccuracies. 2) Despite his claim that he was an emissary in the court of Kublai Khan, his name does not appear in any surviving Mongol or Chinese records. 3) Despite being an acute observer of daily life and rituals, there is no mention in Marco Polo’s chapters on China of the custom of binding women’s feet, chopsticks, tea drinking or the Great Wall.

However, other scholars counterclaim using the following explanations:

1) Marco Polo had never claimed to have experienced everything in his story. Rather, he had always made it clear when he was describing his own experiences and when he was describing tales he had heard instead, which is where the inconsistencies and inaccuracies come in. 2) As with most foreigners in a foreign country in pre-modern times, he may have taken up a new name in the language of the new culture. In this case, it would have been either Mongol or Chinese. 3) When Marco Polo visited China, the northern part was ruled by the Mongol Yuan dynasty. As the Great Wall had been built by the Chinese to repel their northern barbarian invaders since the time of the Mongols' ancestors, the Wall became obsolete once the Mongols' predecessors, the Jin dynasty, took over Northern China in the early 12th century. By the time Polo arrived in the late 13th century, more than 100 years later, the Wall would have been in ruins and no longer noteworthy.]

Second wave of exploration (by sea)[edit]

The ships which were used by Vasco da Gama on his first voyage. (Illustration from 1558).
The Cantino planisphere (or Cantino World Map) of 1502 is the earliest surviving map showing Portuguese Discoveries in the east and west.
Left panels 1-3
Right panels 4-6
Kunyu Wanguo Quantu, printed by Matteo Ricci, Zhong Wentao and Li Zhizao, upon request of Wanli Emperor in Beijing, 1602, the first world map in the Chinese language
  • 1582: The Italian Jesuit priest and missionary Matteo Ricci reaches the Portuguese settlement of Macau in Ming China and in 1601 becomes the first European to be invited into the Ming imperial palace of the Forbidden City in Beijing, at the behest of the Wanli Emperor who sought his services at court, particularly for his expertise in astronomy. In 1602 Ricci and his Chinese translator Li Zhizao would co-publish the first world map in Chinese, the Kunyu Wanguo Quantu which greatly expanded both Chinese and Japanese knowledge of global geography.
  • 1595: The Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten published his Reys-gheschrift vande navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten (Travel Accounts of Portuguese Navigation in the Orient) which was translated into English and German in 1598. It gave access to secret Portuguese information, including the nautical maps which had been well guarded for over a century, the book thus broke the Portuguese monopoly on the sea trade with Asia.

Other noteworthy Europeans[edit]

Noteworthy others[edit]

The Tabula Rogeriana (1154), by Muhammad al-Idrisi

See also[edit]


  2. ^ Vera Lucia Bottrel Tostes, Bravos homens de outrora, Camoes - Revista de Latras e Culturas Lusofonas, no. 8, January - March 2000
  3. ^ Hannard (1991), page 7; Milton, Giles (1999). Nathaniel's Nutmeg. London: Sceptre. pp. 5 and 7. ISBN 978-0-340-69676-7. 
  4. ^ Hannard (1991), page 7
  5. ^ Ricklefs, M. C. (1993). A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1300, 2nd Edition. London: MacMillan. p. 25. ISBN 0-333-57689-6.