Odorico da Pordenone (ca.1280-1331), born around 1280 in Friuli, is known for the voyage to the Far East he undertook in the years between 1318 and 1330. He had joined the Franciscan Order in Udine as a young man, and circa 1318 set out on an intense period of Catholic missionary work in the East. Franciscan missionaries had already reached Mongolia as early as 1250. Following in the wake of Mongol expansion in China, they had come all the way to Khān Bālīq, the “city of the Khans”, today’s Beijing.
It was in this context that Odorico began, around 1318, a ten-year sojourn that took him to Khān Bālīq. In contrast to Marco Polo (1254-ca. 1324), Odorico and his fellow monks traveled by sea, departing from Hormuz and crossing the Indian Ocean and China Sea. Disembarking from Canton, they proceeded for Beijing via river and caravan routes. After his return to Padua no later than 1330, in May of that year he was asked by the provincial minister of the Friars Minor to draft an account of his travels.
Dictated to his fellow brother Guglielmo da Solagna (14th cent.), Odorico’s travel account was conveyed to the papal curia in Avignon. Widely disseminated in manuscript form in Latin as well as Italian and French vernacular, his Itinerarium was often twinned in manuscript with Marco Polo’s Milione. Circa eighty manuscript exemplars exist today; the first printed edition, the edition princeps, was published in 1513. Odorico died in January 1331 at the monastery of San Francesco in Udine.