Cosmography and sources

Setting out from Venice in about 1318, Odorico (ca. 1280-1331) and his fellow monks reached the Black Sea on Venetian galleys, disembarking at Trebisond and traversing Mesopotamia by land to Hormuz. In contrast to the merchants and missionaries who traveled the caravan routes of the so-called Silk Road, Odorico undertook the voyage to the Far East by sea, along routes followed by the Muslim fleets that ran maritime commerce between India, the Spice Islands, and China.

After crossing the Indian Ocean, Odorico disembarked at Tana, northeast of Mumbai, where he reclaimed the mortal remains of four martyred friars, and then proceeded to Malabar, Madras, and Mylapore, where he visited the legendary tomb of Thomas the Apostle. He then crossed the eastern Indian Ocean, touching Ceylon, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo, arriving finally at Canton (today’s Quanzhou). In a northwest direction he passed Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Yangzhou, and numerous other Chinese cities, and completed his journey to Khān Bālīq no later than 1326 or 1327.

Khān Bālīq was the imperial capital of the Mongol-Chinese Yuan Dynasty and seat of the Franciscan mission under the leadership of Friar Giovanni da Montecorvino (1247-1328), appointed in 1307 as Archbishop throughout the East. By no later than 1328, Odorico began his return voyage to Europe, following the caravan routes from China, across the Pamir range, the Caspian regions, and Persia, until he reached the Black Sea, from which he sailed to the Italian peninsula, probably landing in Venice. In 1330 he began to compose his Relatio, or Itinerarium, and died at the monastery of San Francesco in Udine in 1331.