MARCO POLO     (1254 - 1324)


     Excerpt from the book “The Travels”






Near the Georgian border there is a spring from which gushes a stream of oil in such abundance that a hundred ships may load there at once.


This for burning oil is not good to eat but it is good for burning and as a salve for men and camels infected with itch or scab. Men come, from a long to fetch this oil and in all the neighborhood no oil is burnt but this. In Georgia there is the King who always bears the name of David Malik, that is to say King David. He is subject to the Tartars.


In former times all the kings of this country were born with the sign of an eagle on the right shoulder. The Georgians are a handsome race of daughty warriors, good archers, and good fighters on the battlefield. They are Christians and observe the rule of the Greek church. They  wear hair cropped in clerical fashion.


This is the country through which Alexander could not pass when he wanted to go to the north, because the way is narrow and dangerous. On one side is the sea. On the other are high mountains and forests impassable on horseback. This narrow pass between the mountains and the sea runs for more than four leagues, so that a few men could hold against all comers. This is why Alexander could not pass. And I should le you know that Alexander had a tower and fortress built here, so that the natives could not sally out to attack him. This was called the Iron Gates It is the place where Alexander Book relates that he shut in the Tartars between two mountains. In fact they were not Tartars, but people called Comanians and various other races besides, because there were no Tartars at that time.




The country has villages and towns in plenty. Silk is produced here in abundance , and silken fabrics and cloth of gold woven here are the finest ever seen. There are also the best goshawks in the world. There are ample supplies of everything, and commerce and industry flourish. The whole country is full of high mountains and narrow passes which are easily defensible, so that I can assure you that the Tartars have never been able to achieve complete dominion over it. Among these mountains are woods in which the only trees are box-trees.


There is a monastery here called St. Leonard’s, notable for the following miraculous occurrence. You must know that there isa great lake formed of whater that issues from a mountain just beside the church of St. Leonard. And in this water no fish is found, big or little, at any season of the year, except that they begin to appear on the first day of Lent and continue every day throughout Lent till Holy Saturday, that is the eve of Easter. During all this period there are fish in plenty; best at every other season there is not one to be found.


This country looks out over two seas. To the north lies the Black Sea, to the east that called the sea of Baku or the Ghel or Ghelan, which is some 2,800 miles in circumference and is strictly speaking a lake, because it is completely surrounded by mountains and land and has no connection with the main sea – which lies in fact twelve days’ journey away. It contains many inhabited islands, with fine cities built on them. The inhabitants are refugees from the power of the Great Tartar, when re rode as a conqueror through the he kingdom or province of Persia, whose cities and districts then had a system of government by the  commonalty; they sought refuge in these islands and among the mountains in the hope of finding safety there…


In this country is a fine city of great size named Tiflis, surrounded by subordinate towns and townships. The inhabitants are Christians (that is, Armenians and Georgians) besides a few Saracens and Jews, but not many. Silk and mony othr fabrics are woven here. The inhabitants live by their industry and are subject to the Great Khan of the Tartars.


You must know that we mention only the two or three principal cities of each province. There are many others which it would be tedious to enumerate, unless they are remarkable for some special curiosity. But  some that we have omitted, which are situated in the places above mentioned, will be dealt with more fully below.


So much for what lies north of Armenia.