Marco Polo and the San Jose Connection

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

There was an Italian San Jose resident and local tailor/machineist that lived in the area 100 years ago who's lineage connected him through friendship with the Marco Polo family and passed on documents and the maps that survived through the 7 centuries. As of 2014, they have ended up with a descendant Jeffrey R. Pendergraft. Part of this collection is referred to as the Rossi Map Collection by cartographers and academics. His name was Marcianus F. Rossi (Marcian Rossi) and he lived at 25 Rainer Avenue .

Marcian Rossi (Filomeno Emanuele Marciano Rossi)
Marcian Rossi (Filomeno Emanuele Marciano Rossi)

 

According to family recounting, Marco Polo passed the maps to Admiral Rujerius Sanseverinus; a graduate of the Nautical School in Amalfi during the 13th century. Marco Polo himself never mentioned this collection of maps during the second hand account in his travelogue that was written while he was in prison. The maps contain references to Marco Polo's 3 daughters (Bellela, Fantina and Mareta). In the years between 1933 and his death in 1948 Rossi went about trying to establish the credibility and provenance of the maps.



 

In a letter to the Library of Congress, Rossi recounted the history of the maps and submitted a map for examination. This is now referred to as 'Map with Ship'. Over the years the maps were debated between various scholars, cartographers, historians and even J. Edgar Hoover became involved with some of the examinations.


The below photo of 'Map with Ship' depicts the northeastern regions of Asia. It also includes a crude drawing of a ship on the left side (thus the namesake). The parchment that it is written on appears to have bits of writing that have been erased or scratched away. There are Chinese characters written on the map, but that don't form distinct phrases. There are areas that have Arabic script in them and there are also Roman numerals. Of course Italian is found extensively in the descriptions on the map.

Map with Ship, Library of Congress
Map with Ship, Library of Congress

Here's an excerpt of the Italian writing on the lower left:

I. India and adjacent islands, according to what the Saracens say. II. Cattigara of Tartary, islands of Japan, and adjacent islands. III. Peninsula of the Sea Lions IV. Islands connected to the Peninsula of the Stags, situated at four hours difference from the walled provinces of Tartary.

According to Benjamin Olshin in Chapter 3 of the book 'The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps':

The term “Saracens” perhaps refers to Muslim navigators, who seem to be suggested as one of the sources for this map

And

in the “Map with Ship” there is the “Peninsula of the Sea Lions” and the “Islands connected to the Peninsula of the Stags, situated at four hours difference from the walled provinces of Tartary.” But what is especially peculiar here is the description of the voyage itself, a trip that is found nowhere in the traditional Polo narrative.

 

Unfortunately, Marcian Rossi never lived to see the maps fully accepted by scholars as legitimate maps from Marco Polo. They might have been original maps or they may have been reproductions of older maps from hundreds of years ago..


Although Marcian was known as a merchant and tailor by the locals, he also was an author of a science fiction novel and had filed a patent for a weapon that would defeat barbed wire during World War I. I'll discuss these in a future post. He died in 1948 and is buried at the Santa Clara Mission Cemetary.







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