Travel Of Marco PoloThe prelude to the Age of Exploration was a series of European expeditions crossing Eurasia by land in the late Middle Ages. Although the Mongols had threatened Europe with pillage and destruction, the Mongol states also unified much of Eurasia and, from 1206 on, the Pax Mongolica allowed safe trade routes and communication lines stretching from the Middle East to China. A series of Europeans took advantage of these to explore eastwards. Most were Italians, as trade between Europe and the Middle East was controlled mainly by traders from the Maritime Republics. The close Italian links to the Levant raised great curiosity and commercial interest in countries which lay further east.
The first of these travelers was Giovanni de Plano Carpini, dispatched in a formal mission by Pope Innocent IV, who journeyed to Mongolia and back from 1241 to 1247. The most famous traveler, however, was Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant who wrote of journeys throughout Asia from 1271 to 1295, describing being a guest at the Yuan Dynasty court of Kublai Khan in Travels, a work read throughout Europe. In 1291, in a first oceanic exploration attempt, merchant brothers Vadino and Ugolino Vivaldi had sailed from Genoa with two galleys, but disappeared off the Moroccan coast, feeding the fears of Atlantic travel. From 1325 to 1354, a Moroccan scholar from Tangier, Ibn Battuta, journeyed from North Africa, Southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, having reached China. After return, he dictated an account of his journeys to a scholar he met in Granada, the Rihla ("The Journey"), the unheralded source on his adventures. In 1439, Niccolò Da Conti published an account of his travels to India and Southeast Asia and later, in 1466–1472, a Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin of Tver travelled to India, which he described in his book A Journey Beyond the Three Seas.
These journeys had little immediate effect. The Mongol Empire collapsed almost as quickly as it formed and soon the route to the east became far more difficult and dangerous. The Black Death of the 14th century also blocked travel and trade. The rise of the Ottoman Empire further limited the possibilities of European overland trade.