Museum of Marco Polo

Celebrating Museums And Imagination 2020

The Strange, true history of the Museum of Marco Polo

Side by side with the ‘real’ history of museums there is an interesting tradition of writers, artists and film makers inventing fictional museums. This tradition goes back hundreds of years, at least as far as the philosopher Thomas Browne who created a fictional museum called the Musaeum Clausum.

Since then dozens of novelists have created museums. Some are entirely imaginary and others thinly disguised versions of real ones. They exist as vehicles to carry the writer’s themes of wonder, grief, memory and longing. Occasionally the writer has got so carried away that he or she has gone on to build the imaginary museum in three dimensions – so that it is now real as well as fictional – which is what the novelist Orhan Pamuk did when he built his Museum of Innocence (based on his novel) in the quiet streets of Beyoglu in Istanbul. It‘s well worth visiting.

And so – because every museum has – or ought to have – a history, here, below, is the fictional history of the Museum of Marco Polo.

The Museum In Ruins

It has been many years since I first began to study the strange, true history of the Museum of Marco Polo...

Rachel Morris

Read More

The Return

They say that when he first came home, dressed as he was in Mongol robes and with his hair done up in a Mongol pigtail...

Rachel Morris

Read More

The Haunting

One day when he was searching through his trunks he discovered a secret pocket in the inner sleeve of the child’s...

Rachel Morris

Read More

The Flood

And then the autumn came, and the time of rising waters. First they crept up the water stairs and did away...

Rachel Morris

Read More

An Introduction to Fictional Museums

The history of fictional museums is a long and curious one, and one that has more relevance to real museums than you might at first sight think. The history of fictional museums goes back at least as far as the seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Browne, who described (in words) an entirely invented museum called the Museum Clausum, whose artefacts included ‘A large Ostrich’s Egg, whereon is neatly and fully wrought that famous battle of Alcazar, in which three Kings lost their lives.’  From Thomas Browne til now artists, poets and writers have conjured up all kinds of fictional museums, whether to carry a story, make a point, or for the sheer pleasure of constructing a magical place.

Writers know all about the magic of museums – as places of remembering, for the apparent ‘alive-ness’ of their objects, and for what they reveal about the innate pathos and poignancy of the journeys we all make through time.  Interestingly visitors also understand the imaginative power of museums.  Visitor research shows that visitors come to museums at least as much for the social, spiritual and emotional power of the artefacts as for their intellectual value – which is something museums are increasingly acknowledging.

And so as a tribute to the magic of museums and to their poetic power we have given the Museum of Marco Polo a back story, a history which no more improbable than the real history of any museum.  One last point:  both my book and this website are illustrated by my daughter Isabel Greenberg who writes graphic novels, the latest of which – Glass Town – is inspired by the childhood writings of the Bronte children.   So read on with this website and enjoy.