The Franciscan monk, William of Rubruck, travelled to the Great Khan’s court in Karakorum from 1252 to 1255. This was not a ground-breaking journey; several missionaries preceded him, and at the court he encountered a French silversmith, and a woman from Lorraine doing the cooking. Until the 15th century, it seemed more likely the East would colonize the West than vice versa. While the Portuguese were making their first tentative forays to Madeira and then the Azores, massive Chinese fleets under the command of Zheng He repeatedly visited eastern Africa and developed commercial links all along the Indian Ocean’s northern littoral. But then the Chinese turned inward, Columbus rediscovered America (500 years after the Norse) and the Portuguese Da Gama breasted the Cape of Good Hope (1498): two decades later, Magellan would achieve the first global circumnavigation. The new global worldview was reflected in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the newly-discovered lands in the America between Portugal and the Crown of Castile.
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