AP PHOTOS: As Carnival opens, Venice honors native son Marco Polo on 700th anniversary of his death

VENICE, Italy (AP) — Venice is marking the 700th anniversary of the death of Marco Polo with a year of commemorations, starting with the opening of Carnival season honoring one of the lagoon city’s most illustrious native sons.

Kicking off Carnival last weekend, some 600 rowers in period dress raised their oars in salute and shouted “We are all Marco Polo” as they rowed along the Grand Canal from St. Marks Square to the Rialto Bridge.

Other events planned for the year include a major exhibit at the Palazzo Ducale tracing Marco Polo’s 13th century travels to Asia. He chronicled his discoveries in his famous memoirs that gave Europe one of the best-written accounts of Asia, its culture, geography and people.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the figure of Marco Polo, as an explorer who managed to have dialogue with peoples of other cultures, is particularly relevant today. He said that is especially true for a city like Venice, which from the times it was a maritime republic and a center of trade has prided itself as a bridge between East and West.

In Venice this past weekend, a visitor dressed up as Marco Polo and a masked Carnival character carried a copy of his famous memoirs, “Il Milione,” which was translated into English under the title “The Travels of Marco Polo.”

Marco Polo was born in Venice to a merchant family in 1254 and he died here in 1324 after a quarter-century exploring the Silk Road and serving the Mongol Court.

In Venice, a marble plaque affixed to the side of one of the city’s palazzi reads: “These were the homes of Marco Polo, who travelled to the farthest regions of Asia and described them.”