A 72-year-old Italian woman has embarked on an epic journey between Venice and Beijing by foot, following the path of the legendary merchant Marco Polo along the ancient Silk Road trade route.
Vienna Cammarota left Venice, birthplace of Polo, on Tuesday, and will cover about 13,670 miles (22,000km) as she walks through 15 countries, with the aim of arriving in Beijing in December 2025.
Cammarota has been an avid walker for more than 30 years and previously ventured across Tibet, Palestine, Israel, Patagonia and Madagascar on foot. Her most recent adventure took her on a journey through medieval towns in the southern Italian regions of Campania, Calabria and Basilicata.
Speaking before setting off, Cammarota said she was ready for her latest challenge, during which she will experience vastly contrasting terrain and climate on the route across countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. However, she is also a little nervous.
“It’s always the same feeling at the beginning of a trip,” she said.
Aside from her backpack, Cammarota is equipped with a GoPro camera to record footage of her travels and a phone that includes an app through which her doctor can check on her health remotely. “There will be really challenging moments, such as facing the cold in Mongolia, but I’m ready,” she said.
Cammarota will cross into Slovenia from northern Italy, before heading to Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and, finally, China. By the time she reaches Beijing she will be 75.
She hopes to be hosted by people she meets along the way. “Not because I’m trying to save money, but because I want to have direct contact and be able to tell the story of the countries through the people hosting me,” she said, adding that her family may join her if she stays in a place for longer than a day or two.
Cammarota, who is an ambassador of Archeoclub Italia, an association for the preservation of cultural heritage, has been inspired to explore by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German author who published diaries of his travels in Italy between 1786 and 1788 in his book, Italian Journey, and of course, by Marco Polo. Polo set off from Venice in 1271 at the age of 17 and spent more than two decades travelling through Asia on a route that later became known as the Silk Road. Probably the most famous European to travel the route, he wrote a book about his adventures that went on to become one of the world’s first bestsellers.
“After Von Goethe, I became fascinated by Marco Polo,” said Cammarota. “I love history, culture and archaeology, and I walk in order to see and recount, but above all to listen.”
Cammarota will be travelling with Italian and Ukrainian flags, describing the trip as “a walk for peace” as she endeavours to “unite populations”.
“In all likelihood, the journey will cover a distance of about 22,000km, but I don’t exclude deviations to take into account the changes that may have occurred along the Silk Road.”