Italians were the pioneers in the discovery of Burma, starting with Marco Polo, who revealed it to Europe when, a few years after his arrival at the Mongolian court (1275), sent by the Great Khan on a diplomatic mission to Yün-nan, he crossed the Lu valley (upper Saluen) and the watershed to the west of it, going down the Shweli valley to the Irawady. It is probable that he did not reach today’s Pagan, at that time the capital of Burma; however he gathered enough information to describe the magnificence of his monuments. A century and a half later, Nicolò de ‘Conti, after having wandered several years in India, passed from Bengal to Arakan, and, having gone up the river, in 17 days then made the difficult crossing of the mountains that separate it from the Irawady. Reached this river downstream of Ava, he slowly went upstream to the city; then he went down to Pegu, which no European had yet seen, and to Sittang, at the mouth of the river of the same name, where he probably embarked for the Sunda islands. For the first he described the tattoos of the Burmese, and the famous white elephant. Again, between 1496 and 1499, Girolamo di Santo Stefano and Girolamo Adorno, Genoese, reached Burma by sea, arrived in Pegu, whence, when Adorno died, the other continued the journey to Sumatra. A few years later (1502-08), the Bolognese Ludovico di Varthema was in Pegu and received an audience from the king, traveling from India to Malacca and Sumatra. In 1567 Cesare Fedrici (or Federici), coming from Malacca, landed in Martaban, at the mouth of the Salun; he stayed there for almost two years, then made a long stay in Pegu; he described in his report the city and the magnificence of the court, the palaces, the pagodas, the capture of wild elephants, the trade, etc. Even richer in news is the report by the Venetian Gasparo Balbi (1583), but too much derived from Fedrici.
After the English R. Ficht who, who came immediately after the Balbi, also left a widespread relationship of the country, the series of travelers is interrupted. Of the sec. XVII we have only a description of the crossing of Arakan Yoma and the capital of the same name, due to Sebastián Manrique who arrived there from India in 1612 with three other Augustinian missionaries.
In the century XVIII various Italian missionaries exercised their apostolate in Pegu. One of them, remained anonymous, brought the first Burmese characters to Propaganda Fide in 1776, which were used by Melchiorre Carpano di Lodi, also a veteran of Ava, to publish the Alphabetum Barmanorum. Later his father Gaetano Mantegazza brought to Rome more precise drawings of Burmese characters and the rudiments of the language. The most illustrious for his doctrine was his father Vincenzo Sangermano da Arpino, a Barnabite, who arrived in Burma in 1783 and returned to Rome in 1806; among other things he wrote an excellent report of the Burmese kingdom, published in Rome in 1833. During this period (1795), an embassy sent by the government of India to the kingdom of Ava, directed by col. Michael Symes, together with col. Wood, expert topographer and geodesist, and with Dr. F. Buchanan. geographer; the mission made a good survey of the Irawady from Rangoon to Ava, and gathered large amounts of information. Knowledge of the region increased during the Anglo-Burmese war (1824-26), as surveyors collected large amounts of data especially on the border regions between Assam and Burma.
After the war John Crawfurd went up the Irawady up to a little above Ava, and from his stay he obtained the material for a report on the country that can truly be called classic, published in 1829. From then on, the exploration of Burma really began, by work of a series of British travelers, who set out to research the existing communication routes with neighboring countries, Siam, Assam, Laos and Yün-nan.
Notable among them is Dr. D. Richardson, who between 1829 and 1838 made the crossing five times from Moulmein, in the Gulf of Martaban, to Siam along the Saluen and Meping valleys, a tributary of the Menam; the chap. McLeod meanwhile explored Shan countries extensively.
In the years 1835-36, the cap. SF Hannay was the first to explore the upper Irawady basin by sailing up the river from Ava to Bhamo and from the confluence of the Mogaung to the Chindwin spring basin. Almost simultaneously (1836-37) Dr. Bayfield reached the crest of the Assam frontier range from the Chindwin Valley.
After the Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852) exploration turned again towards the eastern and northern borders, in search of trade routes with Siam and China. Especially noteworthy, in 1868, an official mission, commanded by Major Sladen, arrived in Bharmo, then continued up the Taiping, a tributary of the Irawady, up to Momein (Tengyuch-chan) in Yünnan, collecting abundant material of observations on the primitive populations of border (Shan and Kakyen) and detecting three different routes between Bhamo and Momein. In 1879-80 the indigenous explorer Moung Alaga, sent in search of the sources of the Irawady, from Bhamo reached the bifurcation of the river (26 ° 8 ‘lat. N.), ascertaining that the eastern branch is the smallest; but he could not get to the springs.
A lot of exploratory and cartographic work is connected with the English campaign for the annexation of Upper Burma (1885-86), which continued for several years, in which col. Woodthorpe, In these same years (1885-1889) Leonardo Fea, Genoese, naturalist and traveler of exceptional temperament, traveled Burma from one extreme to the other, forming rich collections of fauna and ethnography. He went up the Irawady in Mandalay and Bhamo, and on his return lost most of the collections in the uprising and pillage of Mandalay (1885); he sent the rest to Europe from Rangoon, and made the whole trip back to Bhamo to complete the ethnographic collection. Then he turned to Lower Burma, Tenasserim and the country of the Karen Rossi, targeting Moulmein, continuing his work despite obstacles of all kinds and diseases; and wrote one of the most important descriptive reports of Burma. In the following years (1881-91) JF Needham walked the streets through the Patkoi Hills between Assam and Upper Burma; at the same time, the ten. Eliott and Maj. Hobday went up the western branch of the Irawady (Mali Kha) and a short stretch of the eastern branch (‘Nmai Kha), moving into the territories of various semi-independent tribes towards the Yün-nan border.
The northernmost language of Upper Burma, at N. of Myitkyina and the Irawady bifurcation, inhabited by semi-independent tribes, required several other expeditions before being fairly well known. We should remember the travels of Prince Henri d’Orléans in 1896, by EC Young, who in 1905 crossed the extreme northern Burma going from Yün-nan to Assam by more direct route than his predecessors, of the cap. BEA Pritchard, who, having left Myitkyina at the end of 1911, went up the Nmai Kha, eastern branch of the Irawady up to about 27 ° 30 ‘lat., Then turned to the W, through the valleys crossed by the branches of origin of Mali Kha, and crossed the watershed following the affluent Lohit of the Brahmaputra.