Ibn Battuta in Egypt

Ibn Battuta (1304-1369) is regarded as the greatest traveler of all time. He was an Islamic scholar, jurist, judge, explorer, geographer from Tangier in present-day Morocco who traveled 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) through more than 40 present-day countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia during a 27 year period 700 years before trains and automobiles. He described his adventures in “Travels in Asia and Africa.” Ibn Battuta was a contemporary of Marco Polo (1254-1324). His journeys preceded those of Columbus by about 150 years. Although he is little known in the West he is as well known as Marco Polo and Columbus in the Arab world. [Source: Thomas Abercrombie, National Geographic, December 1991]

Ibn Batutah Abu Abd al-Lah Muhammad ibn Abd al-Lah l-Lawati t-Tangi ibn Batutah), or simply Ibn Battuta (February 25, 1304 – 1368 or 1369), was a Moroccan explorer of Berber descent. He is known for his extensive travels, accounts of which were published in the Rihla (literally "Journey"). Over a period of thirty years, Ibn Battuta visited most of the known Islamic world as well as many non-Muslim lands. His journeys included trips to North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Africa and Eastern Europe in the West, and to the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the East, a distance surpassing threefold his near-contemporary Marco Polo. Ibn Battuta is considered to be among the great travellers of all time. [Source: World Heritage Encyclopedia, Project Gutenberg, Self-Publishing Press, self.gutenberg.org]

A.S. Chughtai wrote: “Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad - Din, left Tangier on Thursday, 14th June, 1325 C.E. (2nd Rajab 725 A.H.), when he was twenty one years of age. His travels lasted for about thirty years, after which he returned to Fez, Morocco at the court of Sultan Abu 'Inan and dictated accounts of his journeys to Ibn Juzay. These are known as the famous Travels (Rihala) of Ibn Battuta. He died at Fez in 1369 C.E.” at the age of 65.Ibn Battuta was the only medieval traveller who is known to have visited the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time. He also travelled in Ceylon (present Sri Lanka), China and Byzantium and South Russia. The mere extent of his travels is estimated at no less than 75,000 miles, a figure which is not likely to have been surpassed before the age of steam. Ibn Battuta visited China sixty years after Marco Polo and in fact travelled 75,000 miles, much more than Marco Polo. Yet Battuta is never mentioned in geography books used in Muslim countries, let alone those in the West. Ibn Battuta's contribution to geography is unquestionably as great as that of any geographer yet the accounts of his travels are not easily accessible except to the specialist. [Source:A.S. Chughtai, Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com ||]

Ibn Battuta wrote: "To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, which costs an effort of imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortunate to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader. It is in this faculty that Ibn Battuta excels."

Good Websites and Sources on the Silk Road: Silk Road Seattle washington.edu/silkroad ; Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Silk Road Atlas depts.washington.edu ; Old World Trade Routes ciolek.com;
Books on Ibn Battuta "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354", translated by H.A.R. Gibb, edited by Sir E Denison Ross and Eileen Power (Broadway Travellers Routledge & Kegan Paul Fifth Impression, 1963); : “Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" translated and edited by ed. H. A. R. Gibb (London: Broadway House, 1929); “Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah” by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2001). Battuta’s journal is available in Arabic under the title “The Precious Gift of Lookers Into the Marvels of Cities and Wonders of Travel.”

Ibn Battuta's Life and Character

Ibn Battuta's book

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangiers, Morocco. His full name was Sheikh Abu Abdallah Muhammed ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammed inb Ibrahim al-Lawati. He had the education of a typical affluent Muslim child. He is believed to have memorized the Koran by the age of 12. Ibn Battuta has been honored in his hometown with the Hotel Ibn Battuta, the Ibn Battuta ferry to Spain and the Ibn Battuta Café, which offers an Ibn Battuta hamburger. [Source: Thomas Abercrombie, National Geographic, December 1991]

Ibn Battuta was described as a "flatterer of grandness" and a "bigot interested only in the lives of Muslims, dismissive of all 'infidels.'” His biographer Tim Mackintosh-Smith wrote he had”a soft heart, a big head, a huge libido” and was “enthralled by saints” but shocked by nude bathing. No one knows what he looked like. The only clue from his journals was that he had a beard. Paintings created long after he was dead usually depicted him with a turban, Moroccan robe and traveler's staff.

All that is known about Ibn Battuta's life comes from the autobiographical information included in the account of his travels. Ibn Battuta was born into a family of Islamic legal scholars in Tangier, Morocco, on 25 February 1304, during the reign of the Marinid dynasty. He claimed descent from the Berber tribe known as the Lawata. As a young man he would have studied at a Sunni Maliki madh'hab, (Islamic jurisprudence school), the dominant form of education in North Africa at that time. In June 1325, at the age of twenty-one, Ibn Battuta set off from his hometown on a hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, a journey that would take sixteen months. He would not see Morocco again for twenty-four years. [Source: World Heritage Encyclopedia, Project Gutenberg, Self-Publishing Press, self.gutenberg.org ]

Ibn Battuta's Journey

Ibn Battuta traveled 120,000 kilometers (75,000) miles through 44 modern-day countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia between 1325 and 1354. He stopped in Mecca four times and traveled four times the distance of Marco Polo. Despite this Ibn Battuta suffered from blisters and complained about staying in tents. According to Tim Mackintosh-Smith, he “escaped pirates, storms and shipwrecks,” “dodged the Black Death,” and “survived the near-fatal consequences of uncooked yams.” [Source: Thomas Abercrombie, National Geographic, December 1991]

Ibn Battuta originally set out for Mecca from his home in Tangiers, Morocco. Guided by the Koran he traveled through the Sahara, the Middle East, Europe, the East African coast, and Central Asia. He made it as far east as China, where he had been sent as an ambassador by a Delhi Sultan, and returned to his home via Southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, the Mediterranean, West Africa and the Sahara.

Describing the world of Ibn Battuta, Thomas Abercrombie wrote National Geographic, "It is an Arabian Nights world of caravans, veiled harems, sailing dhows, whirling dervishes, and forbidden cities—a world of brigands and bow-and-arrow wars, of banquets with turbaned sultans and mirages wrought by threadbare fakirs."

During his journey, Ibn Battuta served as a pilgrim, diplomat, explorers, courier, jurist, courtier and politician. He married and divorced several times and often traveled with slave girls or concubines. Ibn Battuta sought out famous rulers, high-profile religious figures and well-known Muslim intellectuals, all of whom welcomed him with open arms and hospitality. He seemed particularly comfortable with Sufis (Muslims mystics). In return Ibn Battuta imparted his wisdom about the Koran and told tales of his travels. It has been said that the Koran was his guide, his consolation, his inspiration, the source of his wisdom and his occupation. The Koran says: "Allah has laid out the earth for you like a vast carpet so that you will travel to endless roads."

Ibn Battuta's route

Ibn Battuta's Route

A.S. Chughtai wrote: “In the course of his first journey, Ibn Battuta travelled through Algiers, Tunis, Egypt, Palestine and Syria to Mecca. After visiting Iraq, Shiraz and Mesopotamia he once more returned to perform the Hajj at Mecca and remained there for three years. Then travelling to Jeddah he went to Yemen by sea, visited Aden andset sail for Mombasa, East Africa. After going up to Kulwa he came back to Oman and repeated pilgrimage to Mecca in 1332 C.E. via Hormuz, Siraf, Bahrain and Yamama. Subsequently he set out with the purpose of going to India, but on reaching Jeddah, he appears to have changed his mind (due perhaps to the unavailability of a ship bound for India), and revisited Cairo, Palestine and Syria, thereafter arriving at Aleya (Asia Minor) by sea and travelled across Anatolia and Sinope. He then crossed the Black Sea and after long wanderings he reached Constantinople through Southern Ukraine. [Source: A.S. Chughtai, Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com ||]

“On his return, he visited Khurasan through Khawarism (Khiva) and having visited all the important cities such as Bukhara, Balkh, Herat, Tus, Mashhad and Nishapur, he crossed the Hindukush mountains via the 13,000 ft Khawak Pass into Afghanistan and passing through Ghani and Kabul entered India. After visiting Lahri (near modern Karachi), Sukkur, Multan, Sirsa and Hansi, he reached Delhi. For several years Ibn Battuta enjoyed the patronage of Sultan Mohammad Tughlaq, and was later sent as Sultan's envoy to China. Passing through Cental India and Malwa he took ship from Kambay for Goa, and after visiting many thriving ports along the Malabar coast he reached the Maldive Islands, from which he crossed to Ceylon. Continuing his journey, he landed on the Ma'bar (Coromandal) coast and once more returning to the Maldives he finally set sail for Bengal and visited Kamrup, Sylhet and Sonargaon (near Dhaka). Sailing along the Arakan coast he came to Sumatra and later landed at Canton via Malaya and Cambodia. In China he travelled northward to Peking through Hangchow. ||

“Retracing his steps he returned to Calicut and taking ship came to Dhafari and Muscat, and passing through Paris (Iran), Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt made his seventh and last pilgrimage to Mecca in November 1348 C.E. and then returned to his home town of Fez. His travels did not end here - he later visited Muslim Spain and the lands of the Niger across the Sahara. On his return to Fez, Ibn Battuta dictated the accounts of his travels to Ibn Juzay al-Kalbi (1321-1356 C.E.) at the court of Sultan Abu Inan (1348-1358 C.E). Ibn Juzay took three months to accomplish this work ,which he finished on 9th December 1355 C.E.

Ibn Battuta’s Writings

The following are some examples of Ibn Battuta's writing. The first passage from his narrative depicts the system of social security in operation in the Muslim world in the early 14th century. "The variety and expenditure of the religious endowmentsat Damascus are beyond computation. There are endowments in aid of persons who cannot undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca, out of which ate paid the expenses of those who go in their stead. There are other endowments for supplying wedding outfits to girls whose families are unable to provide them, and others for the freeing of prisoners. There are endowments for travellers, out of the revenues of which they are given food, clothing, and the expenses of conveyance to their countries. Then there are endowments for the improvement and paving of the streets, because all the lanes in Damascus have pavements on either side, on which the foot passengers walk, while those who ride use the roadway in the centre" [Source: "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" published by Routledge and Kegan Paul, p.69, from A.S. Chughtai, Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com ||]

This is Ibn Battuta’s description of 14th century Baghdad: “"Then we travelled to Baghdad, the Abode of Peace andCapital of Islam. Here there are two bridges like that at Hilla, on which the people promenade night and day, both men and women. The baths at Baghdad are numerous and excellently constructed, most of them being painted with pitch, which has the appearance of black marble. This pitch is brought from a spring between Kufa and Basra, from which it flows continually. It gathers at the sides of the spring like clay and is shovelled up and brought to Baghdad. Each establishment has a number of private bathrooms, every one of which has also a wash-basin in the corner, with two taps supplying hot and cold water. Every bather is given three towels, one to wear round his waist when he goes in, another to wear round his waist when he comes out, and the third to dry himself with." p.99 ||

One some of the crops and fruits encountered, Ibn Battuta wrote: "From Kulwa we sailed to Dhafari [Dhofar], at the extremity of Yemen. Thoroughbred horses are exported from here to India, the passage taking a month with favouring wind.... The inhabitants cultivate millet and irrigate it from very deep wells, the water from which is raised in a large bucket drawn by a number of ropes. In the neighbourhood of the town there are orchards with many banana trees. The bananas are of immense size; one which was weighed in my presence scaled twelve ounces and was pleasant to the taste and very sweet. They also grow betel-trees and coco-palms, which are found only in India and the town of Dhafari." p.113 ||

On what he saw in India, Ibn Battuta wrote: “"Betel-trees are grown like vines on can trellises or else trained up coco-palms. They have no fruit and are only grown for their leaves. The Indians have a high opinion of betel, and if a man visits a friend and the latter gives him five leaves of it, you would think he had given him the world, especially if he is a prince or notable. A gift of betel is a far greater honour than a gift of gold and silver. It is used in the following way: First one takes areca-nuts, which are like nutmegs, crushes them into small bits and chews them. Then the betel leaves are taken, a little chalk is put on them, and they are chewed with the areca-nuts." p.114 ||


Ibn Battuta Begins His Journey

Between 1325 and 1327 Ibn Battuta went on a pilgrimage for Morocco to Mecca with a side trip to Persia. Ibn Battuta's begins the account of his travels: “I left Tangier, my birthplace, on Thursday, 2nd Rajab 725 [June 14, 1325], being at that time twenty-two years of age [22 lunar years; 21 and 4 months by solar reckoning], with the intention of making the Pilgrimage to the Holy House [at Mecca] and the Tomb of the Prophet [at Medina]. [Source: "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" p. 43, Fordham University fordham.edu \~]

“I set out alone, finding no companion to cheer the way with friendly intercourse, and no party of travellers with whom to associate myself. Swayed by an overmastering impulse within me, and a long-cherished desire to visit those glorious sanctuaries, I resolved to quit all my friends and tear myself away from my home. ...to leave all my friends both female and male, to abandon my home as birds abandon their nests... As my parents were still alive, it weighed grievously upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow. \~\

“On reaching the city of Tilimsan [Tlemsen], whose sultan at that time was Abu Tashifin, I found there two ambassadors of the Sultan of Tunis, who left the city on the same day that I arrived. One of the brethren having advised me to accompany them, I consulted the will of God in this matter, and after a stay of three days in the city to procure all that I needed, I rode after them with all speed. I overtook them at the town of Miliana, where we stayed ten days, as both ambassadors fell sick on account of the summer heats. When we set out again, one of them grew worse, and died after we had stopped for three nights by a stream four miles from Miliana. I left their party there and pursued my journey, with a company of merchants from Tunis.” \~\

Ibn Battuta's Journey Home

Ibn Battuta returned home via Indonesia, India, the Persian Gulf, Arabia, Egypt and the Mediterranean. According to Nick Bartel and ORIAS: “The winter monsoons carried Ibn Battuta's sailing junk south from China. He returned to Samudra, on the island of Sumatra, where he stayed again with the sultan, this time for a few weeks. He continued on to Quilon, India and then up to Calicut. There he thought about returning to Muhammad Tughluq, his former employer in Delhi, and throwing himself on his mercy. But fear kept him on his trip. [Source: Travels of Ibn Battuta, Nick Bartel and ORIAS, U. C. Berkeley, ibnbattuta.berkeley.edu |::|]

“Instead, Ibn Battuta decided to go on another hajj to Mecca, and so he caught the monsoon winds going westward back across the Indian Ocean. He sailed for 28 days and arrived at Zafar on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula. With changes in the wind of the early summer monsoons, he sailed north through the Persian Gulf. He arrived at Hormuz City and found that the elderly Arab ruler was at war with two of his nephews for control of that territory. These ports were important for trade and the war had caused much destruction and famine. |::|

“Ibn Battuta continued quickly through Persia. He was surprised that the once mighty Ilkhan Empire was falling apart. He had traveled with the powerful Sultan Abu Sa'id (the Il-khan) only eleven years before. But the sultan had died, poisoned by one his own wives! And then Mongol and Turkish generals challenged each other for control. The result was a patchwork of small military states at war with each other. |::|

“Ibn Battuta returned to Baghdad and from there crossed over the Syrian Desert on the camel route. At last he arrived in Damascus in the winter of 1348. There he heard from caravan traders that his father had died fifteen years before. He also learned that the son he had never met had died at the age of ten. He next went to Aleppo for a few months as a tourist. Here he saw the citadel, an outstanding example of Arab military architecture. It stands atop a hill for defense and has massive stone walls. Aleppo was the northern capital of Syria.” |::|

Ibn Battuta Experiences the Great Plague in Syria

According to Nick Bartel and ORIAS: “As he rode through Syria, a terrible disease was descending upon the world that he knew. This was the Black Death (or Bubonic Plague). He first tried to out-run it, but each city he reached was in the middle of a terrible outbreak. In Damascus the death toll was 2,000 people a day! The business of the city had come to a halt. The people begged God for the plague to stop. "The people fasted for three successive days... [Then all the people] assembled in the Great mosque until it was filled to overflowing... and spent the night there in prayers... Then, after performing the dawn prayer..., they all went out [barefoot] together... carrying Korans in their hands. The entire population of the city joined... The Jews went out with their book of the law and the Christians with the Gospel... [all] of them in tears . . . imploring the favor of God through His Books and His Prophets." [Gibb, p. 143-144] [Source: Travels of Ibn Battuta, Nick Bartel and ORIAS, U. C. Berkeley, ibnbattuta.berkeley.edu |::|]

“The Black Plague had started about 1331 as Ibn Battuta was sailing westward from China. It began in the grasslands of Central Asia and was spread across to the Black Sea. The plague is found in rodents like ground squirrels and rats, but it is spread to humans through the bite of a flea living on infected rodents. The fleas had found their way into the wagon trains and storerooms of caravanserai. It spread rapidly as people tried to escape along the trade routes of the steppe. The same Mongol order that encouraged travelers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo, also quickened the progress of the plague across Eurasia between China and the Atlantic Coast. |::|

“Italian ships carried infected rats and fleas in their cargo to Constantinople, Venice, and Genoa. The plague reached Sicily and Egypt in 1347. One Egyptian historian tells of a ship: out of a total of 332 on board, only 45 arrived at the port of Cairo alive. All of those who had survived died soon after in the port. From the sea ports, caravans transmitted the disease throughout Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. Estimates of the death tolls vary between 1/2 to 1/3 of the populations. At the other end of Eurasia in China the outbreaks of the plague caused massive death rates and economic chaos, and contributed to the collapse of the Mongol (Yuan) Dynasty. [Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East, p. 69] |::|

“"The Plague is carried to humans by fleas living off of infected rodents. In Ibn Battuta's time, no one had the slightest idea as to the cause of the disease. "Muslims were recommended to live in fresh air, sprinkle one's house with rose water and vinegar, sit as motionless as possible, and eat plenty of pickled onions and fresh fruit. Those who fell victim... were advised to have their blood drawn, apply egg yolk to the [skin], wear magical amulets, or have their sick bed strewn with fresh flowers. Above all, God's creatures were urged to spend their nights in the mosque and beg for divine mercy." [Dunn, p. 273] |::|

“Civilization both in the East and the West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. It swallowed up many of the good things of civilization and wiped them out... Civilization decreased with the decrease of mankind. Cities and building were laid waste, roads and way signs were obliterated, settlements and mansions became empty, dynasties and tribes grew weak. The entire inhabited world changed. [Ibn Khaldun, Persian historian] |::|

Ibn Battuta Makes It Home to Morocco

After reaching Mecca he decided to return to Morocco, nearly a quarter of a century after leaving home. On the way he made one last detour to Sardinia. After crossing the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria Ibn Battuta had only one more obstacle before reaching his homeland: Umm Junayba Pass, near Fez. "I have in my life seen bad roads and quantities of snow...in Afghanistan, and the land of the Turks, but never have I seen anything worse than the road to Umm Junayaba."

In 1349, Ibn Battuta returned to Tangier by way of Fez, only to discover that his mother had died a few months before. Back in Morocco he concluded his home land was "the best of countries, for its fruits are plentiful, and running water and nourishing food are never exhausted."

Ibn Battuta dictated Travels in Asia and Africa after his journey was completed over a two year period with the help of the Andulusian poet Ibn Ibn Battuta. He spent his last years quietly working as judge somewhere near Fez. He died in 1369 at the age of 64. The whereabouts of his grave is unknown." [Source: Thomas Abercrombie, National Geographic, December 1991]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei:Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.