أبو عبد الله محمد بن عبد الله اللواتي الطنجي بن بطوطة
An illustration of Ibn Battuta
|Born||February 25, 1304
|Died||1369 (aged 64–65)
|Occupation||Islamic scholar, Jurist, Judge,explorer, geographer|
Ibn Baṭūṭah (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد بن عبد الله اللواتي الطنجي بن بطوطة, ʾAbū ʿAbd al-Lāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Lāh l-Lawātī ṭ-Ṭanǧī ibn Baṭūṭah), or simply Ibn Battuta (ابن بطوطة) (February 25, 1304 – 1368 or 1369), was a Muslim Moroccan explorer, known for his extensive travels, accounts of which were published in the Rihla (lit. «Journey»). Over a period of thirty years, he 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,Southern Europe 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 one of the greatest travellers of all time. He journeyed more than 75,000 miles (121,000 km), a figure unsurpassed by any individual explorer until the coming of the Steam Age some 450 years later.
Early life and his first Hajj
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.
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. As my parents were still alive, it weighed grievously upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted with sorrow.
He travelled to Mecca overland, following the North African coast across the sultanates ofAbd al-Wadid and Hafsid. The route took him through Tlemcen, Béjaïa, and then Tunis, where he stayed for two months. For safety, Ibn Battuta usually joined a caravan to reduce the risk of an attack by wandering Arab Bedouin. He took a bride in the town of Sfax, the first in a series of marriages that would feature in his travels.
In the early spring of 1326, after a journey of over 3,500 km (2,200 mi), Ibn Battuta arrived at the port of Alexandria, then part of the Bahri Mamluk empire. He spent several weeks visiting sites in the area then headed inland to Cairo, the capital of the Mamluk Sultanateand even at that time an important large city. After spending about a month in Cairo, he embarked on the first of many detours within the relative safety of Mamluk territory. Of the three usual routes to Mecca, Ibn Battuta chose the least-travelled, which involved a journey up the Nile valley, then east to the Red Sea port of Aydhab, Upon approaching the town however, a local rebellion forced him to turn back.
Ibn Battuta returned to Cairo and took a second side trip, this time to Mamluk-controlled Damascus. During his first trip he had encountered a holy man, Shaykh Abul Hasan al Shadili, who prophesied that he would only reach Mecca by travelling through Syria. The diversion held an added advantage; due to the holy places that lay along the way, including Hebron, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, the Mamluk authorities spared no efforts in keeping the route safe for pilgrims. Without this help many travelers would be robbed and murdered.
After spending the Muslim month of Ramadan in Damascus, he joined a caravan travelling the 1,500 km (930 mi) south to Medina, tomb of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. After four days in the town, he journeyed on to Mecca where completing his pilgrimage he took the honorific status of El-Hajji. Rather than return home, Ibn Battuta instead decided to continue on, choosing as his next destination theIlkhanate, a Mongol Khanate, to the northeast.
Iraq and Persia
On 17 November 1326, following a month spent in Mecca, Ibn Battuta joined a large caravan of pilgrims returning to Iraq across the Arabian Peninsula. The group headed north to Medina and then, travelling at night, turned northeast across the Najd plateau to Najaf, on a journey that lasted about two weeks. In Najaf he visited the mausoleum of Ali ibn Abi Talib (Ali), the first Imam, the 4th caliph and the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad.
Then, instead of continuing on to Baghdad with the caravan he was also a guest of the Ilkhanate governor of Mosul, the Qadi of Mardin and even a famous Kurdish mystic in Sinjar, who gave Ibn Battuta rare silver coins. Ibn Battuta then started a six-month detour that took him into Persia. From Najaf he journeyed to Wasit then followed the river Tigris south to Basra. His next destination was the town of Esfahān across the Zagros Mountains in Persia. He then headed south to Shiraz, a large, flourishing city spared the destruction wrought by Mongol invaders on many more northerly towns. Finally, he returned across the mountains to Baghdad, arriving there in June 1327. Parts of the city were still ruined from the damage inflicted by Hulago Khan’s invading army in 1255.
In Baghdad he found Abu Sa’id, the last Mongol ruler of the unified Ilkhanate, leaving the city and heading north with a large retinue. Ibn Battuta joined the royal caravan for a while, then turned north on the Silk Road to Tabriz, the first major city in the region to open its gates to the Mongols and by then an important trading centre as most of its nearby rivals had been razed by the Mongol invaders.
Ibn Battuta left again for Baghdad, probably in July, but first took an excursion northwards along the river Tigris, visiting Mosul, Cizre and Mardin, in modern day Iraq and Turkey. Once back in Mosul, he joined a «feeder» caravan of pilgrims heading south to Baghdad where they would meet up with the main caravan that crossed the Arabian Desert to Mecca. Ill with diarrhea, he arrived in the city weak and exhausted for his second hajj.
Ibn Battuta remained in Mecca for some time (the Rihla suggests about three years, from September 1327 until autumn 1330). Problems with chronology however, lead commentators to suggest that he may have left after the 1328 hajj.
After the hajj in either 1328 or 1330, he made his way to the port of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. From there he followed the coast in a series of boats making slow progress against the prevailing south-easterly winds. Once in Yemen he visited Zabīd and later the highland town of Ta’izz, where he met the Rasulid dynasty king (Malik) Mujahid Nur al-Din Ali. Ibn Battuta also mentions visiting Sana’a, but whether he actually did so is doubtful. In all likelihood, he went directly from Ta’izz to the important trading port of Aden, arriving around the beginning of 1329 or 1331.
From Aden, Ibn Battuta embarked on a ship heading for Zeila on the coast of Somalia. He then moved on to Cape Guardafui further down the Somalia seaboard, spending about a week in each location. Later he would visit Mogadishu, the then pre-eminent city of the «Land of the Berbers» (بلد البربر Balad al-Barbar, the medieval Arabic term for the Horn of Africa).
When he arrived in 1331, Mogadishu stood at the zenith of its prosperity. Ibn Battuta described it as «an exceedingly large city» with many rich merchants, noted for its high quality fabric that was exported to other countries including Egypt. He added that the city was ruled by a Somali Sultan, originally from Berbera in northern Somalia, who spoke both Somali (referred to as Mogadishan, the Benadir dialect of Somali) and Arabic with equal fluency. The Sultan also had a retinue of wazirs (ministers), legal experts, commanders, royal eunuchs, and assorted hangers-on at his beck and call.
Battuta continued by ship south to the Swahili Coast, a region then known in Arabic as the Bilad al-Zanj(«Land of the Zanj«), with an overnight stop at the island town of Mombasa. Although relatively small at the time, Mombasa would become important in the following century. After a journey along the coast, Ibn Battuta next arrived in the island town of Kilwa in present day Tanzania, which had become an important transit centre of the gold trade. He described the city as «one of the most beautiful and well-constructed towns in the world».
Ibn Battuta recorded his visit to the Kilwa Sultanate in 1330, and commented favorably on the humility and religion of its ruler, Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman, a descendant of the legendary Ali ibn al-Hassan Shirazi. He further wrote that the authority of the Sultan extended from Malindi in the north to Inhambanein the south and was particularly impressed by the planning of the city, believing it to be the reason for Kilwa’s success along the coast. From this period date the construction of the Palace of Husuni Kubwaand a significant extension to the Great Mosque of Kilwa, which was made of Coral Stones and the largest Mosque of its kind. With a change in the monsoon winds, Ibn Battuta sailed back to Arabia, first to Oman and the Strait of Hormuz then on to Mecca for the hajj of 1330 (or 1332).
Near East, Central Asia and Southern Asia
After spending another year in Mecca, Ibn Battuta decided to seek employment with the Muslim Sultan of Delhi,Muhammad bin Tughluq. In 1330 (or 1332), in need of a guide and translator for his journey, he set off for theSeljuq controlled territory of Anatolia to join one of the caravans that went from there to India. From the Syrian port of Latakia, a Genoese ship took him to Alanya on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. He then travelled overland to Konya and afterwards to Sinope on the Black Sea coast.
From Sinope he took a sea route to the Crimean Peninsula, arriving so in the Golden Horde realm. He went to port town of Azov, where he met with the emir of the Khan, then to the large and rich city of Majar. He left Majar to meet with Uzbeg Khan traveling court (horde), which was in the time near Beshtau mountain. From there he made a journey to Bolghar, which became the northernmost point he reached, and noted its unusually (for a subtropics dweller) short nights in summer. Then he returned to Khan’s court and with it moved to Astrakhan.
When they reached Astrakhan, Uzbeg Khan had just given permission for one of his pregnant wives, Princess Bayalun, a daughter of Greek Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, to return to her home city of Constantinople to give birth. Ibn Battuta talked his way into this expedition, which would be his first beyond the boundaries of the Islamic world.
Arriving in Constantinople towards the end of 1332 (or 1334), he met the Greek emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos. He visited the great church of Hagia Sophia and spoke with a Christian Orthodox priest about his travels in the city of Jerusalem. After a month in the city, Ibn Battuta returned to Astrakhan, then arrived in the capital city Sarai al-Jadid and reported his travelling account to Sultan Mohammad Uzbek. Thereafter he continued past the Caspian and Aral Seas to Bukhara and Samarkand. From there, he journeyed south toAfghanistan, then crossed into India via the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush. In the Rihla he mentions these mountains and the history of the range. From there, he made his way to Delhi and became acquainted with the sultan, Muhammad bin Tughluq.
Muhammad bin Tughluq was renowned as the wealthiest man in the Muslim World at that time. He patronised various scholars, sufis, qadis, viziers and other functionaries in order to consolidate his rule. As with Mamluk Egypt, the Tughlaq Dynasty was a rare vestigial example of Muslim rule in Asia after the Mongol invasion. On the strength of his years of study in Mecca, Ibn Battuta was appointed a qadi, or judge, by the sultan. He found it difficult to enforce Islamic laws beyond the sultan’s court in Delhi, due to lack of Islamic appeal in India.
From the Rajput Kingdom of Sarsatti, he visited Hansi in India, describing it as «among the most beautiful cities, the best constructed and the most populated; it is surrounded with a strong wall, and its founder is said to be one of the great infidel kings, called Tara». Upon his arrival in Sindh, Ibn Battuta mentions the Indian rhinoceros that lived on the banks of theIndus.
The Sultan was erratic even by the standards of the time and for six years Ibn Battuta veered between living the high life of a trusted subordinate and falling under suspicion of treason for a variety of offences. His plan to leave on the pretext of taking another hajj was stymied by the Sultan, who asked him instead to become his ambassador to Yuan Dynasty China. Given the opportunity to get away from the Sultan and visit new lands, he readily accepted.
South Asia and China
En route to the coast at the start of his journey to China, Ibn Battuta and his party were attacked by a group of bandits. Separated from his companions, he was robbed and nearly lost his life. Despite this setback, within ten days he had caught up with his group and continued on to Khambhat in the Indian state of Gujarat. From there, they sailed to Kozhikode(Calicut), where Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama would land two centuries later. While Ibn Battuta visited a mosque on shore, a storm arose and one of the ships of his expedition sank. The other ship then sailed without him only to be seized by a local Sumatran king a few months later .
Afraid to return to Delhi and be seen as a failure, he stayed for a time in southern India under the protection of Jamal-ud-Din, ruler of the small but powerful Nawayath sultanate on the banks of the Sharavathi river next to the Arabian Sea. This area is today known as Hosapattana and lies in the Honavar administrative district of Uttara Kannada. Following the overthrow of the sultanate, Ibn Battuta had no choice but to leave India. Although determined to continue his journey to China, he first took a detour to visit theMaldive Islands.
He spent nine months on the islands, much longer than he had intended. As a Chief Qadi, his skills were highly desirable in the formerly Buddhist nation that had recently converted to Islam. Half-kidnapped into staying, he became chief judge and married into the royal family of Omar I. He became embroiled in local politics and left when his strict judgments in the laissez-faire island kingdom began to chafe with its rulers. In the Rihla he mentions his dismay at the local women going about with no clothing above the waist, and the locals taking no notice when he complained. From the Maldives, he carried on to Sri Lanka and visited Sri Pada and Tenavaram temple.
Ibn Battuta’s ship almost sank on embarking from Sri Lanka, only for the vessel that came to his rescue to suffer an attack by pirates. Stranded on shore, he worked his way back to Kozhikode, from where he returned to the Maldives and boarded a Chinese junk, still intending to reach China and take up his ambassadorial post.
In the year 1345 Ibn Battuta travelled on to Sumatra where he notes in his travel log that the ruler of Samudera Pasai was a Muslim, who performed his religious duties in utmost zeal. The madh’hab he observed was Imam Al-Shafi‘i, with similar customs as he had seen in coastal India especially among the Mappila Muslim, who were also the followers of Imam Al-Shafi‘i. Ibn Battuta then sailed toMalacca, Vietnam, the Philippines and finally Quanzhou in Fujian province, China.
On arriving in China in the year 1345, one of the first things he noted were the local artists and their mastery in making portraits of newly arrived foreigners. Ibn Battuta praised the craftsmen and their silk and porcelain; fruits such as plums and watermelons and the advantages of paper money. Ibn Battuta also mentions Chinese cuisine and its usage of animals such as frogs. While in Quanzhou he ascended the «Mount of the Hermit» and briefly visited a well-known Taoist monk. From there he went north to Hangzhou, which he described as one of the largest cities he had ever seen, and he noted its charm, describing that the city sat on a beautiful lake and was surrounded by gentle green hills.During his stay at Hangzhou he was particularly impressed by the large number of well-crafted and well-painted Chinese wooden ships, with coloured sails and silk awnings, assembling in the canals. Later he attended a banquet of the Yuan Mongol administrator of the city named Qurtai, who according to Ibn Battuta, was very fond of the skills of local Chinese conjurers. He also described travelling further north, through the Grand Canal toBeijing, and along with his fellow countryman Al-Bushri, Ibn Battuta was invited to the Yuan imperial court of Toghan-Temür. Ibn Battuta also reported «the rampart of Yajuj and Majuj» was «sixty days’ travel» from the city of Zeitun (Quanzhou); Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb notes that Ibn Battuta believed that the Great Wall of China was built by Dhul-Qarnayn to contain Gog and Magog as mentioned in the Quran. Ibn Battuta then travelled from Beijing to Hangzhou, and then proceeded to Fuzhou. Upon his return to Quanzhou, he soon boarded a Chinese junk owned by the Sultan of Samudra heading for Southeast Asia, whereupon Ibn Battuta was unfairly charged a hefty sum by the crew and lost much of what he had collected during his stay in China.
Return home and the Black Death
After returning to Quanzhou in 1346, Ibn Battuta began his journey back to Morocco. In Kozhikode, he once again considered throwing himself at the mercy of Muhammad bin Tughluq, but thought better of it and decided to carry on to Mecca. On his way toBasra he passed through the Strait of Hormuz, where he learned that Abu Sa’id, last ruler of the Ilkhanate Dynasty had died in Persia. Abu Sa’id’s territories had subsequently collapsed due to a fierce civil war between the Persians and Mongols.
In 1348, Ibn Battuta arrived in Damascus with the intention of retracing the route of his first hajj. He then learned that his father had died 15 years earlier and death became the dominant theme for the next year or so. The Black Death had struck and he was on hand as it spread through Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. 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, then in 1349 returned to Tangier by way of Fez, only to discover that his mother had also died a few months before.
Al-Andalus and North Africa
After a few days in Tangier, Ibn Battuta set out for a trip to the Moor controlled territory of al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula. King Alfonso XI of Castile and León had threatened to attack Gibraltar, so in 1350 Ibn Battuta joined a group of Muslims leaving Tangier with the intention of defending the port. By the time he arrived, the Black Death had killed Alfonso and the threat of invasion had receded, so he turned the trip into a sight-seeing tour, traveling through Valencia and ending up in Granada.
After his departure from al-Andalus he decided to travel through Morocco, one of the few parts of the Muslim world that he had never explored. On his return home, he stopped for a while in Marrakech, which was almost a ghost town following the recent plague and the transfer of the capital to Fez.
Once more Ibn Battuta returned to Tangier, but only stayed for a short while. In 1324, two years before his first visit to Cairo, the West African Malian Mansa, or king of kings,Musa had passed through the same city on his own hajj and caused a sensation with a display of extravagant riches brought from his gold-rich homeland. Although Ibn Battuta never mentioned this visit specifically, when he heard the story it may have planted a seed in his mind as he then decided to cross the Sahara and visit the Muslim kingdoms on its far side.
The Sahara to Mali and Timbuktu
In the autumn of 1351, Ibn Battuta left Fez and made his way to the town of Sijilmasa on the northern edge of the Sahara in present-day Morocco. There he bought a number of camels and stayed for four months. He set out again with a caravan in February 1352 and after 25 days arrived at the dry salt lake bed of Taghaza with its salt mines. All of the local buildings were made from slabs of salt by slaves of the Masufa tribe, who cut the salt in thick slabs for transport by camel. Taghaza was a commercial centre and awash with Malian gold, though Ibn Battuta did not form a favourable impression of the place, recording that was plagued by flies and the water was brackish.
After a ten-day stay in Taghaza, the caravan set out for the oasis of Tasarahla (probably Bir al-Ksaib) where it stopped for three days in preparation for the last and most difficult leg of the journey across the vast desert. From Tasarahla, a Masufa scout was sent ahead to the oasis town of Oualata, where he arranged for water to be transported a distance of four days travel where it would meet the thirsty caravan. Oualata was the southern terminus of thetrans-Saharan trade route and had recently become part of the Mali Empire. Altogether, the caravan took two months to cross the 1,600 km (990 mi) of desert from Sijilmasa.
From there, Ibn Battuta travelled southwest along a river he believed to be the Nile (it was actually the river Niger), until he reached the capital of the Mali Empire. There he met Mansa Suleyman, king since 1341. Dubious about the miserly hospitality of the king, he nevertheless stayed for eight months. Ibn Battuta disapproved of the fact that female slaves, servants and even the daughters of the sultan went about completely naked. He left the capital in February accompanied by a local Malian merchant and journeyed overland by camel to Timbuktu. Though in the next two centuries it would become the most important city in the region, at that time it was a small city and relatively unimportant. It was during this journey that Ibn Battuta first encountered a hippopotamus. The animals were feared by the local boatmen and hunted with lances to which strong cords were attached. After a short stay in Timbuktu, Ibn Battuta journeyed down the Niger to Gao in a canoe carved from a single tree. At the time Gao was an important commercial center.
After spending a month in Gao, Ibn Battuta set off with a large caravan for the oasis of Takedda. On his journey across the desert, he received a message from the Sultan of Morocco commanding him to return home. He set off for Sijilmasa in September 1353, accompanying a large caravan transporting 600 black female slaves, and arrived back in Morocco early in 1354.
After returning home from his travels in 1354, and at the instigation of the Sultan of Morocco, Abu Inan Faris, Ibn Battuta dictated an account of his journeys to Ibn Juzayy, a scholar whom he had previously met in Granada. The account is the only source for Ibn Battuta’s adventures. The full title of the manuscript تحفة النظار في غرائب الأمصار وعجائب الأسفار may be translated as A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling but is often simply referred to as the Rihla الرحلة, or «The Journey».
There is no indication that Ibn Battuta made any notes during his twenty-nine year of travels. When he came to dictate an account of them, he had to rely on memory and manuscripts produced by earlier travellers. When describing Damascus, Mecca, Medina and some other places in the Middle East, Ibn Juzayy clearly copied passages from the 12th-century account by Ibn Jubayr. Similarly, most of Ibn Juzayy’s descriptions of places in Palestine were copied from an account by the 13th-century traveller Muhammad al-Abdari.
Western Orientalists do not believe that Ibn Battuta visited all the places he described and argue that in order to provide a comprehensive description of places in the Muslim world, he relied on hearsay evidence and made use of accounts by earlier travellers. For example, it is considered very unlikely that Ibn Battuta made a trip up the Volga River from New Sarai to visit Bolghar and there are serious doubts about a number of other journeys such as his trip to Sana’a in Yemen, his journey from Balkh to Bistam in Khorasan and his trip around Anatolia. Some orientalists have also questioned whether he really visited China. Nevertheless, while apparently fictional in places, the Rihla provides an important account of much of the 14th-century world.
Ibn Battuta often experienced culture shock in regions he visited where the local customs of recently converted peoples did not fit in with his orthodox Muslim background. Among the Turks and Mongols, he was astonished at the way women behaved, remarking that on seeing a Turkish couple, and noting the woman’s freedom of speech, he had assumed that the man was the woman’s servant, but he was in fact her husband. He also felt that dress customs in the Maldives, and some sub-Saharan regions in Africa were too revealing.
Little is known about Ibn Battuta’s life after completion of his Rihla in 1355. He was appointed a judge in Morocco and died in 1368 or 1369.
For centuries his book was obscure, even within the Muslim world, but in the early 19th century extracts were published in German and English based on manuscripts discovered in the Middle East, containing abridged versions of Ibn Juzayy’s Arabic text. During the French occupation of Algeria in the 1830s five manuscripts were discovered in Constantine, including two that contained more complete versions of the text. These manuscripts were brought back to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and studied by French scholars Charles Defrémery and Beniamino Sanguinetti. From 1853 they published a series of four volumes containing the Arabic text, extensive notes and a translation into French. Defrémery and Sanguinetti’s printed text has now been translated into many other languages while Ibn Battuta has grown in reputation and is now a well-known figure.
Ibn Battuta himself stated according to Ibn Juzayy that:
I have indeed — praise be to God — attained my desire in this world, which was to travel through the Earth, and I have attained this honour, which no ordinary person has attained.
Places visited by Ibn Battuta
Over his lifetime Ibn Battuta traveled over 73,000 miles (117 500 km) and visited the equivalent of 44 modern countries, here is a list.
During most of his journey in the Mali Empire, Ibn Battuta travelled with a retinue that included slaves, most of whom carried goods for trade but would also be traded as slaves. On the return from Takedda to Morocco, his caravan transported 600 female slaves, suggesting that slavery was a substantial part of the commercial activity of the empire.