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Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta or simply Ibn Battuta(February 25, 1304 – 1368 or 1369) was a Moroccanmarker Berber Muslim scholar and traveler who is known for the account of his travels and excursions called the Rihla (Voyage) in Arabic. His journeys lasted for a period of nearly thirty years and covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Chinamarker in the East, a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors and his near-contemporary Marco Polo.

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 Tangiermarker, Morocco, on February 25, 1304 during the time of the Marinid dynasty. As a young man he would have studied the Sunni Maliki "school" of Muslim law which was dominant in North Africa at the time. In June 1325, when he was twenty one years old, Ibn Battuta set off from his hometown on a hajj (pilgrimage) to Meccamarker, a journey that would take 16 months, but he would not see Morocco again for 24 years.

His journey to Mecca was by land, and followed the North African coast crossing the sultanates of Abd al-Wadid and Hafsid. His route passed through Tlemcenmarker, Béjaïamarker and then to Tunismarker where he stayed for two months. As there was always a risk of being attacked, he usually chose to travel as part of a caravan. In Sfaxmarker, Ibn Battuta got married for the first of several occasions on his journeys.

In the early spring of 1326, after a journey of over , he arrived to the port of Alexandriamarker, then part of the Bahri Mamluk empire. He spent several weeks visiting the sites and then headed inland to Cairomarker, a large important city and capital of the Mamlukmarker kingdom, where he stayed for about a month. Within Mamluk territory, travelling was relatively safe and he embarked on the first of his many detours. Three commonly used routes existed to Mecca, and Ibn Battuta chose the least-travelled: a journey up the Nile, then east by land to the Red Seamarker port of Aydhab. However, upon approaching the town he was forced to turn back due to a local rebellion.

Returning to Cairo, he took a second side trip, to Damascusmarker (then controlled by the Mamluks), having encountered a holy man during his first trip who prophesied that Ibn Battuta would only reach Mecca after a journey through Syriamarker. An additional advantage to the side journey was that other holy places were along the route—Hebronmarker, Jerusalemmarker, and Bethlehemmarker, for example—and the Mamluk authorities put special effort into keeping the journey safe for pilgrims.

After spending the Muslim month of Ramadan in Damascus, Ibn Battuta joined up with a caravan traveling the from Damascus to Medinamarker, burial place of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. After four days, he journeyed on to Mecca. There he completed the usual rituals of a Muslim pilgrim, and having graduated to the status of al-Hajji as a result, now faced his return home. Upon reflection, he decided to continue journeying instead. His next destination was the Ilkhanate in modern-day Iraqmarker and Iranmarker.

Iraq and Persia

On 17 November 1326, after a month in Mecca, Ibn Battuta joined a large caravan of pilgrims returning across the Arabian Peninsula to Mesopotamia. The caravan first went north to Medinamarker and then, travelling at night, headed northeastwards across the Nejd plateau to Najafmarker, a journey lasting approximately 44 days. In Najaf he visited the mausoleum of Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib), the fourth Rashidun (rightly guided Caliph), and son-in-law of Muhammad, a site venerated particularly by the Shi’a community..

At this point, instead of continuing on to Baghdadmarker with the caravan, Ibn Battuta started a 6 month detour that took him into Persia. From Najaf he journeyed to Wasit and then south following the Tigrismarker to Basramarker. His next destination was the town of Esfahānmarker across the Zagros Mountainsmarker in Persia. From there he headed south to Shirazmarker, a large flourishing city which had been spared the destruction wrought by the Mongol invasion on many more northerly towns. Finally, he headed back across the mountains to Baghdad arriving there in June 1327. Parts of the city were in ruins as it had been heavily damaged by the army of Hulagu Khan.

In Baghdad he found that Abu Sa'id, the last Mongol ruler of the unified Ilkhanid state was leaving the city and heading north with a large retinue. Ibn Battuta travelled with the royal caravan for a while, then turned north to Tabrizmarker on the Silk Road. It had been the first major city in the region to open its gates to the Mongols and had become an important trading centre after most of its nearby rivals were razed.

On returning again to Baghdad, probably in July, he took an excursion northwards following the Tigris, visiting Mosulmarker, then Cizremarker and Mardinmarker, both in modern Turkeymarker. On returning to Mosul he joined a "feeder" caravan of pilgrims heading south for Baghdad where they met up with the main caravan that crossed the Arabian Desert to Mecca. Ibn Battuta was ill with diarrhea on this crossing and arrived back in Mecca weak and exhausted for his second hajj.

East Africa

Ibn Battuta then stayed for some time in Mecca. He suggests in the Rihla that he remained in the town for three years: from September 1327 until autumn 1330. However, because of problems with the chronology, commentators have suggested that he may have spent only one year and left after the hajj of 1328.

Leaving Mecca after the hajj in 1328 (or 1330) he made his way to the port of Jeddahmarker on the coast of the Red Sea and from there caught a series of boats down the coast. His progress was slow as the vessels had to beat against the south easterly winds. Arriving in the Yemenmarker he visited Zabīdmarker, and then the highland town of Ta'izzmarker where he met the Rasulid Malik (king) Mujahid Nur al-Din Ali. Ibn Battuta also mentions visiting Sana'amarker, but whether he actually did is doubtful. It is more likely that he went directly from Ta'izz to the port of Adenmarker, arriving at around the beginning of 1329 (or 1331). Aden was an important transit centre in the trade between Indiamarker and Europe.

In Aden, he embarked on a ship heading first to Zeilamarker on the African shore of the Gulf of Adenmarker and then on around Cape Guardafui and down the East African coast. Spending about a week in each of his destinations, he visited Mogadishumarker, Mombasamarker, Zanzibarmarker, and Kilwamarker, among others. With the change of the monsoon, he returned by ship to Arabia and visited Omanmarker and the Strait of Hormuzmarker. He then returned to Mecca for the hajj of 1330 (or 1332). In comparison to the similar route traveled by Marco Polo, his travel was more religious based.

Byzantine Empire, Golden Horde, Anatolia, Central Asia and India

After spending another year in Mecca, Ibn Battuta resolved to seek employment with the Muslim Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughluq. Needing a guide and translator for his journey, he set off in 1330 (or 1332) to Anatoliamarker, then under the control of the Seljuqs, to join up with one of the caravans that went from there to India. A sea voyage from Damascus on a Genoesemarker ship landed him in Alanyamarker on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. From Alanya he traveled by land to Konyamarker and then to Sinopemarker on the Black Seamarker coast.

Crossing the Black Sea, Ibn Battuta landed in Caffa (now Feodosiyamarker), in the Crimea, and entered the lands of the Golden Horde. He bought a wagon and fortuitously was able to join the caravan of Ozbeg, the Golden Horde's Khan, on a journey as far as Astrakhanmarker on the Volga River.

Upon reaching Astrakhan, the Khan allowed one of his pregnant wives, Princess Bayalun, supposedly an illegitimate daughter of Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos, to return to her home city of Constantinoplemarker to give birth. Ibn Battuta talked his way into this expedition, his first beyond the boundaries of the Islamic world.

Arriving in Constantinople towards the end of 1332 (or 1334), he met the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos and saw the outside of the great church of Hagia Sophiamarker. After a month in the city, he retraced his route to Astrakhan, then continued past the Caspianmarker and Aral Seasmarker to Bukharamarker and Samarkandmarker. From there, he journeyed south to Afghanistanmarker, the mountain passes of which he used to cross into India.

The Delhimarker Sultanate was a new addition to Dar al-Islam, and Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq had resolved to import as many Muslim scholars and other functionaries as possible to consolidate his rule. On the strength of his years of study while in Mecca, Ibn Battuta was employed as a qadi ("judge") by the sultan.

Tughlaq was erratic even by the standards of the time, and Ibn Battuta veered between living the high life of a trusted subordinate, and being under suspicion for a variety of treasons against the government. Eventually he resolved to leave on the pretext of taking another hajj, but the Sultan asked him to become his ambassador to Yuan Dynastymarker Chinamarker. Given the opportunity to both get away from the Sultan and visit new lands, Ibn Battuta took the opportunity.

Southeast Asia and China

En route to the coast, he and his party were attacked by Hindus, and, separated from the others, he was robbed and nearly lost his life. Nevertheless, he managed to catch up with his group within ten days and continued the journey to Khambhatmarker (Cambay). From there, they sailed to Kozhikodemarker (Calicut) (two centuries later, Vasco da Gama also landed at the same place). However, while Ibn Battuta visited a mosque on shore, a storm came up, and two of the ships of his expedition were sunk. The third then sailed away without him and ended up seized by a local king in Sumatramarker a few months later.

Fearful of returning to Delhi as a failure, he stayed for a time in the south of India under the protection of Jamal-ud-Din. Jamal-ud-Din was ruler of a small but powerful Nawayath sultanate on the banks of the Sharavathi River on the Arabian Seamarker coast. This place is presently known as Hosapattana and is located in the Honavarmarker tehsil of Uttara Kannadamarker district. When the sultanate was overthrown, it became necessary for Ibn Battuta to leave India altogether. He resolved to carry on to China, with a detour near the beginning of the journey to the Maldivesmarker.

He spent nine months in the Maldive Islands, much longer than he had intended. As a qadi, his skills were highly desirable in these formerly Buddhist islands that had been recently converted to Islam, and he was half-bribed, half-kidnapped into staying. Appointed chief judge and marrying into the royal family of Omar I, he became embroiled in local politics and ended up leaving after wearing out his welcome by imposing strict judgments in the laissez-faire island kingdom. In the Rihla he mentions his dismay at the local women going about with no clothing above the waist, and remarking his criticism of this practice, but being ignored by the locals. From there, he carried on to Sri Lankamarker for a visit to Adam's Peakmarker (Sri Pada).

Setting sail from Sri Lanka, his ship nearly sank in a storm, then the ship that rescued him was attacked by pirates. Stranded on shore, Ibn Battuta once again worked his way back to Kozhikode, from where he then sailed to the Maldives again before getting on board a Chinese junk and trying once again to get to Yuan Dynastymarker China.

This time he succeeded, reaching in quick succession Chittagongmarker, Sumatra, Vietnammarker, the Philippinesmarker and then finally Quanzhoumarker in Fujianmarker Province, China. From there, he went north to Hangzhoumarker, not far from modern-day Shanghai. He is also reported to have traveled even further north, through the Grand Canal to Beijing, although there has been some doubt about whether this actually occurred.

Return home and the Black Death

Returning to Quanzhou, Ibn Battuta decided to return home to Morocco. Returning to Kozhikode once again, he considered throwing himself at the mercy of Muhammed Tughlaq but thought better of it and decided to carry on to Mecca. Returning via Hormuz and the Ilkhanate, he saw that the state had dissolved into civil war with Abu Sa'id having died since his previous trip there.

Returning to Damascus with the intention of retracing the route of his first hajj, he learned that his father had died. Death was the theme of the next year or so, for the Black Death had begun, and Ibn Battuta was on hand as it spread through Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. After reaching Mecca, he decided to return to Morocco, nearly a quarter century after leaving it. During the trip he made one last detour to Sardinia, then returned to Tangier to discover that his mother had also died, a few months before.

Andalus and North Africa

After a few days in Tangier, Ibn Battuta set out for a trip to al-Andalusmarker—Muslim Iberiamarker. Alfonso XI of Castile and León was threatening the conquest of Gibraltarmarker, and Ibn Battuta joined up with 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 had receded, so Ibn Battuta decided to visit for pleasure instead. He travelled through Valencia and ended up in Granadamarker.

Leaving al-Andalus, he decided to travel through one of the few parts of the Muslim world that he had never explored: Morocco. On his return home, he stopped for a while in Marrakechmarker, which was nearly a ghost town after the recent plague and the transfer of the capital to Fez.

Once more he returned to Tangier, and once more he moved on. Two years before his own first visit to Cairo, the Mali Mansa (king of kings) Musa had passed through the same city on his own hajj and had caused a sensation with his extravagant riches—West Africa contained vast quantities of gold, previously unknown to the rest of the world. While Ibn Battuta never mentions this specifically, hearing of this during his own trip must have planted a seed in his mind, for he decided to set out and visit the Muslim kingdom on the far side of the Sahara desert.

The Sahara Desert to Mali and Timbuktu

In the autumn of 1351, Ibn Battuta set out from Fes, reaching the Moroccan town of Sijilmasamarker a bit more than a week later. There he bought some camels and stayed for four months. He set out again with a caravan in February 1352 and after 25 days, arrived at the settlement of Taghazamarker which was situated in a dry salt lake bed. The buildings were constructed from slabs of salt by slave of the Massufa tribe, who cut the salt in thick slabs for transport by camel. Taghaza was a profitable commercial center and awash with Malianmarker gold, though Ibn Battuta did not have a favorable impression of the place: the water was brackish and the place was plagued with flies.

A long and difficult journey lay ahead, requiring special advance guides or takshif with local experience to arrange a passage. When the takshif became lost, the entire caravan could disappear without a trace. Traversing the open wastes of the Sahara was therefore terrifying to many travelers, and Ibn Battuta noted the difficulty of navigating without landmarks, writing that there was "no visible road or track in these parts, nothing but sand blown here and there by the wind." After another harrowing through the worst part of the desert, Ibn Battuta finally arrived at the oasis town of Iwalatan (Oualatamarker), the southern terminus of the trans-Saharan trade route, which had recently become part of the Mali Empire.

From there, he traveled southwest along a river he believed to be the Nile (it was actually the Niger River) 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 that female slaves, servants and even the daughters of the sultan went about stark naked. He left the capital in February and journeyed overland by camel to Timbuktumarker. Though in the next two centuries it would become the most important city in the region, at the time it was small and unimpressive, and Ibn Battuta soon moved on by boat to Gaomarker where he spent a month. While at the oasis of Takedda on his journey back 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. He arrived back in Morocco early in 1354.

The Rihla

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 met previously in Granada. The account, recorded by Ibn Juzayy and interspersed with the latter's own comments, is the only source of information on his adventures. The 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 29 years of travelling, so, when he came to dictate an account of his adventures, he had to rely on his memory and to make use of manuscripts produced by earlier travelers. 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 that he described and argue that in order to provide a comprehensive description of places in the Muslim world Ibn Battuta 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 Bolgharmarker and there are serious doubts about a number of other journeys such as his trip to Sana'a in Yemen, his journey from Balkhmarker to Bistammarker in Khorasan and his trip around Anatolia. Some orientalists have also questioned whether he really visited China. Nevertheless, whilst apparently fictional in places, the Rihla provides an important account of many areas of the world in the 14th century.

Ibn Battuta often experienced culture shock in regions he visited where local customs of recently converted peoples did not fit his orthodox Muslim background. Among Turks and Mongols, he was astonished at the way women behaved, (he remarked 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) and he felt that dress customs in the Maldives, and some sub-Saharan regions in Africa, were too revealing.

After the completion of the Rihla in 1355, little is known about Ibn Battuta's life. 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 1800s extracts were published in German and English based on manuscripts discovered in the Middle East containing abridged versions of Ibn Juzayy’s Arabic text. When French forces occupied Algeriamarker in the 1830’s they discovered five manuscripts in Constantinemarker including two that contained more complete versions of the text. These manuscripts were brought back to the Bibliothèque Nationalemarker in Parismarker and studied by the French scholars, Charles Defrémery and Beniamino Sanguinetti. Beginning in 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. Ibn Battuta has grown in fame and is now a well-known figure.

Places visited by Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta travelled almost 75,000 miles in his lifetime. Here is a list of places he visited.

Moroccomarker, Algeriamarker and Tunisiamarker


Mamluk Empiremarker

Arabian Peninsula

Turkeymarker and Eastern Europe

Pakistanmarker and Central Asia

Indiamarker and Bangladeshmarker

  • Quanzhoumarker - as he called in his book the city of donkeys
  • Hangzhoumarker — Ibn Battuta referred to this city in his book as "Madinat Alkhansa" مدينة الخنساء. He also mentioned that it was the largest city in the world at that time; it took him three days to walk across the city.
  • Beijing - Ibn Battuta mentioned in his journey to Beijing how neat the city was.

Other places in Asia

Somaliamarker and East Africa

Mali West Africa


During most of his journey in the Mali Empire, Ibn Battuta traveled 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.

See also


  1. Aydhad was a port situated on the west coast of the Red Sea at . See
  2. Ibn Battuta states that he stayed in Mecca for the hajj of 1327, 1328, 1329 and 1330 but gives comparatively little information on his stay. After the hajj of 1330 he left for East Africa, arriving back again in Mecca before the 1332 hajj. He states that he then left for India and arrived at the Indus river on 12 September 1333; however, although he does not specify exact dates, the description of his complex itinerary and the clues in the text to the chronology suggest that this journey to India lasted around three years. He must have therefore either left Mecca two years earlier than stated or arrived in India two years later. The problems with the chronology are discussed by , and .
  3. Ibn Battuta's itinerary is uncertain as the location of the Malian capital is not known.
  4. Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, Trade, Transport, Temples, and Tribute: The Economics of Power, in In the Balance: Themes in Global History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998)


Further reading

  • Gordon, Stewart. 2008. When Asia was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks who created the "Riches of the East." Da Capo Press, Perseus Books. ISBN 0-306-81556-7.

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