Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al
Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta or simply Ibn
Battuta(February 25, 1304 – 1368 or 1369) was a Moroccan 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 China in the East,
a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors and his
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 February 25, 1304 during the time of
the Marinid dynasty.
young man he would have studied the Sunni Maliki
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 Mecca, a journey
that would take 16 months, but he would not see Morocco again for
His journey to Mecca was by land, and followed the North African
coast crossing the sultanates of Abd
. His route passed
through Tlemcen, Béjaïa and then to
Tunis 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 Sfax, Ibn Battuta
got married for the first of several occasions on his
early spring of 1326, after a journey of over , he arrived to the
port of Alexandria, then part of the Bahri
Mamluk empire. He spent several weeks visiting the sites and
then headed inland to Cairo, a large
important city and capital of the Mamluk 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
Sea port of Aydhab.
However, upon approaching the town he was forced to turn back due
to a local rebellion.
to Cairo, he took a second side trip, to Damascus (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 Syria.
additional advantage to the side journey was that other holy places
were along the route—Hebron, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, for example—and the Mamluk authorities put special
effort into keeping the journey safe for pilgrims.
spending the Muslim month of Ramadan in Damascus, Ibn Battuta
joined up with a caravan traveling the from Damascus to Medina, burial
place of the Islamic prophet
After four days, he
journeyed on to Mecca. There he completed the usual rituals of a
, 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 Iraq and Iran.
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
. The caravan first went north to Medina and then,
travelling at night, headed northeastwards across the Nejd plateau to Najaf, a journey
lasting approximately 44 days.
In Najaf he visited the
mausoleum of Ali
(Ali ibn Abi Talib), the fourth
(rightly guided Caliph
), and son-in-law of Muhammad, a site venerated
particularly by the Shi’a
point, instead of continuing on to Baghdad 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 Tigris to Basra.
destination was the town of Esfahān across the Zagros Mountains in Persia. From there he headed south to Shiraz, a large flourishing city which had been spared the
destruction wrought by the Mongol
invasion on many more northerly towns.
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
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 Tabriz on the
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
returning again to Baghdad, probably in July, he took an excursion
northwards following the Tigris, visiting Mosul, then
Cizre and Mardin, both in
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
Ibn Battuta was ill with diarrhea on this crossing and arrived back
in Mecca weak and exhausted for his second hajj
Ibn Battuta then stayed for some time in Mecca. He suggests in the
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
Mecca after the hajj in 1328 (or 1330) he made his way to
the port of Jeddah on the coast
of the Red Sea and from there caught a series of boats down the
His progress was slow as the vessels had to beat
against the south easterly winds. Arriving in the Yemen he visited
Zabīd, and then
the highland town of Ta'izz where he
met the Rasulid Malik (king) Mujahid Nur al-Din Ali.
Battuta also mentions visiting Sana'a, but
whether he actually did is doubtful. It is more likely
that he went directly from Ta'izz to the port of Aden, arriving
at around the beginning of 1329 (or 1331). Aden was an important
transit centre in the trade between
India and Europe.
he embarked on a ship heading first to Zeila on the
African shore of the Gulf of
Aden and then on around Cape
Guardafui and down the East African coast. Spending about a week
in each of his destinations, he visited Mogadishu, Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Kilwa, among
others. With the change of the monsoon, he returned by ship to Arabia and visited
Oman and the Strait of Hormuz.
He then returned to Mecca for the
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
After spending another year in Mecca, Ibn Battuta resolved to seek
employment with the Muslim Sultan of
, Muhammad bin
. Needing a guide and translator for his
journey, he set off in 1330 (or 1332) to Anatolia, 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 Genoese ship landed him in Alanya on the
southern coast of modern-day Turkey. From Alanya he
traveled by land to Konya and then to
Sinope on the
the Black Sea, Ibn Battuta landed in Caffa (now Feodosiya), 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 Astrakhan on the Volga
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 Constantinople to give birth.
Ibn Battuta talked his way
into this expedition, his first beyond the boundaries of the
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 Sophia. After a month in the city, he retraced his
route to Astrakhan, then continued past the Caspian and Aral
Seas to Bukhara and Samarkand. From there, he journeyed south to Afghanistan, the mountain passes of which he used to cross into
Delhi Sultanate was a new addition
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 Dynasty China.
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 Khambhat (Cambay). From there, they sailed to Kozhikode (Calicut) (two centuries later, Vasco da Gama also landed at the same
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 Sumatra 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 Sea coast. This place is presently known as Hosapattana
and is located in the Honavar tehsil of Uttara
When the sultanate was overthrown,
it became necessary for Ibn Battuta to leave India altogether.
resolved to carry on to China, with a detour near the beginning of
the journey to the Maldives.
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
, and he was half-bribed, half-kidnapped into staying.
Appointed chief judge and marrying into the royal family of
, 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.
there, he carried on to Sri
Lanka for a visit to Adam's Peak (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
he succeeded, reaching in quick succession Chittagong, Sumatra, Vietnam, the Philippines and then finally Quanzhou in Fujian Province,
China. From there, he went north to Hangzhou, not far from modern-day Shanghai.
He is also reported to have
traveled even further north, through the Grand Canal
, 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
few days in Tangier, Ibn Battuta set out for a trip to al-Andalus—Muslim Iberia. Alfonso XI of Castile and
León was threatening the conquest of Gibraltar, and Ibn Battuta joined up with a group of Muslims
leaving Tangier with the intention of defending the port.
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 Granada.
Leaving al-Andalus, he decided to travel through one of the few
parts of the Muslim world that he had never explored: Morocco.
return home, he stopped for a while in Marrakech, 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
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
The Sahara Desert to Mali and Timbuktu
autumn of 1351, Ibn Battuta set out from Fes, reaching the Moroccan
town of Sijilmasa a bit more than a week later.
bought some camels
and stayed for four months.
out again with a caravan in February 1352 and after 25 days,
arrived at the settlement of Taghaza which was situated in a dry salt lake bed.
The buildings were
constructed from slabs of salt by slave
the Massufa tribe, who cut the salt in thick slabs for transport by camel
. Taghaza was a
profitable commercial center and awash with Malian gold,
though Ibn Battuta did not have a favorable impression of the
place: the water was brackish and the place was plagued with
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
(Oualata), 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
) 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 Timbuktu. 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
Gao where he spent a month.
While at the oasis
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.
After returning home from his travels in 1354 and at the
instigation of the Sultan of Morocco, Abu
, 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
but is often simply referred to as the
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
. Similarly, most of Ibn
Juzayy’s descriptions of places in Palestine were copied from an
account by the 13th century traveller Muhammad al-Abdari
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 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
Khorasan and his trip around
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
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
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 Algeria in the 1830’s they discovered five manuscripts 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 the French scholars, Charles Defrémery and Beniamino
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.
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia
Turkey and Eastern Europe
Pakistan and Central
Other places in Asia
Somalia and East
Mali West Africa
- Quanzhou - as he called in his book the city of
- Hangzhou — 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.
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.
- Aydhad was a port situated on the west coast of the Red Sea at
- 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 ,
- Ibn Battuta's itinerary is uncertain as the location of the
Malian capital is not known.
- 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)
- 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