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Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta was a Berber, born in the city of Tangier, Morocco, on 25 February 1304. he was born into a family of Muslim legal scholars. A very devout Muslim himself, he left his birthplace at the age of 22 soon after finishing his studies. On 14 June 1325 he set out to make the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina that is required of Muslims who can afford it.
“I set out alone with neither companion to delight in nor caravan to accompany, my sole inspiration coming from an uncontrollable impulse and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit the holy places,” he wrote in his memoirs.
It took Ibn Battuata ten months to cross North Africa, passing through what are now Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, before arriving in Alexandria, the main port of Egypt. There he saw the Pharos at Alexandria, a giant lighthouse in the harbor that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He traveled to the nearby retreat of a famous mystic where he had a dream that he was on the wing of a giant bird that took him to Mecca and then flew him onto the east to a “dark and greenish” country.
From Cairo, Ibn Battuta traveled up the Nile River to Aswan and then overland to the port of Aidhab on the Red Sea. From there, he had planned to take a ship across the Red Sea to the Arabian port of Jeddah. However, he arrived at a time when a local rebellion in progress, and none of the ships were leaving the harbor. He was forced to return to Cairo and from there set out across the Sinai Peninsula to Jerusalem.
At the time of Ibn Battuta’s visit, Jerusalem was a small city of 10.000 people that subsisted by catering to pilgrims of the three great monotheistic religions-Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
After seeing the main sights of the Holy Land, Ibn Battuta went to Damascus, where he arrived on 09 August 1326. He studied with some of the famous Islamic scholars in the ancient city and married, apparently for the second time. In the course of his travels he married several times, but his wives drop out of the narrative almost as quickly as they enter it.
Ibn Battuta joined the main pilgrim caravan in September 1326. They journeyed south through Arabia by the Derb-el-Haj, the pilgrim road to Medina and Mecca, on a trip that took 55 days. Ibn Battuata devotes only a short section in his narrative to the performance of the traditional rites in these two cities because they were well known to his Muslim audience. He left Medina in Mid-November. Rather than returning home, he headed off to Iraq with a group of pilgrims who were returning to Baghdad.
Ibn Battuta left the caravan and stopped in Najaf in southern Iraq, a holy city for the Shi’ite sect of the Islam. From there, he went south to the port of Basra, which had once been a center of Islamic learning but had sadly declined. He made a side trip to Persia, visiting the cities of Shiraz and Isfahan. Back in Iraq he went on to Baghdad, which had long been the center of the Islamic world but was then still in ruins after having been sacked by the Mongols in 1258. While waiting for the next hajj caravan he went to Mosul on the Tigris and to the walled city of Diyarbakir in what is now southeastern Turkey. He then returned to Baghdad and joined a caravan headed south for Mecca.
Ibn Battuta stayed in Mecca from September 1327 to the fall of 1330, studying Islamic law. He used this knowledge to finance his future travels, he became an itinerant qadi, or Muslim legal scholar. Leaving Mecca, he went to Jeddah where he took a ship sailing down the Red Sea to Yemen and traveled in the interior of that country to Ta’iz and the capital Sana’a. From the port city of Aden he sailed as a trader across the Gulf of Aden to Zeila in Somalia, which he said was “the dirtiest, most disagreeable, and most stinking town in the world.” He sailed down the east coast of Africa to Mombassa and as far south as Kilwa, 600 miles south of the equator in what is now Tanzania.
From east Africa, Ibn Battuta sailed to Oman in Arabia and then went back to Mecca for a third pilgrimage in 1332. From there he wanted to go to India, but went about it from the “back door.” He took a ship from Jeddah to Egypt and then traveled up the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to Anatolia (Turkey). He traveled across the Anatolian plateau by an unknown route that included a stay in the trading city of Konya. From Sinope on the Black Sea, he sailed to the Genoese port of Kaffa in the Crimean Peninsula, one of his rare sojourns among Christians.
From the Crimea, Ibn Battuta headed inland through the steppes of what are now southern Russia, entering the domains of the Mongol Özbeg Khan (whose name was later taken by the people of Uzbekistan). At the request of one of the Khan’s wives he accompanied her back to her native city of Constantinople where he met the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III.
Ibn Battuta stayed in that great city for five weeks and then returned to the Kahn’s capital at New Sarai on the Volga River. (Today, New Sarai is an archeological site not far from the Russian city of Volgagrad, formerly Stalingrad.)
By this time, Ibn Battuta had become a wealthy man. Everywhere he went he was welcomed by the princely courts and given presents, including, in many cases slaves and concubines. He and the entourage he had accumulated along the way traveled across the steppes to Khwarizam south of the Aral Sea. From there they went by camel to Bukhara and Samarkand and stayed with the Khan of Chagatay, another of the Mongol rulers of central Asia. Leaving Samarkand, he and his party went south across the Amu Darya River to Meshed in Persia and then into Afghanistan. They passed through the Hindu Kush Mountains, Ibn Battuta being the first to record their name. He reached the Indus River in September 1335.
Visiting Multan in present Pakistan, Ibn Battuta sent word ahead to the court of the great Mughal Emperor in Delhi of his impending arrival. The Emperor Muhammad Tughluq, was noted for his capriciousness, and Ibn Battuta wrote that “there was no day that the gate of the palace failed to witness alike the elevation of some subject to affluence and the torture and murder of some living soul.” The Emperor was however, also a patron of scholars and Islamic learning, and Ibn Battuta remained at his court for seven years in the capacity of judge and was paid a large salary. Spending lavishly, he fell into depth and was rescued by the Emperor. But he fell out of favor with Tughluq when he visited a local mystic who had offended the Emperor.
Ibn Battuta was put under house arrest for five months and was then called to the Emperor’s court- where he was named the head of a mission to travel to the court of the last Mongol ruler of China with 15 returning Chinese emissaries. Unfortunately, the junk carrying the envoys and gifts was wrecked by a violent storm at Calicut, on the south coast of India. Ibn Battuta was left destitute, having lost a child in the disaster. Afraid of returning to Tughluq, he sailed for the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean, 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, where he was befriended by Queen Khadija. He was given an official post and married and divorced six times in the eight months that he stayed there. He became involved in local politics, however, and was forced to leave in August 1344 for Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka Ibn Battuta visited Adam’s Peak a mountain with a large imprint on its summit that Muslim legends says is the footprint of Adam, the first man, as he took his first step on Earth after being cast out of heaven. Traveling up the coast of India, Ibn Battuta’s ship was attacked by pirates, and he was once again left destitute. He eventually made it to Bengal and then sailed on board a Chinese junk to Sumatra, he was well received by the Muslim ruler of Samudra on the northeast coast of Sumatra, who gave him a junk and supplies to travel on to China. He left Sumatra in April 1346 and went to Zaiton or Quanzhou, on the Fyjian coast of China, and from there to Sin-Kalan, the Arabic name for Canton.
Ibn Battuta was impressed by Chinese civilization but deplored its “paganism.” His itinerary in China is not clear, but he left Canton in the fall of 1346 and returned to the West by way of Sumatra, India, Arabia, Persia and Damascus, where he saw the results of the great epidemic know as the Black Death. He made another pilgrimage to Mecca in November 1348 and then went back to Egypt. He took a boat along the North African coast and reached Fez in Morocco on 08 November 1349. he returned to his hometown of Tangier, where he learned that his mother had died a few months previously. He was 45 years old and had been away for 24 years.
Soon after his return, Ibn Battuta went to the northern city of Ceuta (now part of Spain) and then joined a military expedition that was being sent to defend the Muslim fortress of Gibraltar from a Christian army. Following the successful defense, he traveled in Southern Spain, which was still a Muslim kingdom, and visited the cities of Malaga and Granada.
In 1852 Ibn Battuta set out with a camel caravan that was headed southwards, through the Atlas Mountains across the Sahara desert. It took them 25 days to reach the salt mines of Terhazza, in what is now Mali. From there, he visited the trading center of Timbuktu and left one of the earliest written records of its growth, about 100 years before it reached the peak of its prosperity. On his return, Ibn Battuta went eastward into what is now Niger and then returned north to the Al-Haggar Mountains of southern Algeria.
He arrived back in Fez in January 1354. It is estimated that in the course of his lifetime he had traveled at least 75.000 miles, not counting detours.
On Ibn Battuta’s return to Morocco, the Sultan provided him with a secretary to help him write down and edit the narrative of his travels. This took about two years, and the Rihla, or travel book was ready in December 1355. In it he proclaimed that off all the lands that he had seen, his native Morocco was superior to all others. Ibn Battuta spent the rest of his life as a judge somewhere in the region of Fez. He died in 1369 at the age of 64.
Morocco 2004 6.50Dr sg?, scott?
Copied from: Explorers and Discoverers of the World, edited by Daniel B. Baker.