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Ibn Battuta : History Figure of the Month (June 2012)

A sketch of Ibn Battuta
Kicking off a new series of blog posts where, once a month, I designate the month in honour of a certain historical figure. Feel free to nominate a notable historical figure at the comment section below and the next month (July 2012) will be dedicated in his or her honour. As the title says, this month is dedicated to the adventure spirit of summer and I do not think anyone else manages to manifest it like Ibn Battuta, the 14th century world renown Morrocan traveler who journeyed for more than 75,000 miles, a record unbeaten until the time of the Steam Age.

Ibn Battuta traveled over a 30 year period, between 1325 and 1354 AD, through 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. He is generally considered to have been one of the greatest travelers of all time.

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco on the 25th of February, 1304. He grew up a normal life in Morocco, he was to be an Islamic scholar as his family were. In 1325 AD, he set off for hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca) and he would never set foot into Morocco for another 24 years.

His journey was an overland one, traveling across the sultanates of Abdal Wadid and Hafsid of North Africa and to Tunis. He joined a nearby pilgrim caravan to reduce the chances of being robbed by desert raiders. In the nearby town of Sfax (present day Tunisia), he married a local woman , the first of many during his travels.

A 13th century painting of a typical Haj caravan (by Yahya ibn Mahmud)
By early 1326, he arrived in Mamluk Alexandria where he stayed for many weeks to explore the sites. He then headed inland to Cairo. From there, he tried to venture to Mecca via the Red Sea port of Aydhab but a local revolt prevented him. He decided to travel to Damascus (also Mamluk controlled) and spend Ramadan there. After doing so, he traveled to Medina and then onwards to Mecca. Once fulfilling the Haj, he had the choice of returning home but he declined to. He would then travel onwards to the Khanate of Ilkhanate.

He proceeded to travel first to the city of Najaf in November, 1326, visiting the mausoleum of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet's son in law. He then traveled on to Esfahan and Shiraz in Persia before venturing to Baghdad in June 1327. He would later travel to Tabriz (meeting the Mongol ruler of Ilkhanate there) before traveling to Mosul, Cizre and Mardin in present day Turkey and Iraq.

He would later go on to travel to the Byzantine Empire, China, parts of India, the Somali coast, Europe and the Sahara.

His Journeys:

For convenience , it would seem better to list the places he ventured to in a list rather than go on in endless paragraphs about each trip.

If you're not in the habit of reading long lists, then this map would do you good

Arab Maghreb:

  •     Tangier
  •     Fes
  •     Marrakech
  •     Tlemcen (Tilimsan)
  •     Miliana
  •     Algiers
  •     Djurdjura Mountains
  •     Béjaïa
  •     Constantine - Named as Qusantînah.
  •     Annaba - Also called Bona.
  •     Tunis - At that time, Abu Yahya (son of Abu Zajaria) was the sultan of Tunis.
  •     Sousse - Also called Susah.
  •     Sfax
  •     Gabès
  •     Tripoli
Arabian Middle East

  •     Cairo
  •     Alexandria
A map of Iraq and Persia from Ibn Battuta's book Rihla
  •     Damietta
  •     Jerusalem
  •     Bethlehem
  •     Hebron
  •     Damascus
  •     Latakia
  •     Egypt
  •     Syria
  •     Medina - Visited the tomb of Prophet Muhammad.
  •     Jeddah
  •     Mecca - Performed the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
  •     Rabigh - City north of Jeddah on the Red Sea.
  •     Oman
  •     Dhofar
  •     Hajr (modern-day Riyadh)
  •     Bahrain
  •     Al-Hasa
  •     Strait of Hormuz
  •     Yemen
  •     Qatif


  •     Granada
  •     Valencia

Byzantine Empire and Eastern Europe

  •     Konya
  •     Antalya
  •     Bulgaria
  •     Azov
  •     Kazan
  •     Volga River
  •     Constantinople
   Central Asia

  •     Khwarezm and Khorasan (now Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Balochistan (region) and Afghanistan)
  •     Bukhara and Samarqand
  •     Pashtun areas of eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan (Pashtunistan)

South Asia

  •     North India
  •     Sindh
  •     Multan
  •     Delhi
  •     Present day Uttar Pradesh
  •     Present day Gujarat
  •     Maharashtra
  •     Kozhikode
  •     Malabar
  •     Bengal (now Bangladesh and West Bengal)
  •     Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh visited the area on his way from China.
  •     Meghna River near Dhaka
  •     Sylhet met Sufi Shaikh Hazrat Shah Jalal.
  •     Maldives
  •     Sri Lanka - Known to the Arabs of his time as Serendip. Battuta visited the Jaffna kingdom and Adam's Peak.

Travels in China and SE Asia

  • Quanzhou - as he called in his book the city of donkeys
  •  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.

Southeast Asia

  •     Burma (Myanmar)
  •   Sumatra Indonesia
  •   Malay Peninsula Malaysia
  •   Philippines - Ibn Battuta visited the Kingdom of Sultan Tawalisi, Tawi-Tawi, the country's southernmost province.

Swahili Coast

  •     Kilwa
  •  Mombasa

Mali Empire and West Africa

  •    Timbuktu
  •   Gao
  •  Takedda    
  • Oualata (Walata)
It is worth mentioning that Ibn Battuta wrote a book about his travels, calling it Rihla (Arabic الرحلة ) which translates into "The Journey". If you're interested in finding out more information or would like to read more in depth about Ibn Battuta, I'd recommend you get his book (if you can read Arabic, that's bonus points!). It's fair to say that Ibn Battuta has been one of the greatest explorers in human history, having traveled farther than his near-contemporary Marco Polo did. A tip that Ibn Battuta gave to travelers he encountered was to (paraphrasing)
"Ride a donkey whenever you have the chance to"
 Remember to add your nomination for July's History Figure of the Month in the comment section below!


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