Shining History - Medieval Islamic Civilization

Travels of Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta was a 14th century traveler who covered about 75,000 miles (120,000 km)in 29 years ..... almost thrice the distance covered by his near-contemporary Marco Polo.

Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan Muslim whose full name was Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta. He was born on February 25, 1304. He started his travel in 1325 with the intention to perform Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). His travel lasted about 29 years in which he traveled an equivalent of about 44 modern countries. He visited many places in North Africa, West Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe, Arabian Peninsula, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China.

Ibn Battuta returned from his travels in 1354. On the request of Abu Inan Faris, the Sultan of Morocco at that time, he dictated an account of his journeys to a scholar named Ibn Juzayy. This travelogue is known as 'Tuhfat al-Nuzzar fi Ghara'ib al-Amsar wa-'Aja'ib al-Asfar' (A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling). Commonly, it is simply referred to as the 'Rihla' or 'The Journey'.

According to Historian Ross E.Dunn in 'The adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveler of the fourteenth century':
"The book [Rihla] has been cited and quoted in hundreds of historical works, not only those relating to Islamic countries but to China and Byzantine empire as well. For the history of certain regions sudanic west Africa, Asia Minor or the Malabar coast of India, for example, the Rihla stands as the only eye-witness report on political events, human geography, and social or economic conditions for a period of century or more."
Ibn Battuta records the start of his journey in the following words :
"I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship I might find cheer, nor caravan whose party I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me, and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries [of Makkah and Madinah]. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones...and forsook my home as birds forsake their nests. My parents being yet in the bonds of life, it weighed sorely upon me to part from them, and both they and I were afflicted-with sorrow at this separation."
On feeling of homesickness, Ibn battuta writes:
"At last we came to the town of Tunis.... Townsfolk came forward on all sides with greetings and questions to one another. But not a soul said a word of greeting to me, since there was none of them that I knew. I felt so sad at heart on account of my loneliness that I could not restrain the tears that started to my eyes, and wept bitterly. But one of the pilgrims, realizing the cause of my distress, came up to me with a greeting and friendly welcome, and continued to comfort me with friendly talk until I entered the city, where I lodged in the College of the Booksellers."

Following are various excerpts from his travelogue that are quite interesting as they provide an eye-witess account of the various cultures of that era:

"The baths at Baghdad are numerous and excellently constructed, most of them being painted with pitch, which has the appearance of black marble. This pitch is brought from a spring between Kufa and Basra, from which it flows continually. It gathers at the sides of the spring like clay and is shovelled up and brought to Baghdad. Each establishment has a large number of private bathrooms, every one of which has also a wash-basin in the corner, with two taps supplying hot and cold water. Every bather is given three towels, one to wear round his waist when he goes in, another to wear round his waist when he comes out, and the third to dry himself with. In no town other than Baghdad have I seen all this elaborate arrangement, though some other towns approach it in this respect."

"The hens and cocks in China are very big indeed, bigger than geese in our country and hens' eggs there are bigger than our goose eggs."
"Betel-trees are grown like vines on can trellises or else trained up coco-palms. They have no fruit and are only grown for their leaves. The Indians have a high opinion of betel, and if a man visits a friend and the latter gives him five leaves of it, you would think he had given him the world, especially if he is a prince or notable. A gift of betel is a far greater honour than a gift of gold and silver. It is used in the following way: First one takes areca-nuts, which are like nutmegs, crushes them into small bits and chews them. Then the betel leaves are taken, a little chalk is put on them, and they are chewed with the areca-nuts."

"The variety and expenditure of the religious endowmentsat Damascus are beyond computation. There are endowments in aid of persons who cannot undertake the pilgrimage to Makkah, out of which are paid the expenses of those who go in their stead. There are other endowments for supplying wedding outfits to girls whose families are unable to provide them, and others for the freeing of prisoners. There are endowments for travellers, out of the revenues of which they are given food, clothing, and the expenses of conveyance to their countries. Then there are endowments for the improvement and paving of the streets, because all the lanes in Damascus have pavements on either side, on which the foot passengers walk, while those who ride use the roadway in the centre."

Makkah (Mecca):
"The Meccans are very elegant and clean in their dress, and most of them wear white garments, which you always see fresh and snowy. They use a great deal of perfume and kohl and make free use of toothpicks of green arak-wood. The Meccan women are extraordinarily beautiful and very pious and modest. They too make great use of perfumes to such a degree that they will spend the night hungry in order to buy perfumes with the price of their food."


  1. George Polley said...

    Very interesting article, Meam. I wasn't familiar with him. Too bad his book isn't readily available in the West; we are poorer for not having it.

    George Polley
    Sapporo, Japan

  2. Meam Wye said...

    It is really very frustrating that many of the great books were destroyed during various waves of destructions by Mongols, Crusades and after the fall of Spain. The books from the famous House of Wisdom were either burnt or dumped in Euphrates river during the Mongol invasion(The water turned black due to the ink color). More than one million books on science, philosophy etc. were burnt in the public square of Vivarrambla in Granada under Ferdinand and Isabella after fall of Spain in the fifteenth century. Numerous books were removed to European libraries and museums during the colonial period. Selected translation of Ibn Battuta's book is available under the title 'Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325-1354 ' at

  3. Tricia said...

    Wow, simply amazing. What an interesting life Ibn Battutahad. The wonders he saw back then in his travels - 29 years and about 44 modern countries - just amazing!!

  4. Meam Wye said...

    These types of books take you centuries back :) Thanks Tricia, for your feedback and comments.

  5. Hels said...

    Did you see the 2007 BBC television documentary Travels with a Tangerine on television? Tim Mackintosh-Smith followed Ibn Battuta's jounrney from Tangier to China, but I thought it was a bit light weight. Presumably the Ross Dunn book was better.

  6. Meam Wye said...

    I haven't seen the documentary .....will try finding it. Thank you so much :)

  7. Anonymous said...

    cocks are big in china? i guess its just a stereo type

  8. Anonymous said...

    I love these kind of things

  9. Anonymous said... this is dumb why do i have an assignment on dis

  10. Tucker said...

    Too bad he didn't start recording his travels earlier, he might be as famous as Marco Polo.

  11. Anonymous said...


  12. Anonymous said...

    thank you this is very helpful

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