These days, everyone has travel goals and a large list full of favorite destinations to go. We plan to spend our vacation well before our holidays and thanks to the internet and globalization, we know exactly what to expect when we get there. But imagine how traveling would have been like in the middle ages, at a time when no modern means of communication or transportation were developed.
Centuries ago, when the concept of travel meant only going for religious activities, there was a person whose desire to explore remote lands made him one of the simplest travelers ever. The adventures of Ibn Battuta, one of the best travelers of the fourteenth century, are still enjoyable as he returned during the day.
About Ibn Battuta
Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta could be the source of inspiration behind Robert Frost’s ‘the road not taken’ by his quote extracted from the Rihla. ‘Never, thus far as possible, to hide a second time any road’. He was known for his traveling and excursions called the Rihla.
Ibn Battuta was the best traveller of the pre modern time. He has visited more countries and traveled further than the famous Marco Polo.
The title of “history’s most famous traveler” usually goes to Polo , the good Venetian wayfarer who visited China within the 13th century. Despite the long distance covered, Marco Polo lags far behind the Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta. Despite little known outside the Islamic world, Ibn Battuta spent half his life wandering across vast areas of the eastern hemisphere. He had travelled for 75,000 miles (more than any traveller of his time) for around 30 years away from home.
Ibn Battuta History (Background)
Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, a neighborhood of modern-day Morocco, on February 25, 1304. This coastal city is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, 45 miles west of the Mediterranean, near the western side of the Strait of Gibraltar – where Africa and Europe almost collide.
The men in the Ibn Battuta family were legal scholars and grew up with an interest in education. However, there was no “school” or college for higher education in Tangier. Thus, Ibn Battuta stimulated travel by paying attention to finding the simplest teachers and thus the best libraries, which were then in Alexandria, Cairo, and Damascus. He also wanted to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is called “Hajj”, as soon as possible, out of concern and dedication to his faith.
The Travels of Ibn Battuta
The 14th Century was an age where exploration was just beginning, the ocean trades being established by the business merchants. As a Muslim, travel to Hajj was compulsory, and accordingly many Muslims initiated it. So did Ibn Battuta who left his Home at Tangier, Morocco at the age of 21 within the year 1325. Thus begins his extraordinary journey to distant lands.
To Reach Makkah, Ibn Battuta skilled Cairo, Egypt, Nile Valley, Palestine, Hebron, Jerusalem, and Haram al Sheriff, Damascus, Arabian Desserts, and Medina then he reached Makkah. After performing his Hajj and earning the distinguished title of a haaji, Ibn Battuta didn’t return home. He wanted to explore different places and then set up alone.
In 1326, he joined a convoy from Mecca to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Tigris, Euphrates, Baghdad, Tabriz, Persia. In 1330 he traveled to Jeddah, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, Aden, Somalia, Dar al-Islam and then Oman.
He entered Anatolia(turkey) and was offered by the ruler to be a spiritual and legal scholar as he was well versed within the Islamic Jurisprudence having studied shariah . He crossed the Black Sea , Cremea, Kaffa, Genoa, The Golden Horde and Constantinople.
Ibn Battuta India Connection – He decided that he saw enough Western and European world that he put on a horse to India, passing through Afghanistan, Hindu Kush, and Indus Valley, and he arrived in India in 1333. In India, the ruler Muhammad Ibn Tugluq appointed him as a judge. After serving a while he was sent on a politician delegation to China to present gifts to the Mongol Emperor. He boarded his ship in Calicut (Kolkata) and skilled the Kozhikode, Ceylon, Maldives, Malay Peninsula , Sumatra, strait of Malaca and reached China within the town of Chuan Chou. From there he visited Canton, Huangchou and Beijing.
He returned back to Damascus within the year 1350 where the Black Death was spreading. He then visited Fez, Ceuta, Spain, Grenada, and Gibraltar to flee the Plague. Then he traveled south to Mali, Timbuktu and Gao. In 1353, he returned to Fez, where the Sultan ordered him to record his journey by Ibn Juzayy, a scholar from Granada. Thus happened ‘the Rihla’ the auto-biography travelogue of Ibn Battuta.
The Cultures that he has travelled to was very different from his own but as a traveller he opened his mind to the new ways of life beyond what he already knew. There were incidents mentioned within the Rihla where he had saw cultural misfits but he learnt the simplest out of individuals and places, focussed on the positives of the culture. He even mentions the food he ate in different places. He was away for 29 years from home, visiting around 40 countries and met around thousands of individuals within the ancient time where the mode of transportation was only of Horses and ships. The greatest traveller he was indeed.
Although the correct date is debated, it is believed that Ibn Battuta returned to his home in Tangier in 1349. He had been away from his family for a long time and only a few months before his return, his mother died of the plague, while his father died 15 years ago.