The Travels of Ibn Battuta

                           A Virtual Tour with the 14th Century Traveler


Introduction - To the Students


You will be following along on trips in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th century traveler. Along the way you will see many of the same sights that he saw. There will be many links to help you understand what he saw. There will even be links that bring you into "side trips" and enable you to see into the future - beyond the 14th century.


We don't know what Ibn Battuta looked like, except that he had a beard. This drawing is from National Geographic Magazine, Dec., 1991.


Ibn Battuta started on his travels when he was 20 years old in 1325. His main reason to travel was to go on a Hajj, or a Pilgrimage to Mecca, as all good Muslims want to do. But his traveling went on for about 29 years and he covered about 75,000 miles visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries which were then mostly under the governments of Muslim leaders of the World of Islam, or "Dar al-Islam". [See the map below.]


He met many dangers and had many adventures along the way. He was attacked by bandits, almost drowned in a sinking ship, was almost beheaded by a tyrant ruler, and had a few marriages and lovers and fathered several children on his travels!




Near the end of Ibn Battuta's own life, the Sultan of Morocco insisted that Ibn Battuta dictate the story of his travels to a scholar and today we can read translations of that story called "Rihla - My Travels". Much of it is fascinating, but some of it seems to be made up and even is inaccurate about places we know about. However, it is a valuable and interesting record of places which add to our understanding of the Middle Ages.



This is a map of the Muslim World about 1300. Ibn Battuta mainly traveled in the area surrounded by the green line - countries with Muslim governments. Beyond that, Muslim traders had already ventured out into China, Indonesia and further, and had established small Muslim communities in more regions of the world. Ibn Battuta would seldom be far from fellow Muslims on his travels, and he would greatly benefit from the charity and hospitality offered to Muslim travelers and pilgrims.



Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part One [From Tangier across North Africa to Alexandria, Egypt]

Tangier, Morocco


Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco into a family of Muslim legal scholars in 1304. He studied Muslim law as a young man. Then in 1325, he left Tangier to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was 21 years old and eager for more learning and more adventure.

"My departure from Tangier, my birthplace, took place ... with the object of making the Pilgrimage to the Holy House [at Mecca] and of visiting the tomb of the Prophet [in Medina], God's richest blessing and peace be on him. 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. So I braced my resolution to quit all my dear ones, female and male, 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." [Gibb, p. 8]




Travel was dangerous by land and by sea. Ibn Battuta traveled overland at first alone riding a donkey. Then for protection he joined a caravan with other pilgrims and traders. Some of them walked, others rode horses, mules, donkeys, or camels. By the time the caravan reached Cairo, Egypt, the caravan was several thousand members.



The pilgrims were an enthusiastic group and were excited about their hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). The trip was a grand study tour of the World of Islam - Dar al-Islam. For Ibn Battuta it was an opportunity to acquire knowledge of religion and law, and meet with other Muslim scholars. Ibn Battuta must have thought about getting a fine job as a judge (qadi) in some part of Dar al-Islam after gaining certificates of learning from great scholars of his time.


 [To the left is an Arab miniature painting of the Hajj travelers, painted about 700 A.D.]





After leaving Tlemcen, the small caravan traveled the green-brown valleys for several days at a time without encountering any towns, only Berber camps and groups of camel herders.




The travelers arrived at the port of Algiers where they camped outside the city walls waiting for other pilgrims to join the caravan. Then they traveled through forests of oak and cedar, mountains and valleys before reaching the city of Bijaya. Here Ibn Battuta became ill, but he pushed on anxious to get on with his trip. He was advised to stay and rest, but he insisted on continuing.


"If God decrees my death, then my death shall be on the road, with my face set towards ...[Mecca]." [Gibb, p. 11]

Photo courtesy of Ramanan Kartik



Constantine and Gifts!


Ibn Battuta didn't stay long in this small city, but he did meet the governor there who gave him a gift of money and a fine woolen cloak (to replace his own which was in shreds). This would be the first of many offerings which were from pious individuals who were performing their duty of charity to the poor, orphans, prisoners, fighters in holy wars, and travelers. These gifts were often considerable, and would make Ibn Battuta a fairly wealthy individual at times, even though he would eventually lose everything.


Ibn Battuta's little party "traveled light with the utmost speed, pushing on night and day without stopping" for fear of attack by Arab rebels. Ibn Battuta was once more ill, so ill that he had to be tied to his saddle to keep from falling off.



Next the group of travelers entered Tunis, a city of about 100,000 - a major city of art and learning. It was also a shipping port of north African products: wool, leather, hides, cloth, wax, olive oil, and grain. Tunis also was a market for goods from sub-Saharan Africa: gold, ivory, slaves, and ostrich feathers. It contained splendid mosques and palaces, public gardens, and colleges. At this point in his trip, Ibn Battuta seems rather homesick:



"I felt so sad at heart on account of my loneliness that I could not restrain the tears that started to my eye, 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..." [Gibb, p. 13]


Ibn Battuta spent about two months in Tunis. Here he stayed in a college (madrasa) dormitory and met with the scholars and judges in high positions.


The group left Tunis in a larger caravan of pilgrims and Ibn Battuta was even appointed qadi (judge and settler of disputes) for the hajj caravan - quite an accomplishment for the young traveler! They were accompanied by government troops of horsemen and archers to protect them from the Arab rebels.


Sousse and Sfax


The caravan passed Sousse and Sfax with their ramparts (walls of fortification).



Modern photographs of Sousse and Sfax, Tunisia, medieval walled cities - places visited by Ibn Battuta in 1335.


 A Marriage Contract Begun, Ended - and a New Marriage


Along the way across Libya, Ibn Battuta entered into a marriage contract with the daughter of a Tunisian official in the pilgrim caravan. When he reached Tripoli, the woman was presented to him. However, Ibn Battuta had a dispute with his father-in-law, and returned the girl. Not discouraged, he then wed the daughter of another pilgrim, a scholar from Fez. He put on a marriage feast that lasted the whole day! Nothing else is said about his wives, which often enter and then vanish from his story. "In the Islamic society of that age, a man's intimate family relations were regarded as no one's business but his own, and married Muslim women, at least in the Arabic-speaking lands, lived out their lives largely in seclusion." [Dunn, p. 39]


Across Libya to Alexandria, Egypt




Ibn Battuta's caravan continued across the coastal Libyan countryside. Near Tripoli a band of camel robbers attacked the caravan waving their swords, but "the Divine Will diverted them and prevented them from doing us harm..."


From there the caravan continued without trouble. Ibn Battuta had completed the 2,000 mile trip across North Africa in about eight or nine months. Since the next pilgrimage season was still eight months away, he decided to be a tourist and visit Cairo, the largest capital of the Arabic-speaking world and the largest city anywhere in the world except those in China! Its population was estimated to be about 600,000 people.


Sometime in 1326, the caravan reached Alexandria at the western end of the Nile Delta.


Alexandria, Egypt




Ibn Battuta was very impressed with Alexandria. Later he said it was one of the five most magnificent places he ever visited. At this time Alexandria was a busy harbor firmly controlled by Egypt's Mamluk warrior caste who had governed that country and Syria as a united kingdom since 1260. It was the Mamluks (Mamluk means "slave") who took over the rule of Egypt from their "masters", and were able to defeat the Mongols who had taken over Baghdad and other parts of the Islamic Empire.



Photo courtesy of Wonders of the World


Ibn Battuta spent several weeks in this busy port and saw such sights as the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" - which was pretty much falling apart at that time.


It was here that he tells of achievements and miracles of several scholars and mystics - include a Sufi mystic who predicted that the young pilgrim would travel and meet fellow Sufis in India and China. "I was amazed at his prediction, and the idea of going to these countries having been cast into my mind, my wanderings never ceased until I had met these three that he named and conveyed his greeting to them." [Gibb, p. 24]


Ibn Battuta visited other cities on the Nile Delta, and continued on to Cairo (or "al-Qahirah" - "the Victorious") founded in the 10th century by the Fatimid dynasty. On his way he passed the pyramids of Giza, but note how he describes them: "The pyramid is an edifice of solid hewn stone, of immense height and circular plan, broad at the base and narrow at the top, like the figure of a cone." [Gibb, p. 51] Obviously, he never saw them up close. [Note: there will be other things that are included in his book of travels - The Rihla - that will show that he did not actually go to some of the places his book claims he saw.]




Cairo, Egypt (1326)


"I arrived ... at the city of Cairo, mother of cities ... mistress of broad provinces and fruitful lands, boundless in multitude of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendor, the meeting-place of comer and goer, the stopping-place of feeble and strong. ... She [Cairo] surges as the waves of the sea with her throngs of folk and can scarce contain them..." said Ibn Battuta. [Gibb, vol. I, p. 41].


Life inside the walled city was crowded and frantic. The narrow streets were filled with people, camels, and donkeys and lined with thousands of shops and markets. Armies of peddlers and vendors also jammed the streets.


Ibn Battuta goes on to describe the city's many mosques, colleges, hospitals, and convents which housed the poor. They were built by the amirs (military commanders) who competed "with one another in charitable works and the founding of mosques and religious houses." [Gibb, vol. I, p. 54] The following are some of the buildings he saw:


Photos courtesy of and


           Ibn Tulun Mosque


Built by Ahmed Ibn Tulun in 879, the Ibn Tulun Mosque has an atmosphere of tranquility unlike that of any other mosque in the city. Ahmed Ibn Tulun was sent to govern Cairo by the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, which explains the Mesopotamian influence. It is the oldest original mosque and the largest in Egypt.


The madrasa and mausoleum of al-Nasir Muhammad was built by al-Nasir Muhammad who ruled Egypt between 1293 and 1340 (who was ruler when Ibn Battuta visited Egypt). This was the high point of Mamluk culture and art. This complex, built in 1295, has the first cruciform (cross-shaped) designed madrasa in Cairo.





The Attarine Mosque was dedicated to the Christian Saint Athanasius in 370 and converted into a Mosque at the beginning of the Arab conquest.


Above center: The mosque of Amr Ibn al-Aas, built in 642 is the oldest existing mosque, not just in Cairo, but the entire African Continent. It was an Islamic learning center and could hold up to 5,000 students.


Below: The Citadel (great fortress) was built by Saladin in 1176, and in 1218 was the residence of Sultan al-Kamil (nephew of Saladin). While it has been expanded, Ibn Battuta would recognize this view.









Photo Courtesy of Professor Lanegran


Ibn Battuta was particularly impressed with a maristan, or hospital, for its beauty and for its service to the sick. Such hospitals demonstrated Islamic commitment to "charity", one of the Five Pillars of Islam. A later traveler echoed this enthusiasm:


"Cubicles for patients were ranged round two courts, and at the sides of another quadrangle were wards, lecture rooms, library, baths, dispensary, and every necessary appliance of those days of surgical science. There was even music to cheer the sufferers; while reader of the Koran afforded the consolations of the faith. Rich and poor were treated alike, without fees, and sixty orphans were supported and educated in the neighboring school." [Lane-Poole, Story of Cairo, quoted in Dunn, p. 50.]


Nile Trip


Ibn Battuta stayed in Cairo about one month, but he decided to proceed to Mecca on his own by way of Upper Egypt to the Red Sea port of 'Aydhad and from there by ship to Jidda on the Arabian coast. This was generally a safe route under the protection of the Sultan, but it took longer and was less traveled than the route across the Sinai. Ibn Battuta was probably interested in being a tourist again and chose this route.


His trip up the Nile took him almost three weeks. He traveled by land rather than on the river, and along the way he lodged at the homes of scholars, qadis (judges), and Sufis or in college dormitories.


He observed the Nile which usually floods in June and described its importance to the economy and taxation of Egypt.


"If the rise amounts to 16 cubits*, the land-tax is payable in full. ... If it reaches 18 cubits it does damage to their farmland and causes an outbreak of the plague. If the Nile rises 15 cubits, the land-tax will be diminished. If it rises only 14 cubits or less, there will be prayers for rain and there is great misery." [abridged from Gibb, p. 51.] ....[NOTE: * a cubit is an ancient measure from the finger to the elbow of an average person or about 18 - 20 inches.]


Photo courtesy of Mysteries of Egypt


His trip was without major incident. However, he does write about a minor incident showing his attitudes toward modesty.


"One day I entered the bath-house... and found men in it wearing no covering. This appeared a shocking thing to me, and I went to the governor and informed him of it. He told me not to leave and ordered the [owners] of the bath-houses to be brought before him. Articles were formally drawn up making them subject to penalties if any person should enter a bath without a waist-wrapper, and the governor behaved to them with the greatest severity, after which I took leave of him." [Gibb, p. 63.]


Another incident in the town of Hiw was prophetic. Here he met a holy man, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, who prophesied that he would not make his first pilgrimage except by the road through Syria. Ibn Battuta ignored the omen, and continued on his way.


Leaving the Nile, he set out on camel with a party of Bedouin Arabs toward the Red Sea, which took about 15 days. Here, he found that the local ruling family was in revolt against the Mamluk governor. They had sunk some ships and threatened further violence. So Ibn Battuta was forced to retrace his steps and proceed back to Cairo and take a northern route to Mecca after all. (Just as prophesied.) The trip back did not take long - eight days, and by ship this time.


Surprisingly, he stayed only one night in Cairo before setting out on the second part of his trip - not directly to Mecca, but to Damascus, Syria. (Damascus was a kind of second capital of the Mamluk Empire.) The Mamluks protected this route, and Ibn Battuta decided to take this northeastward course.



Left: The Red Sea - 'Aydhab Image of crystal clear waters of the Red Sea


Trade was the life-blood of the Mamluk Empire, and caravanserai ("hotels" for caravan travelers) were built to encourage trade. One caravanserai for Syrian merchants had 360 lodgings above the storerooms and enough space for 4,000 guests at a time! Ibn Battuta would be staying at places like this built along the main trade routes.







The silver coin at the left is of the Mamluk period in Egypt. A "dirham" like this would have been used by Ibn Battuta.


The coin at the right is a gold dinar used throughout the Islamic world. It was minted in Baghdad (before the Mongol invasion). Dinar were also made of silver.


     From World History Slide Collection, E97. © 1998



Ibn Battuta traveled through much of the territory controlled by the Mamluks, or "slave" rulers of Egypt. [Map courtesy of Cultural Academy]


Challenge: Do you know the Five Pillars of Islam? See if you can name them. How have they influenced Ibn Battuta's travels so far?


What did Ibn Battuta eat in Egypt?


Ibn Battuta mentions these at Damieta on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Nile: banana trees, date palms, fish, sheep and goats, buffalo milk, sea fowl (ducks, geese, teal, etc.), and a variety of fruits (which probably included apricots, grapes, melons, pears, cherries, oranges) and vegetables (which probably included chickpeas (garbanzo beans), fava beans, onions, garlic, lettuce, eggplant, and cucumbers). He tells of these being served to the poor: sugar cakes and sweetmeats, bread, soup, and small cakes (for travelers). Rich people would have rice imported from India. Ibn Battuta tells about a great variety of foods and spices sold in the markets, but he doesn't identify them.


Medieval Egyptian cuisine would have these dishes as well: falafel, roasted meat (lamb, sheep, even wild donkey!), fish, birds (including pigeon and doves), and more! Some traditional and modern Egyptian dishes are described at Culinary Arts of Egypt.


"ABC of Arabic Cuisine" gives some background to Arabic food, some recipes, and photographs of food items.


"Virtual Middle Eastern Cook Book" contains about 75 recipes from the Middle East. Recipes include traditional foods, but watch out for foods not known in Europe or Asia until after Columbus' trip, like tomatoes, corn, potatoes, bell peppers!


Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Two - From Cairo to Jerusalem,


Damascus and on to Medina (1326)




In this chapter, you will learn a lot about Islam! Before you read about Ibn Battuta's trip, you may want some background about the important prophets that he will tell about. Do you know about Abraham? Have you heard about Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel? Do you know about the Prophet Muhammad? These and others will be introduced in this chapter.


Ibn Battuta left Cairo and headed to Damascus, Syria along the Royal Road. The Mamluk government organized caravans to carry pilgrims and merchants along this trail. The Mamluks examined passports, taxed the merchants, and strictly monitored who was going in and out of their territory.


This part of the Mamluk Empire had been in fierce battles with Mongol Invaders. From 1260 to the early 1300s, the Mamluk warriors were able to push the Mongol armies out from Damascus and northern Syria, and kept them from taking Egypt and Palestine. (The Mongols had taken over Baghdad and much of the Abbasid Empire by 1258 capturing and destroying cities as they went. See a map of the Mongol Empires and the Mamluk Sultanate. Then press the "Back" button to continue.)


The Mamluk armies protected the empire and kept open the trade routes and the pilgrimage routes. Along one part of the route soldiers on horseback dragged carpet or mats to smooth the sand every night. The next morning the soldiers sought out anyone who had left tracks in the sand, pursued them and punished them severely.



This Turkish miniature painting shows two armies in battle about the 15th century.


Damascus was like a second capital to the Mamluk, a great city that Ibn Battuta just had to see! From Damascus he could connect with a Hajj caravan and complete his trip to Mecca in safety. But there were other holy sites to see on this part of his trip: Hebron, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and more! And a stream of pilgrims came to these places under the protection of the Mamluk Sultan.



Hebron is a holy site for Muslims, Christians, and Jews since it is the burial place of the "fathers" or "patriarchs" of monotheism (belief in one God): Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Also in Hebron are other holy sites: the burial places of Lot and Joseph (son of Jacob). Muslims also make pilgrimages to the burial site of Fatimah, great grand-daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.


It is said that Muhammad himself visited this holy site (as well as Bethlehem) to pray on his Night Journey, making the sites even more holy and worthy of pilgrimage.


Below is the Ibrahim (Abraham) Mosque described by Ibn Battuta, built over the cave tomb of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Ibn Battuta continued on his journey and on his way to Jerusalem he visited more holy sites: the tomb of Jonah - over which there is built a great mosque, and Bethlehem where Jesus was born.


Continuing northward he visited and described more holy places, many towns destroyed by the crusades, such as Tyre and Acre, and he described many castles. He also tells about more holy men, but also of assassins with poisoned knives, wars, suicides, and political intrigues, all part of the history of this area.





Then he arrived in Jerusalem which was a rather small town at that time, with a population of only about 10,000. "Its defensive walls were in ruins, part of its water supply had to be brought in... and it was located on none of the important trade routes..." [Dunn, p. 56.] Yet, because of its important shrines and sanctuaries, it was an important part of Ibn Battuta's pilgrimage: "God ennoble [Jerusalem] - third in excellence after the two sacred Mosques [of Mecca and Medina] and the place of ascension of the Apostle of God [Muhammed] - God bless him and give him peace - whence he was caught up into heaven." [Gibb, p. 77.] Here he visited the Sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.




The silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque was built in 691 across from the Dome of the Rock.


The Dome of the Rock is the third holiest place in Islam, the second Muslim house of worship on Earth, and was the first direction of prayer for Muslims before they faced Mecca. "One prayer here is equivalent to 500 times the prayers in any other mosque except for the Haram Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's (An-Nabawi) Mosque in Medina. In the journey to heaven, Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) prayed in here, leading all the prophets."




The Dome of the Rock was built in 687 A.C. by Caliph Abd al-Malik, half a century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.


"This is one of the most marvelous of buildings, of the most perfect in architecture and strangest in shape ... it has a plentiful share of loveliness ... and rare beauty... The greater part of this decoration is surfaced with gold, so that it glows like a mass of light and flashes with the gleam of lightning... In the center of the Dome is the blessed Rock ...for the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) ascended from it to heaven. It is a solid piece of rock, projecting about a man's height, and underneath it there is a cave... with steps leading down to it..." [Gibb, vol. I, p. 79.]


Ibn Battuta stayed in Jerusalem for about one week. Because the Hajj season would begin soon, he continued on to Damascus and arrived there during the Holy Month of Ramadan, 1326. From Damascus he could join a hajj caravan going to Mecca.

Damascus, Syria


Damascus had once been the capital of the Umayyad Empire founded by Muawiya, the fourth caliph and a successor of Muhammad.


At the time Ibn Battuta visited Damascus, it was an international supermarket. Its population was about 100,000 people. Damascus was a center of trade routes which linked Egypt and Persia, and Asia Minor and the Black Sea region. And it was a center of learning.


Ibn Battuta was very impressed with the beauty of Damascus, saying "Damascus is the city which surpasses all other cities in beauty..." [Gibb, p. 118] [For further description, press here.]


Below is the Umayyad Mosque (or "Great Mosque") of Damascus, built in the 8th century. It was famous as a center of learning throughout the Muslim world. Ibn Battuta describes it as "the greatest mosque on earth ..., the most perfect in architecture, and the most exquisite in beauty..." [Gibb, p. 124]




During his stay in the city, Ibn Battuta may have lived in this mosque's dormitory, sitting beneath the marble columns and listening to lecturers and Koranic readers.


"In this mosque also there are a great many students who never leave it, occupying themselves unremittingly in prayer and recitation of the Koran . . . The townsfolk supply their needs of food and clothing, although students never beg for anything of the kind from them." [Gibb, vol. I, p. 129]


Ibn Battuta would have studied like the students in the painting below. (It is a painting of a Muslim school built in Jerusalem in 1329 near the time of Ibn Battuta's stay.) Notice that the students sit around a wise or holy man and learn from him and read from the Koran held in a bookstand. At the end of their studies they can earn a certificate or credential so they, too, may teach or get a judgeship eventually.


Other sites are described in his travels near Damascus, one being "the Cave of Blood, above which [can be seen] the blood of Abel, the son of Adam (on him be peace), God having caused a red trace of it to remain on the stones. This is the place in which his brother [Cain] killed him and dragged his body to the cave." [Gibb, vol. I, p. 145.]

Ibn Battuta stayed in Damascus for only 24 days, and he spent much of his time studying and meeting famous teachers and judges. But "he could not have devoted his every waking moment to his studies since he was by no means free of more mundane concerns. For one thing, his entire stay in Damascus took place during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours, a strenuous obligation that upset the normal routines of daily life. He also admits in [his book] that he was down with fever during a good part of his stay and living as a house guest of one of ...[his] professors, who put him under a physician's care. On top of that, he found time ... to get married again." [Dunn, pp. 61 - 62.] Ibn Battuta claimed to have earned additional credentials for his studies in Damascus to help get him a job once he finally reached India.


Another wife, a divorce, and a son!


And of course he tells of the important holy men, judges, or high officials he met. He almost neglects to tell the readers that here he married again, but divorced shortly afterward, and later we learn that he had fathered a son. (He learned about having a son after he had continued on, and later sent a present of money to him. Unfortunately, the son died at the age of ten and they could not meet.) Again, wives and now children will enter and exit his story without much explanation. A Muslim man can have as many as four wives at one time. It's hard to count how many wives (and concubines, or lovers) he had in his lifetime!



The Hajj Begins - From Medina to Mecca - the Center of Islam


The Hajj caravan was probably several thousand people. Each person was responsible for his own animal to ride, supplies, and money for expenses. Because Ibn Battuta was still a poor and unemployed pilgrim, he welcomed support and whatever charity came his way. A law professor "hired camels for me and gave me traveling provisions, etc., and money in addition, saying to me, 'It will come in useful for anything of importance that you may be in need of' - may God reward." And so he finally began his hajj.


The distance from Damascus to Medina was about 820 miles, and the caravan normally covered it in 45 to 60 days. Even though the caravan was protected by the power of the Mamluk army, still there were real dangers.


According to Dunn: "Some pilgrims invariably perished along the way... from exposure, thirst, flash flood, epidemic, or even attack by local nomads, who seldom hesitated to disrupt the Sacred Journey for what it might bring them in plunder. In 1361, 100 Syrian pilgrims died of extreme winter cold; in 1430, 3000 Egyptians perished of heat and thirst." [Dunn, p. 67 referring to 'Ankawi.]


Without any serious incidents, the caravan arrived at Medina, City of the Apostle of God - a little island of fertility in the desert. In 622 A.D. Muhammad and a small group of followers retreated from a hostile Mecca. His flight to Medina - the Hijira - would mark the beginning of the Muslim calendar. When the Prophet died in 632, his grave in Medina became a site of pilgrimage second only to the Kaaba itself.




The Mosque of the Prophet housed the sacred tomb of Muhammad as well as two of his successors, caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, and that of his daughter Fatimah. Muslims were not required to visit Medina, but because of its closeness to Mecca there was a steady stream of pilgrims to Medina.


The caravan camped outside the city walls and...


Ibn Battuta says: "Our stay at al-Madina ... lasted four days. We spent each night in the holy mosque, where everyone [engaged in pious exercises]; some, having formed circles in the court and lit a quantity of candles, and with book-rests in their midst [on which were placed volumes] of the Holy Koran were reciting from it; some were intoning hymns of praise to God; others were occupied in contemplation of the Immaculate Tomb (God increase it in sweetness); while on every side were singers chanting in eulogy of the Apostle of God. This is the custom by all during those blessed nights, and they also bestow large sums in alms upon the 'sojourners' [pilgrims] and the needy." [Gibb, p. 182.]







Medina - burial place of the Prophet



Then traveling for several more days and visiting more holy sites, they came close to Mecca.


"We set out again at night from this blessed valley [called Marr], with hearts full of gladness at reaching the goal of their hopes, rejoicing in their present condition and future state, and arrived in the morning at the City of Surety, Mecca (God Most High ennoble her)." [Gibb, p. 187.]






... Worshippers at the Kaaba in Mecca


The Main Rituals of the Hajj


Ibn Battuta performed the rituals within Mecca dressed in the simple white "ihram" cloth worn since he left Medina. First he went to the Kaaba, the holy shrine shaped like a huge cube ... "like a bride who is displayed upon the bridal-chair of majesty, and walks with proud steps in the mantles of beauty... We made around it the seven-fold circuit of arrival and kissed the holy Stone; we performed a prayer of two bowings at the Maqam Ibrahim [a shrine which houses the footprints of Abraham] and clung to the curtains of the Ka'ba ... where prayer is answered; we drank the water of Zamzam...; then having run between al-Safa and al-Marwa, we took up our lodging there in a house near the Gate of Ibrahim." [Gibb, p. 188.]


[Generations of rulers have made numerous changes to the Kaaba so that it looks different from the way Ibn Battuta saw it. Today it is fifty feet high, and its stone walls are draped with a fine black cloth with gold inscriptions from the Koran. At the eastern corner is the Black Stone, about 12 inches across set in a rim of silver. In Muslim tradition, Father Abraham built the Kaaba, originally of wood, to honor the One God. In pre-Islamic times the house came to hold over 360 idols and it was then the site of pagan rites. Muhammad restored it to a temple to the One God honored by Abraham.]


Ibn Battuta then described the "Standing at Arafat" - an essential part of a Hajj. On the ninth day of the month of the Hajj, the Pilgrims went to the plain called Arafat twelve miles east of Mecca. Here they stood before the Mount of Mercy, where Adam prayed and where Muhammad gave his farewell sermon in 632. They recited prayers and listened to sermons until sunset. On the tenth morning there is a feast, and pilgrims pick up a handful of pebbles and cast seven of them at "the western pillar" at Mina, just as Abraham threw stones at the devil who suggested that Abraham didn't need to sacrifice his son as God commanded.



Persian Miniatures showing Mecca and the Kaaba as the Center of Islam


Persian miniature painting of the kaaba, c. 1432, UCB Architectural Library


Ibn Battuta stayed in Mecca for three weeks making visits to other sites, meeting with holy men, and studied with them. Now Ibn Battuta had "graduated" to the status of "al-Hajji" - one who had been on the Hajj.


He had taken a year and a half to reach his destination of Mecca from his homeland of Morocco, and he would make three other trips to Mecca in his lifetime. But rather than return home, he thought about the adventures of travel, of getting a job as a scholar or judge. He had heard about the opportunities opening up to ambitious and learned men in the court of the Sultan of India... Perhaps that would be his destiny. But first, there was so much of the world to see. Where should he go next?



A miracle?


Ibn Battuta says: "Yet another marvel is this: that the pigeons of Mecca, in spite of their number ... do not alight upon [the Kaaba], nor do they pass over it in their flight. You can see the pigeons flying over the whole sanctuary, but when they come level with the illustrious Kaaba, they deflect their course from it to one side, and do not pass over it. It is said that no bird ever alights on it unless it be suffering from some disease, and in that case it either dies on the instant or is healed of its disease..." [Gibb, p. 196]



Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Three - Persia and Iraq (1326 - 1327)


A Land Conquered by the Mongols -


Genghis Khan, Mongol Conqueror "The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears,

to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters"





About 100 years before Ibn Battuta's travels, the Mongol Invasion had been a nightmare of violence for the peoples of Persia, the lands east of the Euphrates (1220 - 1260). Into his terrible war machine, Genghis Khan incorporated tens of thousands of Turkish warriors who lived in the grasslands between Mongolia and the Caspian Sea.


"With one stroke," wrote a Persian historian, "a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate, and the regions thereof became a desert, and the greater part of the living dead, and their skin and bones crumbling dust; and the mighty were humbled..." [Juvaini, The History of the World Conquerors, vol. 1, translated by Boyle, Cambridge, 1958.] "


The Mongols wreaked death and devastation wherever they rode from China to the plains of Hungary, but nowhere more so than in Persia, where most of the great cities were demolished and their inhabitants annihilated. "The total population of this area may have dropped temporarily from 2,500,000 to 250,000 as a result of mass extermination and famine." [J.M Smith in Dunn, p. 83] In 1256, Hulagu (1217-1265), Genghis Khan's grandson, subdued the whole of Persia. In 1258, Baghdad was captured and the caliph put to death, bringing the Abbasid Caliphate rule to an end.


Such a strategy of destruction by the Mongols was designed to crush the possibility of resistance to Mongol rule and cause whole cities to surrender without a fight. Therefore, some cities were destroyed, while others which surrendered (like Tabriz) were spared.


Once the armies had overrun Persia and set up governments, the destruction came to an end. After about 1260, trade resumed, fields were planted, and towns were rebuilt. Mongol leaders and their Turkish soldiers learned much about Islam and Persian culture, and the leaders had no choice but to put the administration and finance of this region in the hands of native Muslim scribes and officials who had been running Persia before the invasion. In fact, the Mongols and Turks were transformed into Persians. Genghis had a policy of toleration of all religions within the empire, and the promoters of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam competed like salesmen for the leaders' attention. The Mongols swung from one religious preference to another, depending upon which could gain them the most influence at court. Ghazan was the first ruler to make Islam the state religion (1295 - 1304). He required the entire court to convert, he built mosques throughout the country and gave money for the building of hospitals and schools. [Dunn, p. 86.] His successor was erratic in his religious demands for the empire. He was born Nestorian, then adopted Buddhism, next converted to Islam, and then became a Shi'ia Muslim who persecuted Sunni Muslims. His son, Abu Sa'id brought the court quickly back to Sunni and that is when Ibn Battuta (of a strong Sunni Muslim faith) arrived. Both Persian and Arabic were spoken here by the educated in this part of Dar al-Islam.


When the Mongols converted to Islam, they also became patrons of Persian art and culture. Persian culture came back to life quickly after the holocaust it had suffered, and Ibn Battuta was there to witness that. "Like their cousins in Cairo, the Mongol rulers did not hesitate to commit unspeakable barbarisms with one hand while with the other paying out large sums to promote refined craft and learning." [Dunn, p. 87 ] Examples of learning were the observatory at Margheh in which Persian and Chinese scholars collaborated to work out astronomical tables of great importance; the master historian of the age was Rashid al-Din, a Jewish convert to Islam who wrote a Collection of Histories, the first truly universal history of mankind ever written embracing all of Islam, China, Byzantium, and western Europe. Chinese cultural influence is also found in Persian miniature painting, calligraphy, and textile and pottery design.


Ibn Battuta's Travels through Persia and Iraq


On Nov. 17, 1326, Ibn Battuta left Mecca and joined a caravan of pilgrims in an official caravan of the Persian state. He was treated to a half of a "double camel litter" by a rich official who was impressed with Ibn Battuta's learning and friendly personality. They marched at night by torchlight "so that you saw the countryside gleaming with light and the darkness turned into radiant day." [Dunn, p. 89] The wife of a caliph had paid for the construction of a chain of watering tanks and wells along the trail to keep the caravans safe. The entire journey from Mecca to Mesopotamia took approximately 44 days.


In al-Najaf Ibn Battuta visited a holy site, important to all Muslims, but especially important to the Shi'a communities. In al-Najaf was the mausoleum (burial place) of Ali, the fourth Caliph (successor to Muhammad), and Muhammad's nephew and son-in-law.


Sufis were Muslims who sought to experience Allah's love through emotion (rather than through reading, discussion and ritual). By the 12th century, Sufi could be found in urban and rural areas in the Middle East and North Africa. Ibn Battuta was very attracted to many Sufi ideas.


It was here that Ibn Battuta met Sufi Muslims, people who tried to find God through experiences like twirling around in a trance, through music and poetry, and through dance.


"When the afternoon prayers had been said, drums ... were beaten and the [Sufi] brethren began to dance. After this they prayed the sunset prayer and brought in the repast, consisting of rice-bread, fish, milk, and dates. When all had eaten and prayed the first night prayer, they began to recite the [prayer-songs]... They had prepared loads of firewood which they kindled into flame, and went into the midst of it dancing; some of them rolled in the fire, and others ate it in their mouths, until finally they extinguished it entirely... Some of them will take a large snake and bite its head with their teeth until they bite it clean through." [Dunn, p. 91]


Ibn Battuta continued on separately from the caravan and one of his first stops was Basra - a famous city at the top of the Persian Gulf.




Ibn Battuta was disappointed in the city that had been famous because of its past beauty. The city had shrunk in population and importance. When he attended a Friday service in the mosque, he was surprised at the errors in grammar committed by the leader. He learned that "In this town there is not a man left who knows anything of the science of grammar." [Dunn, p. 92.]


And so he continued on by taking a small sailboat up river to the city of Abadan. Along the river he saw "an uninterrupted succession of fruit gardens and overshadowing palmgroves both to the right and to the left, with traders sitting in the shade of the trees, selling bread, fish, dates, milk, and fruit." Further on in a marshy area far from civilization, he looked up a famous hermit who seemed so peaceful and happy with so little. For a while, Ibn Battuta even though about spending the rest of his life in the service of this old holy man. But the next day he was back on the road to Isfahan.


 Isfahan (the Orchard City)


Isfahan was another city that had been destroyed by the Mongol invasion. [But the future destruction by another Mongol leader, Timur the Lame (or Tamerlane) would be much worse. Tamerlane dominated all of Persia from 1387. His invasion of Isfahan alone, led to more than 70,000 deaths where the heads of his victims were heaped up into pyramids.]


He lodged for two weeks in a large Sufi center and saw the sights and met with religious and legal scholars.

 At Barsian, about 42 kilometers north-east of Isfahan, there is a fine complex consisting of an old minaret, a Seljuk mosque and what is probably one of the Caravansarais built by Shah Abbas I in the furtherance of internal trade in the 12th century. (Such buildings were frequently attached to mosques.) Other caravanserai were built to encourage international trade.



Shiraz (Garden City)


Ibn Battuta visited Shiraz after traveling another 300 miles south. Shiraz had not been destroyed by the Mongols. (It was too far south and too hot for the steppe herdsmen.) So the city survived and opened its gates to the refugees fleeing from the north. The arrival of well-educated fugitives stimulated a cultural flowering in literature and art. Ibn Battuta said, "its inhabitants are handsome in figure and clean in their dress. In the whole East there is no city except Shiraz which approached Damascus in the beauty of its bazaars, fruit-gardens and rivers." Ibn Battuta also told of a Muslim hero who lived there.


When the ruler converted to Shi'ia from Sunni, he ordered at the beginning of every Friday mosque service that the name of 'Ali be praised. When the people of Shiraz refused to cooperate, he commanded that the leader (Majd al-Din) "be executed by being thrown to a pack of ferocious dogs trained to eat humans. But when the dogs were let loose, Ibn Battuta relates, 'they fawned on him and wagged their tails before him without attacking him in any way.' [Dunn, p. 96] And so the ruler prostrated himself (lay face down) at the holy man's feet, kissed them, then showered him with honors, and returned to the Sunni faith.


Ibn Battuta stayed in a dormitory attached to a mosque (perhaps the one below, left), while he visited mosques and tombs. Here he praised the piety of the women.


"The people of Shirza are distinguished by piety, sound religion, and purity of manners, especially the women. These wear boots, and when out of doors are swathed in mantles and head-veils, so that no part of them is to be seen, and they are noted for their charitable alms [money given in charity] and their liberality. One of their strange customs is that they meet in the principal mosque every Monday, Thursday and Friday... sometimes one or two thousand of them... I have never seen in any land an assembly of women in such numbers." [Gibb, p. 300.]

It was here that he heard of a miracle of a shaikh (a leader) who was saved by an elephant.


Below - an image of Atigh Mosque. To learn more about the history of Shiraz, press [here].

Afghanistani women in full veil as described by Ibn Battuta. (Photo by Powell)




Photograph courtesy of Iraq, Past and Future

Ibn Battuta continued on with other traveling companions and arrived at Baghdad, the one-time capital of the whole Abbasid Empire. But Baghdad had been destroyed by the Mongol Invasion. He had gone there to honor its past and walk among the ruins, imagining the ghosts of those who had lived in the once magnificent capital city with a population of about a million people. "Her outward lineaments have departed and nothing remains of her but the name ... There is no beauty in her that arrests the eye, or summons the busy passer-by to forget his business and to gaze." [Ibn Jabayr in Dunn, p. 97.]


But it wasn't as bad as that. The Mongols had left many of the public buildings standing and quite a few of its people alive. In fact, Hulegu's army had barely finished sacking the place when he ordered that a restoration program should begin. But Baghdad was no longer an important stop on a Middle Eastern tour. Even though most colleges were in ruins, one college built in 1234 was still operating. [Pictured on the right above; it has been rebuilt. It is one of the oldest universities in the world.]


Bath Houses in Baghdad

Ibn Battuta told of hospitality shown to him. One courtesy to the traveler was to take him/her to a hamam (public bath house). Ibn Battuta describes several fine bath houses in Baghdad. (Cleanliness was encouraged by the Qur'an and it was a duty of every Muslim to be as clean as possible.) To the left is a bath house that has been redecorated, but was in existance at Ibn Battuta's time. Men wore towels around their waists, had two for drying, and brought a small pail with them to hold water. A servant sometimes helped bathe the visitors. Most bath houses had both hot and cold water. For a Turkish miniature painting of a bath house, click here. For more examples of bath houses in Baghdad, click here and here. [Then return by pressing the BACK button.]


Traveling with the King


In Baghdad he learned that Abu Sa'id, the Il-Khan himself (the great king), was staying there and would soon leave to his summer palaces in Sultaniya. Ibn Battuta jumped at the chance to meet yet another ruler, and got himself invited on the royal caravan. The Il-Khan was about a year younger than Ibn Battuta. He described the king as being "the most beautiful of God's creatures." Ibn Battuta admired him as a true Muslim who wrote both Arabic and Persian, played the lute, composed songs and poems, and ruled wisely. Unlike several of his Mongol predecessors who were alcoholics, he prohibited the use of spirits throughout his kingdom as the Koran required. This Il-khan was an example of how the Mongol warrior descendants had become Persian and Muslim. "Perhaps if he had reigned longer," says Dunn, "he would have been a great builder... As it was, the political foundations he laid during his last eight years were not strong enough to ensure the survival of the regime, which utterly collapsed at his death in 1335, leaving Persia to face the remainder of the century in fragmentation and war." [Dunn, p. 99] Ibn Battuta later told of the murder of Abu Sa'id by one of his wives who poisoned him out of jealousy of his love of another of his wives! After his death the amirs (military leaders) fought among themselves for leadership. (Gibb, vol. II, p. 340-345)

Ibn Battuta described the procession he joined: "When [the military leaders come up with their troops, drummers and flagbearers] and their ranks are set in perfect order, the king mounts, and the drums, trumpets, and fifes are sounded for the departure. Each of the amirs [military leaders] advances, salutes the king... Ahead of the the musicians there are ten horsemen, with ten drums carried on slings round their necks, and five [other] horsemen carrying five reed-pipes... On the sultan's right and left during his march are the great [military leaders] who number about fifty." [Gibb, p. 342]


[The procession shown on the left is from a Turkish miniature, but would be similar to the one observed by Ibn Battuta.]




 Tabriz [now part of Azerbaijan]


Ibn Battuta continued with the royal caravan for ten days, and then decided to join a part of the caravan that was going north to Tabriz, one of the most important cities in Persia - the first capital of the Il-Khans. With the advance of the Mongol army, the inhabitants of Tabriz had been wise enough to welcome them into their city without a fight. Tabriz became the capital of the conquering army. This city had become an important place along the Silk Road with colonies of people from Venice, Genoa, and other European countries as well as Armenians, Arabs, and even Chinese traders. There were also several Christian churches there. This international city was one of the greatest centers of learning and culture during the 14th century after the Mongol Invasion.


Ibn Battuta spent almost no time exploring Tabriz because he had to get back to Baghdad to join a hajj caravan. On his way back he toured other places - some of the same ones described by Marco Polo, an Italian traveler who visited this area about 55 years earlier on his way to China.


Back in Baghdad, the governor showed him charity by giving him a camel litter. He was expecting an easy return trip, but unfortunately on the way he again became sick with diarrhea. During the long journey he had to get down from his litter many times a day. By the time he got to Mecca, he was very weak.


Ibn Battuta needed a rest. In a year he had traveled more than 4,000 miles, crossed mountains and deserts, visited most of the great cities of Iraq and western Persia, met scholars, saints, judges, and even a Mongol king! After about one year in Mecca where he led a life of prayer, fellowship, and learning, he was ready to travel again.



What did Ibn Battuta eat in Persia?


Ibn Battuta mentions the following Persian foods served to him and other visitors by a shaikh of Tustar: pilaff of rice with pepper and cooked in ghee (clarified butter), fried chickens, bread, meat and sweetmeats (sweets like pastries or cakes made of flour, butter, honey or sugar, and often with nuts and sweet jellies or grape-syrup). (Gibb, vol. II, p. 284, 286) He was impressed with the orchards and gardens along the rivers and tells that travelers could easily buy bread, fish, dates, milk and fruit. He mentions orange and lemon trees, apricots, quinces, dates, grapes, watermelons, figs, apples, walnuts and almonds, breads and cheese, meat sauce served over rice (served on a banana leaf plate), gruel (porridge) of meat, wheat and butter, thin breadcakes, fish, and other foods.

For actual Islamic recipes from the Middle Ages 10th - 15th centuries (900s - 1400s) see, Cariadoc's Miscellany: An Islamic Dinner. This site is prepared by a member of Creative Anachonisms Society (a group that likes to dress up and act as if they lived in the Middle Ages or during the Renaissance), and the author has researched recipes from Islamic cookbooks, mostly from Andalusia (Islamic Spain) and Baghdad (in Iraq). Approximately 140 authentic recipes that can be made today.

Persian Food: "Iran: an Introduction -- Food" tells about common breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. A modern few recipes are given. This site is under construction so there is little information.

Iran - Persian Cuisine. Lots of recipes on this page, but no graphics.



Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Four - The Arabian Sea & East Africa 1328 - 1330


After Ibn Battuta had lived and studied in Mecca for about one year, he started another adventure. From Mecca, he went to Jidda on the Red Sea coast where he and other pilgrims were crammed onto a small ship.


This was Ibn Battuta's first time at sea travel and he probably wasn't looking forward to it. The Red Sea was not easy to navigate with coral reefs and rocks just under the waterline. Storms were common, as were pirates who waited patiently for ships with rich travelers to rob and kill. Ships were weak in a storm - made of wooden planks that were stitched together with cords. Moreover, the winds could keep the sailboats from reaching their destinations. Truly the travelers' lives were in the hands of God. "We traveled on this sea with a favoring wind for two days, but thereafter the wind changed and drove us off ... course... The waves of the sea entered in amongst us in the vessel, and the passengers fell grievously sick." Eventually the ship had to head for shore, and fortunately Ibn Battuta and the other seasick passengers were able to rent camels and continue south on land.


Ibn Battuta was able to visit coastal cities as well as villages in the high mountains of Yemen. In Taiz which was high on a mountain slope, he stayed with the sultan (leader) and was given a horse.


After a brief stay in Taiz, he continued down to the coastal city of Aden which guards the entrance to the Red Sea. Aden was a city built in the crater on an extinct volcano with the eastern side exposed to the sea. The harbor was surrounded by stone walls and sea gates for protection. Aden charged a tariff or tax on all the goods that came through this port. Ships brought spices, medicinal herbs, dyes to color cloth, iron, steel, Indian silks and cottons, pearls, cowrie shells (which were used for money in Africa), Chinese pottery, African ivory, fruits and lumber.

In the time Ibn Battuta lived, Muslim traders had firm control over the western half of the Indian Ocean trading centers. It was like "a Muslim lake" around which Muslim merchants had started businesses and they depended on trade by ship. Muslim communities had developed along the coast of Africa and later would develop along the coasts of India and Southeast Asia. A place in the business community was open to any young man with brains and ambition - whatever his racial background - if he was a Muslim. This is the network that Ibn Battuta now traveled. But this part of the world was not so solidly Muslim - here it was a minority religion - and the language of the places he would visit would not be Arabic. But at each site there would be Muslims who would welcome him as a fellow Muslim, a pilgrim and a scholar. He was part of the international brotherhood of Islam. He would take advantage of Muslim hospitality and charity wherever he went.


From Aden Ibn Battuta decided to have another adventure before settling down to a permanent job - down the coast of East Africa this time. The weather conditions were right for the trip, and it was easy to get on a dhow sailing south. A large dhow usually had a crew of thirty to hoist the sails and turn the sails into the wind. Smaller dhows were used along the coast with only one sail.


Ships could travel during the winter months south with the monsoon winds. Then in the summer the winds reverse direction and ships could easily travel north.


The trading ships made their way down the east coast of Africa stopping at towns to trade for African goods such as ivory, gold, myrrh to make a fine skin oil, animal skins, frankincense and ambergris used to make perfumes, and slaves. His first stop was Zeila, a port of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia with a large Muslim community. He felt Zeila "the dirtiest, most disagreeable, and most stinking town in the world. The reason for its stink is the quantity of fish and the blood of the camels they butcher in its alleyways." To avoid the smell, Battuta spent the nights on his ship, even though the water was rough.


He continued southward and fifteen days later they reached Mogadishyu, the busiest and richest port of the coast. Spoken here were Arabic and Persian from earlier traders, and developing was Swahili, a mixture of an African language (Bantu) with Arabic and Persian. The towns he would visit were not isolated Arab communities - they were largely populated by Africans. "The rulers, scholars, officials and big merchants as well as the port workers, farmers, craftsmen, and slaves, were dark-skinned people speaking African tongues in everyday life." [Dunn, p. 124.] There was a great deal of intermarriage into the local families by the single Arab men who sought their fortunes along the coast of Africa.



Who were the people in the trading towns?


Settlers from Arabia and the Persian Gulf first introduced Islam into the little ports and fishing villages along the coast when they came to trade. The great majority of immigrants were males who married into local families. In Kilwa one family took control of the trading and gold markets from Zimbabwe. This family became very wealthy. They ate off Chinese porcelain, wore silk garments, and had indoor plumbing! Look at the palace in which they lived.


What about slavery?


Ibn Battuta tells us several times that he was given or purchased slaves. He also tells us very briefly how slaves were taken and given as gifts.


The Sultan of Kilwa was called 'the generous' "on account of the multitude of his gifts and acts of generosity. He used to engage frequently in expeditions to the land of the Zinj people [villagers of the interior], raiding them and taking booty [slaves and other wealth]... He is a man of great humility; he sits with poor brethren, eats with them, and greatly respects men of religion and noble descent." [Gibb, vol. II, pp. 380 - 381]

Since Ibn Battuta was a real scholar of Islam religion and law now, he was made a welcomed guest of the governor (or sheik). This feasting and meeting of important people continued for about a week before the ship continued southward to Zanj and then Mombasa. They continued on to the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar, and finally arrived at Kilwa - today part of Tanzania.


Kilwa was important as a trading city for gold and its citizens enjoyed a high standard of living. The ruling class lived in stone houses up to three stories high with indoor plumbing. They wore silks and cotton clothes and ate off Chinese porcelain. Most of the population lived in mud-walled houses with thatched roofs.


Ibn Battuta probably prayed in the Great Mosque of Kilwa - shown to the right and below - which is now in ruins.



Back to South Arabia


Ibn Battuta stayed in Kilwa about two weeks and with the changes in the monsoon winds, the ship changed direction and went north. A month later he was back in South Arabia. From here he decided on another short adventure - this time to take a small ship to the Gulf of Oman. Because he disliked the crew of his ship, Ibn Battuta and a friend decided to continue to Qalhat on foot. This decision almost cost them their lives! A guide that they hired plotted to kill them and take their clothes and valuables. Fortunately, Ibn Battuta was carrying a spear and was able to control the wouldbe robber and finally - after becoming sick and thirsty and walking with swollen bloody feet - they arrived at Qalhat. Here they stayed with the governor for six days and recovered.


From Qalhat Ibn Battuta probably continued to the Straits of Hormuz. In the bazaars he observed Indian merchants, and along the coast he saw pearl fishing boats.



When people read Ibn Battuta's stories, he was accused of being a liar or teller of tales. Here is an example of what must have been hearsay about pearl divers of the Persian Gulf that he thought must be true (but didn't observe). Or was it a problem of translation?


"The diver ... puts over his face a covering made of the shell of the tortoise... and [something] like scissors which he fastens on his nose, then ties a rope around his waist and submerges. They differ in their endurance under water, some of them being able to stay under water for an hour or two hours or less." ... "Inside [the oyster shells] are found pieces of flesh which are cut out with a knife, and when they come into contact with the air they solidify and turn into pearls." (Gibb, vol. II, p. 408 - 409




Ibn Battuta was thinking about a return trip to Mecca - his third visit. Traveling mostly by land now, he reached Mecca in the winter of 1330. After tiring sea voyages, climbing high mountains in Yemen, traveling across the equator and through the hottest places on earth, and almost losing his life, he was looking forward to a long rest with his Koran and his law books.


Because Ibn Battuta's description of the East African coast is the only eye-witness account of the medieval period, it is studied in detail by historians.


What did Ibn Battuta eat in the kingdoms of Yemen and Oman?


In Yemen the grain grown by the inhabitants was a coarse-grained millet, but rice was imported from India. He mentioned food cooked with spices and butter for important visitors, and walnuts, sweetmeats (pastries or sweet snacks), grapes, raisins with rosewater and citron juice, biscuits, barley bread, dates, bananas, fish, and the flesh of ostriches, gazelles, wild asses, and goats, together with milk products (like milk, cheese, yogurt and ghee - or clarified butter) and birds' eggs. In dry areas water was stored in cisterns (and even in ostrich eggs!), or pulled up from deep wells by slaves. In other places there were rivers and springs. (Gibb, vol. II, pp. 366 - 372, 392.)


See recipes for traditional foods of the United Arab Emirates. Some of the customs of eating are also given.


What did Ibn Battuta eat in East Africa?


In Zaila, Ibn Battuta complained about the stink of fish and the blood of camel that they slaughter for food.


In Mogadishu, Ibn Battuta and other visitors were treated to stews of chicken, meat, fish and vegetables poured over rice cooked in ghee (butter); green bananas in fresh milk; curdled milk with pickled lemon and pepper, ginger, and mangoes; and other local dishes. He observed that the food was plentiful there: "A single person ... eats as much as a whole company of us would eat ... and they are corpulent and fat in the extreme." (Gibb, vol. II, p. 376)


He also told about trying betel leaves - a mild narcotic - an aid in digestion, a breath sweetener, and an aphrodisiac. He further described the coconut (which he called the "Indian nut") and its value: fiber from the husk used to make rope; coconut juice (which he says has an aphrodisiac quality which "is wonderful"); coconut milk (squeezed from the meat and used in cooking); the soft meat which is "like an egg ... not fully cooked"; the oil from the mature nut which is used as a hair oil, a cooking sauce, and for burning in lamps; and the tree's sap which is used to make a type of sweet honey. (Gibb, vol. II, p. 388 - 390)


Check out these traditional recipes from the African Cookbook (arranged by country). Especially appropriate are those from Tanzania. Some of the customs about eating are also given.




Ibn Battuta's Trip Part Five: Anatolia (Turkey) 1330 - 1331



The Seljuk Turks were nomadic herdsmen of sheep and horses who lived in the grassy steppes near the Aral Sea. As their population increased, the high green valleys of Anatolia (now part of modern Turkey) became tempting. The Seljuks developed a highly effective fighting force as they attacked their neighbors on horseback and claimed their lands. These Turks were feared and respected, even recruited as paid soldiers of other kingdoms (such as in Egypt where they would take over as the Mamluk or "slave" dynasty). So the Seljuk conquests began in Anatolia. In 1071 the Seljuk cavalry defeated the mighty Byzantine army. From that point on, a series of nomadic groups crossed over into Anatolia and spread out over the central plateau. The Byzantines had given up all but the west quarter of this region near their capital, Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), and a new Muslim society was emerging in Anatolia.


When the Seljuk commanders settled down in Konya, their capital, and in other Greek and Armenian towns, these former herdsmen and warriors took up the ways of the city. The leaders had close contacts with the Abbasids in Persia. The Seljuk state extended from Central Asia to the plateaus and valleys in Asia Minor (Turkey). It became a well-administered Sunni state under the nominal authority of the 'Abbasid caliphs at Baghdad.


There were still large Christian populations in the towns along the coast. The process of conversion of all of Anatolia was slow during the 1100s. The Byzantines and the Turkish Sultans were usually at peace and they treated each other mostly with respect and diplomacy.





The Mongol Invasion


The Mongol invasions (in 1243 and again in 1256) changed all that. The Turks were pushed from Central Asia into the towns and valleys of Anatolia which increased the Turkish population greatly. By 1260 Mongol armies were lodged in most important towns of Anatolia and had settled down to the business of taxation and keeping order. But there was little of the terror and destruction that the Mongols had caused in Persia and Iraq. And the Seljuk Turk Sultan kept power by paying tribute to the Mongol Il-Khan who now lived in Persia. The Seljuks had put up mosques in the former Greek cities and their architecture was influenced by Greek and Byzantine architecture and culture. Persian Muslim scholars, secretaries, and architects had been invited to come to work in Anatolia. Konya, the capital city, was an international center of learning, art, and Sufi teaching. These Turkish cities were becoming more Muslim and more Persian than ever before.


Caravanserai in Central Turkey - Photo from UCB Architectural Library


And trade was what was important to the economy. The Turks had established vast trade routes and had built huge caravanserai (camel inns) to encourage trade. Armed guards escorted the travelers on the caravan routes to Persia and part of the way to China as part of the Silk Road!






Image of Osman - Founder of the Ottoman Turks


There was still warfare, however, between Seljuk leaders. "The Seljuk princes of these states ruled simply by virtue of their fitness as Turcoman war captains, the biggest of the 'big men' who succeeded in gathering a larger following of mounted archers than their rivals with promises of booty and land." [Dunn, p. 143.] One of these groups under the leadership of the descendants of Osman (known as Ottomans) would soon take over all of Anatolia. They would later conquer Greece and other parts of Eastern Europe, and eventually would take over northern Africa all the way to Ibn Battuta's homeland of Morocco! Ibn Battuta arrived at a period of decline of the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantines, and at the rise of the Ottoman Turks. He would meet the son of Osman on this trip.


 [See the future! For a map of the Ottoman Empire of the 16th century, press here.]



Turkish miniature painting showing a battle between two Turkish armies.


Ibn Battuta had spent about one year in Mecca studying and making his third pilgrimage. He had been thinking more and more about going to get work under the Sultan of Delhi, now part of Muslim controlled India. The sultan was welcoming scholars and judges from abroad and gave them high paying jobs. But first Ibn Battuta had to find a guide, someone who could speak Persian and knew India well. So in 1330 he went to the town of Jidd on the Red Sea. After looking unsuccessfully for a guide to India for several months, he decided to continue his travels. This time he would go northward to Anatolia (modern Turkey). From there he could connect with Turkish caravans going to India. He traveled back into Egypt where he met a friend, and they went by caravan to Damascus, Syria.

Ibn Battuta's small group left Syria on a large galley (a trading ship) belonging to the Genoese (from Italy) and arrived at Alanya. This town was a busy trading port, especially known for its wood which was shipped to Egypt and Syria.


"[We] set out for the country of the Turks. ... It was conquered by the Muslims, but there are still large numbers of Christians there under the protection of the Turkmen Muslims. We traveled on the sea for ten nights, and the Christians treated us honorably and took no passage money from us. On the tenth day we arrived at Alanya [where the province begins]. This country ... is one of the finest in the world; in it God has brought together the good things dispersed throughout other lands. Its people are the most comely (handsome) of men, the cleanest in their dress, the most delicious in their food, and the kindliest folk in creation. Wherever we stopped in this land, whether at a hospice or a private house, our neighbors both men and women (these do not veil themselves) came to ask after our needs. When we left them they bade us farewell as though they were our relatives and our own folk, and you would see the women weeping out of grief at our departure." [Gibb, p. 415 - 416]


While he praised the Turks' hospitality and their commitment to the Sunni Muslim faith, he was surprised that "they eat hashish [Indian hemp, a type of drug like marijuana], and think no harm of it." [Gibb, p. 416]


Photograph of modern Alanya and its fortress - today it is popular with tourists.


Ibn Battuta further described Alanya: "There is a magnificent and formidable citadel [or fort] at the upper end of town. ... At the northwestern corner is a place where prisoners condemned to death were hurled over the precipice by means of catapults."


"From Alanya I went to Antaliya [Adalia], a most beautiful city... one of the most attractive towns to be seen anywhere... Each section of the inhabitants lives in a separate quarter. The Christian merchants live in a quarter of the town ... and are surrounded by a wall, the gates of which are shut upon them from without at night and during the Friday service. The Greeks ... live by themselves in another quarter, the Jews in another, and the king and his court and mamluks (slaves) in another, each of these quarters being walled off likewise. The rest of the Muslims live in the main city. Round the whole town and all the quarters mentioned there is another great wall." [Gibb, p. 418]



In every town that Ibn Battuta visited, he was welcomed into a fraternity of Muslim brothers. They provided him with food and shelter, and even competed with other fraternities for the honor of entertaining their guests.

"We stayed here at the college mosque of the town... Now in all the lands inhabited by the Turkmens in Anatolia, in every district, town and village, there are to be found members of the organization known as the ... Young Brotherhood. Nowhere in the world will you find men so eager to welcome strangers, so prompt to serve food and to satisfy the wants of others... The members of this community work during the day to gain their livelihood, and bring ... what they have earned in the late afternoon. With this they buy fruit, food, and the other things which the hospice requires for their use. If a traveler comes to town that day they lodge him.... and he stays with them until he goes away. If there are no travelers they themselves assemble to partake of the food, and having eaten it they sing and dance. On the morrow they return to their occupations and bring their earnings to their leader in the late afternoon."


Ibn Battuta also visited Konya, famous home of the Sufi poet Rumi. Dance and whirling were popular in Turkey and Persia with the Sufi brothers. It was a way to become in ecstasy with God, as if in a trace. Below is a modern ceremony - the dancers are sometimes called "whirling dervishes".



He also stayed at the homes of important leaders, some of them related to the Il-Khan of Persia himself! And at each place, as was the custom, he was given "hospitality gifts": sometimes money, fine robes, a horse, or even a slave, and often a letter of introduction to some host in the next city on the trip. He praised most of hosts, especially for their generosity towards him, and criticizes one as "a worthless person."


Ibn Battuta shared his impressions of Turkish women:


"...A remarkable thing which I saw in this country was the respect shown to women by the Turks, for they hold a more dignified position than the men. ... I saw also the wives of the merchants and common [men]. [Their faces are] visible for the Turkish women do not veil themselves. Sometimes a woman will be accompanied by her husband and anyone seeing him would take him for one of her servants."


However, in one town he is critical of the treatment of slave women.


"The inhabitants of this city make no effort to stamp out immorality - indeed, the same applies to the whole population of these regions. They buy beautiful Greek slave-girls and put them out to prostitution, and each girl has to pay a regular due to her master. I heard it said there that the girls go into the bath-houses along with the men, and anyone who wishes to indulge in depravity does so in the bath-house and nobody tries to stop him. I was told that the [governor] in this city owns slave-girls employed in this way." [Gibb. p. 425 - 426]


In November of 1331, Ibn Battuta and three friends, two slave boys and a slave girl and with several horses and gifts from governors and hosts, started out toward the Black Sea. He had benefited greatly from the generosity of the Turks. But this next part of the trip was difficult. He was caught in a raging river; mislead by a guide who got the party lost and demanded money; and then almost froze to death in the wilderness. But they arrived at the port of Sinop on the Black Sea and were ready to leave to the steppe lands - the home of the "Golden Horde".


What did Ibn Battuta eat in Anatolia (Turkey)?


Ibn Battuta praised the food which was provided to visitors. He also mentioned orchards and fine fruits, including an apricot which was dried and exported to Egypt. He told of presents given to him of rice, flour, butter in sheep's stomachs for travel. He enjoyed these foods: lentils cooked in butter and sugar, rice cooked in ghee, rabbit, fowl, pomegranates, bread baked once a week, trays of sweets and sweetmeats made of honey, 'virgin' grapes "of the utmost sweetness, large in size, clear in color", sherbet of raisins with citron juice and a biscuit, walnuts and chestnuts, and saffron (the most expensive spice in the world). Poor people received gifts of meat (from slaughtered cattle and sheep) and bread, as well as alms (money for charity) at the end of Ramadan.

Two good sites with some pictures of traditional and modern Turkish recipes are:

Turkish Cuisine which includes recipes for sweetmeats

Turkish Cuisine with recipes from the past and present.


How did Ibn Battuta take a bath?


Keeping clean is very important to Muslims and is encouraged in the Qur'an. Bath houses were built in most cities with separate houses for men and for women. In Anatolia (Turkey) there were many fine bath houses with hot and cold water. See a Turkish miniature painting of a 15th century bath house.

The importance of bath houses in Turkey today and in the past is described here.



Medieval Sourcebook: This site gives more of Ibn Battuta's impressions of Anatolia.


Royal caravanserai: "Sultan Han" (Royal Caravanserai of Ala ad-Din Kayqubad), 1232-36 (Seljuq) located in Kayseri, Anatolia in central Turkey on the Sivas Road


Mersin to Silifke on the Mediterranean Coast - Castle of Korykos



Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Six - The Steppe - Land of the Golden Horde, 1332 - 1333


Map from Univ. of Calgary's History Tutorial

After waiting more than a month for good weather, Ibn Battuta and his small party boarded a ship and began to cross the Black Sea. Severe storms hit and almost capsized the ship, but after several days of panic and near disaster, they arrived at the opposite coast. Then they reached Kaffa, a Genoese (Italian) colony which had about 200 ships in its harbor. Here lived traders from Genoa, Venice, Egypt, Russia, and elsewhere. There was only one mosque in the town since most of the Europeans were Christians. When the Church bell rang, Ibn Battuta and his friend were offended! They went up to the top of their lodging and out of anger started the call for Muslim prayer! Some other Muslims rushed to them and tried to stop what might cause a religious fight! The next day they continued on to a city with a much larger Muslim population.

At these Black Sea ports they could see the trade goods of the steppe: grains, timber, furs, salt, wax, and honey. There were also the trade goods that had come along the Silk Road from Persia or China. And there were slaves, too: war captives and the sad children of poor parents who sold their children in order to survive. They would be sold in the slave markets of Cairo; others would be sent to work in the sugar plantations of Cyprus or in the rich households of Italy. [Dunn, p.163 - 164]


When they arrived in al-Qiram, they heard some good news! They had arrived just in time to make the 700-mile trip to the Volga River under the protection of the King of the Golden Horde who was traveling only a few days ahead. So they bought three wagons and animals to pull them and rushed to catch up. (One wagon was for Ibn Battuta himself and a slave girl - with whom he would father another child! A second wagon was for his friend, and a third large one was for the rest of his companions and other slaves.) A prosperous steppe dweller might own one or two hundred wagons!


[Yurt Photo courtesy of "Great Mongol Home Page"]

Travel in this part of the world was generally in wagons pulled by teams of horses, camels, or oxen. Mongol and Turkish nomads followed their herds in wagons over which was built a round felt yurt, a type of tent made of felt over a wooden frame.


The caravan "of a rich Mongol seems like a large town, though there will be very few men in it. One girl will lead twenty or thirty carts, for the country is flat, and they tie the ox or camel carts the one after the other, and a girl will sit on the front one driving the ox, and all the others follow after..." [Dunn, p. 166]


Photo courtesy of Frenchcar Magazine


Ibn Battuta was surprised at the treatment of the animals here. "At every halt the Turks loose their horses, oxen and camels and drive them out to pasture at liberty, night or day, without shepherds or guardians. This is due to the severity of their laws against theft. Any person found in possession of a stolen horse is obliged to restore it with nine others; if he cannot do this, his sons are taken instead, and if he has no sons he is slaughtered like a sheep. [Gibb, p. 473 - 474] ... "The horses in this country are exceedingly numerous and their price is negligible. ...Horses in this country [are] like sheep in ours, or even more numerous, so that a single Turk will possess thousands of them. ... These horses are exported to India in droves, each one numbering six thousand or more or less." [Gibb, p. 478 - 479]


Soon they caught up to the caravan of the Khan, King of the Golden Horde. The Khan's caravan was like "a vast city on the move with its inhabitants, with mosques and bazaars in it, the smoke of the kitchens rising in the air for they cook while on the march..." [Dunn, p. 167]


The next morning he met the Khan, Ozbeg, seated upon a silver throne in the middle of a huge tent whose exterior was covered with a layer of bright gold tiles. The family of the Khan were below the throne, but the four wives were seated next to him. "In the Mongol states," explains Dunn, "women of the court shared openly and energetically in the governing of the realm. Princesses, like their brothers, were awarded land which they ruled and taxed." Ibn Battuta described how the Khan greeted his wives: "[The ruler] advances to the entrance to meet her, salutes her, takes her by the hand, and only after she has mounted to the couch and taken her seat does the sultan himself sit down. All this is done in full view of those present, and without any use of veils." [Dunn, p. 168]

[Traditional Mongol bow and arrow - Photo from Virtual Mongol]


Indeed, the wives were treated quite well on this caravan.


"The horses that draw [each wife's] wagon are [decorated] with silk .. In front of the wagons are ten or fifteen pages (young boy servants), Greeks and Indians, who are dressed in robes of silk encrusted with jewels, and each of whom carries in his hand a mace of gold or silver... Behind her wagon there are about a hundred wagons, in each of which there are four slave girls full-grown or young... Behind these wagons still are about three hundred wagons, drawn by camels and oxen, carrying the [wife's] chests, moneys, robes, furnishings, and food." [Dunn, p. 168 - 169]


Ibn Battuta also described the food of these Turks which included "dugi" (like a millet porridge). They poured curdled milk over this. The meat they ate most often was horse flesh and sheep's flesh. They also had "rishta" (a kind of macaroni cooked and eaten with milk). The Turks drank mares' milk (horse milk) and a fermented (alcoholic) drink called "buza" made from grain which they didn't consider wrong - but as a strict Muslim, Ibn Battuta was shocked! Once the great Khan even came drunk to a dinner with his surprised and embarrassed guest.


A Trip to Constantinople!


When they reached Astrakhan, Ibn Battuta learned that the third wife of the Khan was pregnant. The Khan gave her permission to go back to her father - the King of the Byzantine Empire - to have her baby in Constantinople. Ibn Battuta asked the Khan if he could go along and also got permission. Here was an unexpected opportunity to see another part of the world, his first time to go beyond Dar al-Islam and see one of the great cities of the world. (There was nothing unusual about Turks or Arabs visiting Constantinople in the 14th century. Merchants and ambassadors went there whenever business required it, and there was even a mosque in the heart of the city.)


So in July, 1332, they set out with about 5,000 horsemen, 500 of her personal soldiers and servants, 200 slave girls, 20 Indian and Greek pages, 400 wagons, 2,000 horses and about 500 oxen and camels. (The unfortunate people who lived along the route were obligated to provide this huge caravan with food! This was part of their "tax" and required support for their rulers.)


After traveling about 75 days they arrived in Constantinople. Ibn Battuta noticed that as they got closer, the former Christian princess stopped the calls to prayer; wines were brought to her and she even ate pork! [Her marriage to the Khan was a political arrangement made by her Christian father to gain advantages from the Muslim ruler.]

Ibn Battuta stayed in Constantinople for more than a month. He even got to meet the emperor, Andronicus III. He saw many of the sights of this capital city of the Christians - the new Rome. He even saw the great Christian church of Hagia Sophia, though he did not go inside. But as Dunn says, "Byzantium in the 1330s was a minor Greek state of southeastern Europe and little more. Its international trade had been abandoned to the Italians, its currency was almost worthless, its landlords were grinding the peasantry unmercifully, its army was an assemblage of alien mercenaries, and its Asian territories had been all but lost to the triumphant Turks. It was a state living on borrowed time and past glories." [Dunn, p. 172]


Today the building shown above is a mosque with minarets, but before it was a Christian church, the Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian. Photo from Columbia University, NYC.


                    Ibn Battuta's Trip into the Steppe


What did Ibn Battuta eat in the steppes?


Ibn Battuta described the food of these Turks which included "dugi" (a millet porridge). They poured curdled mares' milk over this. The meat they ate most often was horse flesh and sheep's flesh which was roasted or boiled. He said that the Turks "do not eat any meat unless the bones are mixed with it" and they dipped their meat into a salt-water sauce. They also had "rishta" (a kind of macaroni cooked and eaten with milk). Ibn Battuta mentions some bread and fruits: grapes, apples, pears, quinces. These Turks didn't seem to like sweetmeats at all and regarded eating it a disgrace. They drank mares' milk ("qumizz" which Ibn Battuta found "disagreeable") and millet beer ("buza" which Ibn Battuta couldn't drink because he was a strict Muslim).



Return to the Steppes


Ibn Battuta and the royal escorts returned to the steppe just as the terrible Asian winter was beginning. He wore three fur coats, two pairs of trousers, two pairs of heavy socks, and heavy boots lined with bearskin. Whenever he washed with hot water, the water would run down his beard and freeze.


They again reached Astrakhan, but continued northward to meet the Khan who was then at New Saray, a city up the now-frozen Volga River. New Saray was "of boundless size ... choked with its inhabitants." Its bazaars handled metal ware, leather, silk and woolens, grain, furs, timber, and slaves. Here, too, were a band of Muslim scholars and hopeful bureaucrats eager to find jobs in the frontier cities of Dar al-Islam.


Ibn Battuta left the Volga River colony and headed south, generally toward India. For five months he traveled through regions conquered by the Mongols. In the aftermath of the conquest, civilization for a time simply vanished. In Bukhara, Ibn Battuta reports, "the mosques, colleges, and bazaars are in ruins ... There is not one person in it today who possesses any learning or who shows any concern for acquiring it." [Dunn, p. 175 - 176] The once-great walled cities that tried to resist the Mongols had been totally destroyed. But some cities were coming back to life.



Left: The Walls of Bukhara rebuilt under Tamerlain about 1390 - long after Ibn Battuta's trip. From Middle East Tour Uzbekistan

Click on picture to get an enlarged image.



Right: Ruins at Farah, Afghanistan -Photo copyright by Luke Powell, 1996


Within a generation Ghengiz Khan had conquered the largest empire in recorded history, two-thirds of the population of Central Asia lay dead, and cities like Farah, Urgench, Ghazni, Bamian, Bukhara, and Balkh were ruins.







The Land of Chagatay


Ibn Battuta continued on his journey leaving the steppe, the Land of the Golden Horde, and crossed into the land of the Khan of Chagatay, another descendant of Ghengis Khan. This was the geographic center of the great Mongol Empire, but it was mostly where nomadic herders lived with few major trading cities or centers of learning. The present Khan (named Tarmashirin) was the first of his dynasty to make Islam the official religion of state. Ibn Battuta stayed with the Khan for 54 days in the cold winter of 1333. When he left he was given 700 silver dinars, two camels, and a warm sable coat. A few months later in India, he learned that the Khan had been overthrown by a treacherous nephew and a group of anti-Muslim commanders. So again, Ibn Battuta arrived in a brief moment of peace before disaster came to a kingdom.

Left: Built in 1127, this magnificent Kalyan minaret in Bhukara survived the Mongol invasions. It was formerly used for executions. The victims were thrown from the windows.


In the spring of 1333, Ibn Battuta continued with others on a caravan into the mountain passes into Afghanistan. Here they encountered bandits, rock slides, and snow. "We crossed the mountain setting out about the end of the night and traveling on it all day long until sunset. We kept spreading felt cloths in front of the camels for them to tread on, so that they should not sink in the snow." [Dunn, p. 178] After a four-month journey through the land of Chagatay, they rode into India - ruled by a Muslim conqueror. It was here that Ibn Battuta hoped to settle down and get a high paying job.


"The king of India ... makes a practice of honoring strangers and showing affection to them and singling them out for governorships or high dignities of state. The majority of [them] are foreigners." - like Ibn Battuta himself.



Modern Afghani travelers continue ancient traditions. [Photo Courtesy of GeoImages, UCB, Afghanistan, by Doug Powell]



Afghanistani nomads moving to higher pasture - photo courtesy of GeoImages, UCB, Prof. Douglas R. Powell












Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Seven - Delhi, capital of Muslim India


Map of Sultanate of Delhi in 1294 before Sultan Muhammad Tughluq's reign which started in 1320.


India became part of Dar al-Islam through conquest. In the 11th century Muslim Turkish rulers from Afghanistan led a "holy war" against the largely Hindu farming people of India. The first wave of Muslim soldiers looted towns and smashed the images of the gods of the Hindu worshipers. But later warrior kings set up a system to tax, rather than slaughter the peasants. They replaced the local Hindu leaders with Turks from Afghanistan and conquered and united a large area almost to the tip of the subcontinent.


But these Muslim sultans were not safe. They faced continued opposition from the Hindu majority who rebelled against their conquerors, and they were threatened with invasion from outside. The Mongols invaded from the north and took Lahore (now capital of Pakistan) in 1241. Then Chagatay (whom Ibn Battuta visited) had invaded India and threatened Delhi, the new capital city about 1323. But the armies of the feisty Sultan Muhammad Tughluq had chased them back across the Indus River.


Slowly India was becoming more firmly controlled by the Muslim leaders. Hindus were even converting to Islam and finding jobs in the new government. They recognized the economic advantages of becoming Muslims: much lower taxes and opportunities for advancement under the present leader. (In the rural areas, the population remained almost exclusively Hindu. They had to pay their taxes, but were allowed to worship as they wished. And many hated the Muslim government which was imposed upon them.)


In order to strengthen his hold on India, the Sultan needed more judges, scholars, and administrators. He even needed writers, poets, and entertainers to praise and entertain the new leadership. And he turned to foreigners to fill these positions. He was distrustful of the Hindus whom he feared would rebel against him. So he recruited foreigners and rewarded them with fabulous gifts and high salaries. Persians and Turks and other Muslims flocked to the new empire looking for its rewards. Persian became the language of the ruling elite which almost isolated itself in the capital city. And it was from Sultan Muhammad Tughluq that Ibn Battuta hoped to gain employment.


Muhammad Tughluq goes down in history as an eccentric, perhaps crazy, ruler. He was described as very bright. He learned how to write Persian poetry and mastered the art of calligraphy; he could debate legal and religious issues with scholars; he learned Arabic in order to read religious texts like the Koran; and he showered gifts on scholars and the Muslims whom he trusted. But he went too far and made some disastrous decisions (about which battles to fight, where to establish his government capital, about the economy which almost bankrupted his treasury, and how to administer justice). He was known as a cruel man, even for the Middle Ages! He was responsible for having not only rebels and thieves punished with cruel deaths, but also Muslim scholars and holy men - anyone who merely questioned him about his policies or happened to be a friend of someone who did. He was paranoid and fearful of any criticism. "Not a week passed," reported one observer, "without the spilling of much Muslim blood and the running of streams of gore before the entrance of his palace." This included cutting people in half, skinning them alive, chopping off heads and displaying them on poles as a warning to others, or having prisoners tossed about by elephants with swords attached to their tusks. As Ibn Battuta reported later, "The Sultan was far too free in shedding blood... [He] used to punish small faults and great, without respect of persons, whether men of learning or piety or noble descent. Every day there are brought to the audience-hall hundreds of people, chained, pinioned, and fettered, and [they] are ... executed, ...tortured, or ...beaten." [Dunn, p. 201] Thus, to work for this man was dangerous. But the rewards could be great.


In late 1334, Ibn Battuta went to Delhi to seek official employment and he signed a contract agreeing that he would stay in India. He cleverly assembled gifts for the sultan: arrows, several camels, thirty horses, and several slaves and other goods. Everyone knew that the Muhammad Tughluq would give to his visitors gifts of far greater value in return!


When he arrived in Delhi, Ibn Battuta was given a welcoming gift of 2,000 silver dinars and put up in a comfortably furnished house. Muhammad Tughluq was not in Delhi, and so Ibn Battuta waited. Muhammad Tughluq had received reports about this new arrival and hired Ibn Battuta sight-unseen to the service of the state. He would receive an annual salary of 5,000 silver dinars to be paid from two and a half villages located about 16 miles from the city. (State officials and army officers were paid from taxes on crops produced in peasant villages rather than from the royal treasury.) The average Hindu family lived on about 5 dinars a month.

Mogul miniature painting showing a royal procession (1400s). Photo courtesy of Seven Seas Trading Co.


Muhammad Tughluq returned in June. Ibn Battuta and the other newcomers went to greet the ruler with their gifts. On a gold-plated throne sat a tall, healthy, white-skinned man. "I approached the sultan, who took my hand and shook it, and continuing to hold it addressed me most kindly, saying in Persian,... 'Your arrival is a blessing; be at ease; I shall... give you such favors that your fellow-countrymen will hear of it and come to join you.' ... Every time he said any encouraging word to me I kissed his hand, until I had kissed it seven times, and after he had give me a robe of honor, I withdrew." [Dunn, p. 198]


The next day the Sultan paraded into the city of Delhi. On some elephants were catapults that threw out gold and silver coins to the crowd of on-lookers.

Photo of Quwwat al-Islam Mosque in Delhi, right outside Ibn Battuta's home. Photo courtesy of Hyperion Cultural Academy.


And so Ibn Battuta began working as a judge. Because he didn't speak Persian well, he was given two assistants. The Sultan told him that "they would be guided by your advice, and you shall be the one who signs all the documents." He also had plenty of time to join the Sultan and high officials on elaborate hunting expeditions which required elephants, tents, and a huge number of servants to carry all that was needed. Such extravagance and high living pushed Ibn Battuta into debt eventually, but the generous Sultan gave him more to pay his debts. He even gave Ibn Battuta another job: to take care of the Qutb al-Din Mubarak mausoleum. Of course Ibn Battuta asked for more money to take care of the tomb, not to mention money to repair his own home. The money was given.

Right: Qutb Minar, Delhi - This 288 foot tower located near present day Delhi, India was built by Qutb-al-Din Aybek, the first Muslim ruler to choose Delhi as his capital. The tower was completed in the early 13th century A.D. This tapering sandstone tower has bands of Arabic inscriptions from the Koran and listing the military triumphs of the first sultans. It is near the Quwwat al-Islam mosque and mausoleum that Ibn Battuta administered. Up until modern times it was the tallest minaret in the world.


1,300 miles away from the capital, one of Muhammad Tughluq's governors rebelled against him and proclaimed himself Sultan. This prompted him to bring his army south. During the next two and a half years that the Sultan was away at battle, Ibn Battuta lived in Delhi. He acted as a judge giving out punishments (such as eighty lashes with a whip for drinking wine!) and he took care of the tomb which required 460 workers. His job of collecting debts from his villages was made harder because of disastrous famine that hit North India in 1335 and lasted seven years. "Thousands upon thousands of people perished of want," he told. He helped to give charity to some of the poor.




The Sultan returned after an unsuccessful campaign against the rebellious army in the south. Then army officers and a governor near Delhi also rebelled. The empire was disintegrating around Muhammad Tughluq. This time he proved himself a skillful soldier and marched out to secure the town. Ibn Battuta was witness to all this for future historians to read. The traitorous leaders were captured and thrown to the elephants. "They started cutting them in pieces with the blades placed on their tusks and throwing some of them in the air and catching them. All the time the bugles and fifes and drums were being sounded." And Muhammad Tughluq began to lash out at real and imagined enemies.


Even Ibn Battuta came under suspicion. While living in Delhi, Ibn Battuta married a woman and had a daughter by her. This woman was the daughter of a court official who had plotted a rebellion and was executed by the Sultan. But the most serious problem for Ibn Battuta was his friendship with a Sufi holy man. This holy man refused to have anything to do with politics and tried to live a religious life. He snubbed the Sultan and refused to obey the Sultan's commands. In retaliation Muhammad had the holy man's beard plucked out hair by hair, then banished him from Delhi. Later the Sultan ordered him to return to court, which the holy man refused to do. The man was arrested, tortured in the most horrible way, then beheaded.


The following day the Sultan demanded a list of friends of the holy man, and Ibn Battuta's name was included. For nine days he remained under guard imaging in horror that he would be executed, too. "I recited [lines of prayer] 33,000 times and ... fasted five days on end, reciting the Koran from cover to cover each day, and tasting nothing but water. After five days I broke my fast and then continued to fast for another four days on end." [Dunn, p. 209] He rid himself of his possessions, and donned the clothes of a beggar. He was given permission to join a hermit who lived in a cave outside of Delhi. He lived like that for five months.


Then Ibn Battuta was called back to the palace. Fearfully he returned, and was greeted warmly. But determined to avoid further troubles, got up enough courage to ask the Sultan (now in a good mood), if he could make another hajj.

But the Sultan had another task in mind, one that Ibn Battuta found fascinating. Knowing of Ibn Battuta's love of travel and sightseeing, the Sultan wanted to make Ibn Battuta ambassador to the Mongol court of China. He would accompany 15 Chinese messengers back to their homeland and carry shiploads of gifts to the emperor. Now he was given an opportunity to get away from Muhammad Tughluq and to visit further lands of Islam in a grand style! It was an offer too exciting - and too dangerous - to refuse.

Daulatabad fortress from Adam's Trip to India

The Sultan Muhammad Tughluq built Daulatabad as his new capital with a huge fortress. He forced everyone to leave the capital of Delhi, only to return within a few years. This was another example of the Sultan's poor judgment about how to rule.


What did Ibn Battuta eat while in India?


Ibn Battuta described a royal meal: bread (which is thin round cakes); large slabs of meat (sheep); round dough cakes made with ghee (clarified butter) which they stuff with sweet almond paste and honey; meat cooked with ghee, onions and green ginger; "sambusak" (triangular pastries made of hashed meat and cooked with almonds, walnuts, pistachios, onions, and spices put inside a piece of thin bread fried in ghee - like our modern samoosas); rice cooked in ghee with chickens on top; sweetcakes and sweetmeats (pastries) for dessert. They drank sherbet of sugared water before the meal and barley-water after. Then they had betel leaf and areca nut (a mild narcotic). (Gibb, Vol. III, pp. 607 - 608)


He also described the following: mango; pickled green ginger and peppers; jack-fruit (like a large melon weighing three to four pounds) and "barki" (like a yellow gourd with sweet pods and kernels) - "the best fruits in India"; tandu (fruit of the ebony tree); sweet oranges; wheat, chickpeas and lentils, and rice which was sown three times a year! Sesame and sugar cane were also sown. He said the Indians ate millet (a type of grain) most often and he especially liked pounded millet made into a gruel (porridge) cooked with buffalo's milk. They also ate peas and mung beans cooked with rice and ghee which the Indians ate for breakfast every day. Animals were fed barley, chickpeas, and leaves as fodder and even given ghee. (Gibb, pp. 609 - 612)


On a hunting trip with the Sultan Muhammad Tughluq, he describes the following food: flesh of sheep, fattened fowls, cranes, and other kinds of game.


A favorite dish of the Muslim community in Kerala in the southern state of India (where Ibn Battuta had his disastrous ship-wreck) is rasoi (made of rice, lamb, grated coconut and onion). That is what the women in the picture below are eating. Ibn Battuta told that Muslim women ate separately from the men in India, as in most of the Muslim countries he visited.


Find other traditional recipes at Mumbai site and at Indian Kitchen by Bhooma Pattabiraman.

Photo courtesy of Kerala-On-Line





An unusual custom described - the burning of widows!


"The burning of the wife after her husband's death is regarded by them as a commendable act, but is not compulsory; but when a widow burns herself her family acquire a certain prestige by it and gain a reputation for fidelity. A widow who does not burn herself dresses in coarse garments and lives with her own people in misery, despised for her lack of fidelity but she is not forced to burn herself."


"...They spent three days preceding the event in concerts of music and singing and festivals of eating and drinking, as though they were bidding farewell to the world, and the women from all around came [to take part]. On the morning of the fourth day each one of them had a horse brought to her and mounted it, richly dressed and perfumed. ... They were surrounded by Brahmans and accompanied by their own relatives, and were preceded by drums, trumpets and bugles. Everyone...would say to one of them, 'Take greetings from me to [someone who had died] and she would say 'yes'. ... On reaching [the place, they took a ritual bath and put on] a garment of coarse cotton... Meanwhile, the fires had been lit... and the flames increased. ... I saw one of them [approach it] ... with a laugh. Thereupon she joined her hands above her head in salutation to the fire and cast herself into it." [Gibb, pp. 614 - 616.]



Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Eight - Escape from Delhi and on to the Maldive Islands and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Ibn Battuta had feared for his life working as a judge under the moody and tyrannical Sultan of India, Muhammad Tughluq. But the Sultan had a task in mind, one that Ibn Battuta found fascinating. He wanted to make Ibn Battuta his ambassador to the Mongol court of China. He would accompany 15 Chinese messengers back to their homeland and carry shiploads of gifts to the emperor. Now he could get away from Muhammad Tughluq and visit more lands of Dar al-Islam in a grand style!


In 1341 Ibn Battuta set out from Delhi at the head of a group bound for China. Gifts from Muhammad Tughluq to the Mongol Emperor included 200 Hindi slaves, singers and dancers, 15 pages (boy servants), 100 horses, and great amounts of cloth, dishes, and swords. There were about 1,000 soldiers under his command to protect the treasure and supplies until they could board ships to China.


A few days outside of Delhi the group was attacked by about 4,000 Hindu rebels. Although vastly outnumbered, they defeated the rebels easily. Later, there was another attack and Ibn Battuta was separated from his companions. Suddenly a force of Hindus jumped out of the woods. Ten horsemen chased him at full gallop across the fields. He was able to outride three of them, and then hid from the rest in a deep ditch. After escaping, he was again confronted, this time by forty Hindus who robbed him of everything except his shirt, pants, and cloak. Some robbers kept their prisoner in a cave overnight and planned his death in the morning. Fortunately, Ibn Battuta who now had almost nothing more to rob, was able to convince his captors to let him go in exchange for his clothes.


Eight days later, exhausted, barefooted and wearing nothing but his trousers, Ibn Battuta was rescued by a Muslim who carried him to a village. Two days later he rejoined the party and was ready to proceed on his original mission to China.


The group continued to Daulatabad without further trouble. There they entered the city's fort which was surrounded by a wall 80 to 120 feet high on all sides and two and a half miles long. Here they were safe. [In two years this fort would be taken over by rival officers in rebellion against Sultan Muhammad Tughluq and they would start an independent Muslim kingdom.]


After a few days rest they continued to the coastal city of Cambay filled with foreign traders who lived in fine homes. Within days the group was at Gandhar where they boarded four ships. Three were large dhows to carry to the gifts, including the 100 horses and 215 slaves and pages. The fourth was a war ship which carried soldiers to defend them against attack from pirates. (About half of the soldiers were from Africa and were skilled archers and spear throwers.)


Using the monsoon winds to propel them, the four ships headed south and arrived in the port of Calicut. There they were received with "drums, trumpets, horns, and flags... We entered the harbor amid great ovation [cheering] and pomp, the likes of which I have not seen in these parts." In the same harbor were 13 Chinese junks, much larger ships than his dhous. Ibn Battuta admired these huge ships with their luxury accommodations - private cabins with lavatories! It would be on three of these large ships that they would continue to China. So the crew transferred the gifts including horses and slaves to the junks. Ibn Battuta spent the day in the mosque and planned to board the ship that afternoon.


Ibn Battuta was impressed with the Chinese junks. They were much larger than a dhou, some with five decks and five masts or more! They had interior cabins and even private lavatories! A crew of a junk might be up to 1,000 workers! But Ibn Battuta said they weren't as safe near the shore.


But before he got on his ship, a terrible event occurred. A violent storm came up. Because the harbor was not very deep, the captains of the junks ordered the ships to wait out the storm in deeper water out to sea. Ibn Battuta waited helplessly on the beach all night and the next morning watched in horror as two ships were pushed onto shore, broke apart, and sank. Some of the crew on one of the junks were saved, but no one survived from the other ship - the one that he was supposed to be on. "The slaves, pages, and horses were all drowned, and the precious wares either sank or washed up on the beach, where the [governor's soldiers] struggled to prevent the townsfolk from making off with the loot." [Dunn, pg. 225.] The other ship carried Ibn Battuta's luggage, servants, and slave-girls - one of whom was carrying his child. The captain of that ship had set sail for China without him or the goods that he was to present to the Emperor of China.


Ibn Battuta was now alone, penniless, and ashamed - a failure as the leader for the trip to China for the Sultan of Delhi - but lucky to be alive. There was still a chance that he could catch up with the other ship, so he tried to track it down. After ten days he arrived in another port and waited for the ship which never turned up. (About three months later he learned that it had reached Indonesia and was seized by an infidel king of Sumatra. The slave-woman who was carrying Ibn Battuta's child had died. His other slaves and his possessions were taken by the king of Sumatra.)


Where was he to go? He wanted to return to the Sultan Muhammad Tughluq, but he feared that he would be executed for his failed trip. Instead of going back, he stayed and made another serious mistake - he became involved in a war between two governors, and the one he supported came out the loser. He felt he had to leave India altogether before further disaster struck. [Learn more about it by pressing here.]


And so he planned to continue on to China on his own. But again, he decided to take the long way - this time to make a brief tour of the Maldive Islands, then continue to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to make a pilgrimage to the sacred Adam's Peak. And then he would go on to China.


Courtesy of Kuwait Spiral




Courtesy Island Dreams Travel


The Maldive Islands

The Maldive Islands were important in medieval times for their exports: coconut fiber used to make ropes and cowrie shells which were used as currency (money) in Malaysia and in parts of Africa. About the middle of the twelfth century the people of Maldives converted from Buddhism to Islam when a pious Muslim from north Africa rid the land of a terrible demon. (The demon had demanded a young virgin each month - and the Muslim hero offered to take the place of the girl. Before the sacrifice, he recited the Koran throughout the night, and the demon could do nothing out of fear of the Sacred Word.) These islands rise only a few feet above the surface of the sea and stretch for about 475 miles like a white pearl necklace.


Ibn Battuta had not planned to spend much time here as he arrived at the capital, Male. But the rulers happened to be looking for a chief judge, someone who knew Arabic and the laws of the Koran. The rulers were delighted to find a visitor that fit their requirements. They sent Ibn Battuta slave girls, pearls, and gold jewelry to convince him to stay. They even made it impossible for him to arrange to leave by ship - so like it or not, he stayed. He agreed to remain there with some conditions, however: he would not go about Male on foot, but be carried in a litter or ride on horseback, just like the king or queen! He even took another wife after staying there less than two months, a noblewoman related to the queen. It seems as though Ibn Battuta was playing politics. He was now part of the royal family and the most important judge.


He set about his duties as a judge with enthusiasm and tried with all his might to establish the rule of strict Muslim law and change local customs. He ordered that any man who failed to attend Friday prayer was to be whipped and publicly disgraced. Thieves had their right hands cut off, and he ordered women who went "topless" to cover up. "I strove to put an end to this practice and commanded the women to wear clothes; but I could not get it done."


He took three more wives who also had powerful social connections, and seems to brag: "After I had become connected by marriage ... the [governor] and the people feared me, for they felt themselves to be weak."


And so he began to make enemies, especially the governor. After nasty arguments and political plots, Ibn Battuta decided to leave after almost nine months in the islands. He quit his job as qadi, but he really would have been fired. He took three of his wives with him, but he divorced them all after a short time. One of them was pregnant. He stayed on another island, and there he married two more women, and divorced them, too. He tells us about marriage and divorce in the Maldives at the time:


"It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer... When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage. The women of these islands never leave their country."


Later, he even thought about going back to the Maldive Islands and taking over under the support of an army commander in southern India. But that was not to be.


On to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Ibn Battuta visited Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on his way to China so that he could go on a pilgrimage to a holy site there: Adam's Peak. The mountain was sacred to Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists alike, for near the summit was a depression in a rock that looked like a huge footprint. For Buddhists it was the footprint of the Buddha, for Hindus, the print of Shiva. For Muslims it was the footprint of Adam, the first man and first prophet who had been thrown there by God from the seventh heaven. There he stayed for a thousand years before meeting Eve, the first woman.


When Ibn Battuta arrived on Ceylon, he met with the king. The king was interested in his travel stories, and he entertained Ibn Battuta's party for three days. The king gave them permission to climb Adam's Peak - and he gave Ibn Battuta a small purse with pearls and rubies, two slave girls, and supplies as a parting gift.


The small party of pilgrims climbed to the summit up the nearly vertical cliffs by means of little handholds held in the stone by iron pegs. Making it to the top, they camped there for three days which they spent in prayer and admiration of the spectacular view.


The party returned to the coast and boarded another ship which was provided by the king. After setting sail, again a storm threatened their lives.

"...the wind became violent and the water rose so high that it was about to enter the ship... We then got near a rock, where the ship was on the point of being wrecked; afterwards we came into shallow water wherein the ship began to sink. Death stared us in the face and the passengers jettisoned [tossed overboard] all that they possessed and [said their farewells] to one another."


The crew managed to cut down the mast and make a crude raft which they lowered into the sea. Ibn Battuta's two companions and his slave girls got down onto it, but there was no room left for him. And besides, he was not a strong swimmer. He had to stay with the ship and hope for the best. Darkness fell and Ibn Battuta huddled in the front of the sinking ship throughout the night. In the morning a rescue party suddenly appeared and the remaining passengers were all taken to shore. There he joined his companions.

 He had been able to save some of his belongings from the ship, including some pearls and rubies given to him. But Ibn Battuta's luck continued to be bad. Once more on a small ship, twelve pirate ships attacked. They quickly overpowered the crew and stripped the passengers of everything they owned. "They seized the jewels and rubies which the king of Ceylon had given me and robbed me of my clothes and provisions with which pious [holy] men and saints had favored me. They left nothing on my body except my trousers." Then the pirates dropped them all off on the nearby shore unharmed.


The humiliated group made their way back to Calicut with clothes given to them.


Then Ibn Battuta boarded another ship to Male, his former home in the Maldive Islands where he stayed for five days. Here he saw his son for the first time, and agreed to leave him with his mother in the islands. From here he got on a Chinese junk and continued on his trip to China.





Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Nine - Malaysia and China (1345 - 1346)


Muslims in China and Malaysia


The rulers of all China were the powerful descendants of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Dynasty (Yuan Dynasty 1260 - 1368). Muslims had been welcomed into China at that time and foreigners were recruited by the emperor. Muslims, and even a few Europeans like Marco Polo, had held jobs in China such as tax-collectors, architects, and finance officers. The Mongol Dynasty had "an open door" policy which encouraged trade. So Muslim merchants were welcomed into southern Chinese cities, especially Ch'uan-zhou (Quanzhou) and Canton (Guangzhou) on the southern coast. They generally lived in their own neighborhoods where they built mosques, hospitals, bazaars, and conducted trade by ship that reached all the way back to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean ports.




This is a portrait of a Mongolian ruler. The writing to the left of the scene are Chinese poems from the day. The later Yuan dynasty rulers were very unlike their nomadic warrior ancestors. They had become like the very Chinese that they had conquered. [Photo courtesy of "Splendors of Imperial China - The Yuan Dynasty" - Bertrand Library Collection]


Muslim travelers, such as Ibn Battuta, knew that they could find Muslim hospitality in the major sea ports. The Prophet Muhammad had even encouraged travel and learning in China in a saying: "Seek knowledge, even as far as China." So traveling to China, like elsewhere Ibn Battuta had traveled, would not be difficult. He could depend on the charity of fellow-Muslims in China, as he had in every other part of the world he traveled.


Other ports along the way were also open to Muslim travelers and traders. Malay rulers encouraged Muslim traders to settle in their ports and bring the advantages of a strong trading economy. Once established, the Muslim neighborhoods needed judges, scribes (people who could write), teachers, religious leaders, and businessmen. And so, the trading neighborhoods became larger and more influential. The Malay rulers recognized the advantages of becoming Muslims, and many of them converted. As Muslim rulers, they could enter into the larger networks of trade and participate in the Dar al-Islam. Outside the trading centers, Islam would later develop, too. This process was just beginning as Ibn Battuta came through. A Malay prince, ruler of Samudra on the coast of Sumatra, had converted to Islam in the late 13th century. Some of his non-Muslim subjects may well have been pirates that plagued the merchant ships in the Strait of Malacca.



 [Look into the future: The conversion of Indonesia to Islam would be gradual. At the time of Ibn Battuta, few people outside of the trading centers knew about Islam. After 300 years, most of the population of Indonesia had become Muslim, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world today.] Photo at left courtesy of "Travelling in Indonesia by Liono"


Eastward to the ends of Dar al-Islam


After a series of failures in the Maldive Islands and in India - having lost everything he owned to pirates and shipwrecks - Ibn Battuta resolved to go to China on his own.

River from Bangladesh - Photo courtesy of "Virtual Bangladesh"


From India Ibn Battuta and some traveling companions sailed to Chittagong, now the chief port of Bangladesh, a Muslim country next to India. He tells us that Chittagong was a city filled with food, but smelled bad - "a hell crammed with good things." Everything there was cheap, including slaves. He bought "an extremely beautiful" slave girl and a friend bought a young boy slave for a couple of gold dinar.


He went up the Meghna River to Sylhet in order to find a famous holy man who could perform miracles and foretell the future. (He even lived to the age of 150!) One day the old holy man told his surprised disciples that a traveler from North Africa was about to arrive and to go out to meet him. The disciples went out and discovered Ibn Battuta was on his way - two days away! Ibn Battuta stayed there for three days and shared the stories of his travels with the holy man. Then he continued on.


Back in Chittagong he caught a Chinese junk and went to Samudra on the island of Sumatra. This really was the end of Dar al-Islam for no territory east of this was ruled by a Muslim ruler. Here he stayed for about two weeks in the wooden walled town as a guest of the sultan. The sultan then provided him with supplies and sent Ibn Battuta on one of his own junks to China.


In China at Last!

For about 40 days he sailed. Ibn Battuta is vague about stopping in two places. But at last he arrived in the busy sea port of Ch'uan-zhou (Quanzhou) on the coast of Fukien (Fujian) Province.


He admired much that he saw. He observed that "silk is used for clothing even by poor monks and beggars" and that the porcelain was "the finest of all makes of pottery." Even the poultry amazed him: "The hens ... in China are ... bigger than geese in our country."


But he seems to have been in culture shock - discomfort at being in a culture he didn't understand or appreciate.


"China was beautiful, but it did not please me. On the contrary, I was greatly troubled thinking about the way paganism dominated this country. Whenever I went out of my lodging, I saw many blameworthy things. That disturbed me so much that I stayed indoors most of the time and only went out when necessary. During my stay in China, whenever I saw any Muslims I always felt as though I were meeting my own family and close kinsmen." [Dunn, p. 258]


China was not a Muslim country and that offended him. "The Chinese themselves are infidels who worship idols and burn their dead like the Hindus... eat the flesh of swine and dogs, and sell it in their markets."



Chinese coins looked like the brass coin below. They could be carried on a string through the hole. The Chinese also used paper money, not used in other countries for centuries. Ibn Battuta praised the use of this paper money, and so did Marco Polo who wrote a chapter about how it was made. -Coin Photo courtesy of Calgary Coins-


Below is a copper plate for printing paper money (Sung Dynasty capital of Hangzhou, and dating from between 1127 and 1279 AD). To the right of it is a print made from the plate as a modern example. Paper money had been invented in China by the late eighth or early ninth century. The first Western paper money was issued in 1661 in Sweden. Muhammad Tughluq (Ibn Battuta's employer in Delhi) had tried to implement paper money, but with disastrous results due to counterfeiting and distrust. Photo courtesy of Domestic and Industrial Technology.


Ibn Battuta had arrived in the last peaceful years of the Mongol rule. "China is the safest and most agreeable country in the world for the traveler. You can travel all alone across the land for nine months without fear, even if you are carrying much wealth."


Ibn Battuta describes a trip on the Grand Canal to Beijing, capital of Mongol China. But his description is so vague that most historians believe that he didn't really make the trip. (His book about his travels was more of a "travelogue" of the Islamic World, so perhaps he or the person who wrote down his stories may have exaggerated by filling in with hearsay and stories reported by other people.)



Left: Picture of modern Hangzhou. When Marco Polo passed through he described it as the most beautiful city in the world. It is at the beginning of the Grand Canal which led all the way to Beijing, capital of China (a distance of about 700 miles). Ibn Battuta's descriptions are vague and historians are not convinced that he traveled on the Grand Canal to Beijing.


Below, the Hangzhou Folks Club performs opera and magic tricks in beautiful traditional silk costumes. Ibn Battuta praised the silk, porcelain, and even the plums, watermelons, and huge chickens of Hangzhou. But he praised the artists and performers the most: "The Chinese are of all the peoples the most skillful in the arts." Photo courtesy of Internet Folks Club.


Ibn Battuta reported meeting a rich Muslim trader who lived in Hang-zhou which may have been the largest city in the world during the 14th century. He tells of staying with the Egyptian Muslim for a few weeks as he enjoyed banquets, canal rides, and magic shows. In Fuzhou he met someone whom he met when he passed through India. Now he was rich. He "owned about fifty white slaves and as many slave-girls, and presented me with two of each, along with many other gifts."


When Ibn Battuta got back to Quanzhou he found a junk belonging to the Sultan of Samudra ready to go back. So he got on board and began his return home. In three years he would be walking the streets of his hometown Tangier, Morocco and telling of his adventures throughout the Dar al-Islam.


See into the future! In about 22 years from Ibn Battuta's visit to China, the Mongol Dynasty (called the Yuan Dynasty in China) will be overthrown. The Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) will begin. A Muslim boy will help a Chinese prince. That prince will become emperor and the boy will grow up and be rewarded with the job of "Admiral of the Chinese Fleet." His name is Zheng He. The ships that he will sail throughout the Indian Ocean will retrace some of the same routes taken by Ibn Battuta, but he will be in huge boats called "junks". He will go to East Africa, Mecca, Persian Gulf, and throughout the Indian Ocean.


Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Ten - Returning Home (1346 - 1349)


The winter monsoons carried Ibn Battuta's sailing junk south from China. He returned to Samudra where he stayed again with the sultan, this time for a few weeks. He continued on to Quilon, India and then up to Calicut. There he thought about returning to Muhammad Tughluq, his former employer in Delhi, and throwing himself on his mercy. But fear kept him on his trip.


See into the future of India: When Ibn Battuta returned to India, Muhammad Tughluq had gone out battling more rebels in the north. There he would die of illness in 1351. The Delhi Sultanate had been reduced to a small northern state while the south was a patchwork of small Muslim and Hindu kingdoms battling each other.


The sultanate became weak and in 1398, the Mongols, under the leadership of Timur (Tamerlane), mercilessly sacked and plundered Delhi.

It wouldn't be until the early 16th century that a Muslim leader would unite most of southern and central India into the Mughal Empire.


The Mughal Dynasty is a line of Muslim emperors who reigned in India from 1526 to 1858. Babur, the first Mughal emperor, was a descendant of the Turkish conqueror Timur on his father's side and of the Mongol (in Persian, Mughal) conqueror Genghis Khan on his mother's side. He invaded India from Afghanistan and founded the Mughal Empire on the ruin of the Delhi Sultanate. Learn more about the Medieval History of India.


Instead, Ibn Battuta decided to go on another hajj to Mecca, and so he caught the monsoon winds going westward. He sailed for 28 days and arrived at Zafar on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula. With changes in the wind of the early summer monsoons, he sailed north. He arrived at Hormuz City and found that the elderly Arab ruler was at war with two of his nephews for control of that territory. These ports were important for trade and the war had caused much destruction and famine.

Ibn Battuta continued quickly through Persia. He was surprised that the once mighty Ilkhan Empire was falling apart. He had traveled with the powerful Sultan Abu Sa'id (the Il-khan) only eleven years before. But the sultan had died, poisoned by one his own wives! And then Mongol and Turkish generals challenged each other for control. The result was a patchwork of small military states at war with each other.


Ibn Battuta returned to Baghdad and from there crossed over the Syrian Desert on the camel route. At last he arrived in Damascus in the winter of 1348. There he heard from caravan traders that his father had died fifteen years before. He also learned that the son he had never met had died at the age of ten.

Photo of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria courtesy of Cham Palaces and Hotels.


He next went to Aleppo for a few months as a tourist. Here he saw the citadel, an outstanding example of Arab military architecture. It stands atop a hill for defense and has massive stone walls. Aleppo was the northern capital of Syria.


As he rode through Syria, a terrible disease was descending upon the world that he knew. This was the Black Death (or Bubonic Plague). He first tried to out-run it, but each city he reached was in the middle of a terrible outbreak. In Damascus the death toll was 2,000 people a day! The business of the city had come to a halt. The people begged God for the plague to stop.


"The people fasted for three successive days... [Then all the people] assembled in the Great mosque until it was filled to overflowing... and spent the night there in prayers... Then, after performing the dawn prayer..., they all went out [barefoot] together... carrying Korans in their hands. The entire population of the city joined... The Jews went out with their book of the law and the Christians with the Gospel... [all] of them in tears... imploring the favor of God through His Books and His Prophets." [Gibb, p. 143-144]


The Plague had begun about 1331 as Ibn Battuta was sailing westward from China. It had started in the grasslands of Central Asia and was making its way across to the Black Sea. The Plague is found in rodents like ground squirrels and rats, but it is spread to humans through the bite of a flea living on infected rodents. The fleas had found their way into the wagon trains and storerooms of caravanserai. It spread rapidly as people tried to escape along the trade routes of the steppe. "The same Mongol law and order that made possible a century of intense human exchange between China and the Atlantic coast now quickened the progress of the plague across Eurasia." [Dunn, p. 271] In China the outbreaks of the plague caused massive death rates and economic chaos, and contributed to the collapse of the Mongol (Yuan) Dynasty 14 years later.


Italian ships carried infected rats and fleas in their cargo to Constantinople, Venice, and Genoa. The plague reached Sicily and Egypt in 1347. One Egyptian historian tells of a ship: out of a total of 332 on board, only 45 arrived at the port of Cairo alive. All of those who had survived died soon after in the port. [Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East, p. 69]


From the sea ports caravans transmitted the disease throughout Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. Estimates of the death tolls vary between 1/2 to 1/3 of the populations.


The Plague is carried to humans by fleas living off of infected rodents. In Ibn Battuta's time, no one had the slightest idea as to the cause of the disease. "Muslims were recommended to live in fresh air, sprinkle one's house with rose water and vinegar, sit as motionless as possible, and eat plenty of pickled onions and fresh fruit. Those who fell victim... were advised to have their blood drawn, apply egg yolk to the [skin], wear magical amulets, or have their sick bed strewn with fresh flowers. Above all, God's creatures were urged to spend their nights in the mosque and beg for divine mercy." [Dunn, p. 273]

Left: Image of a flea greatly enlarged....



       European painting of the Black Death


Civilization both in the East and the West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. It swallowed up many of the good things of civilization and wiped them out... Civilization decreased with the decrease of mankind. Cities and building were laid waste, roads and way signs were obliterated, settlements and mansions became empty, dynasties and tribes grew weak. The entire inhabited world changed.


-Ibn Khaldun, Persian historian


Even with the threat of the Plague, Ibn Battuta continued on to Palestine and over to Cairo where the toll was still rising. (He tells us that the death toll will reach twenty-four thousand in a day in Cairo!) Then he went up the Nile where the plague had not yet started. Crossing the Red Sea he arrived at Jidda, and continued on to Mecca. He stayed in Mecca for more than four months. The plague raged in Mecca, too, brought by the caravans.


With death all around him, perhaps he felt the need to go home. He was 45 years old and had been gone for 24 years. He again headed west back toward Morocco. "I was moved [to go back] by memories of my homeland, affection for my family and dear friends, who drew me toward my land, which, in my opinion, was better than any other country."


He left Egypt on a small ship and went to Tunisia where he then traveled overland. He made a brief trip to the Christian lands of Sardinia, but he heard rumors that the people there were pirates who would hold him for ransom. So he left immediately.

After ten days at sea he arrived at Tenes. From there he went overland to Morocco. Here he learned that his mother had died only several months earlier. Had she heard from travelers that her long-departed son was on his way home? He arrived in his family's home of Tangier and visited his mother's grave. He met with friends and family and shared his tales of his travels to all parts of Dar al-Islam.


But restless again after only a few days, he decided to go to the nearby harbor city of Ceuta. He was already thinking about making another trip.





Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Eleven - On to Andalusia (Muslim Spain) and Morocco (1349)




The Strait of Gibraltar separates the continents of Europe from Africa and the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea. It was once known as "The Pillars of Hercules". It got its present name from the enthusiastic Muslim leader named Tarik who led the attack on the Visigoths of Spain in 711 CE. "Jabal (mount of) Tarik" or, as we say, Gibraltar.

Photo of the Rock of Gibraltar which guards its harbor, courtesy of 1 Gibraltar Plaza.


Ibn Battuta had left Morocco in 1325 at the age of 21 and had returned about 45. But he was still interested in traveling and adventure. At the time of his return, al-Andalus (Andalusia or Muslim Spain) was threatened by several Christian rulers who were trying to conquer the land from the Muslims. Ibn Battuta heard reports about the army of Alfonso XI of Castile who might try an attack on Gibraltar soon. Gibraltar was the only port on the northern shore of the strait that was still in Muslim hands. If Alfonso was successful, the Muslim cities in Andalusia would be in great danger of invasion.


Ibn Battuta heard about a Moroccan army of volunteers who would defend Gibraltar. He had taken up arms a couple of times in his career, and he felt strongly about this jihad (holy war) against the Christian invaders. So he set off by boat with a small group of passionate warriors to Gibraltar in April, 1350. By this time the immediate danger had passed since the Black Death had taken King Alfonso and so many of the soldiers on both sides. (The Strait of Gibraltar would remain under Muslim control for another 112 years!) But he decided to continue on as a tourist, not as a soldier.


Now across the strait, he and his party met up with twelve other travelers. He wanted to join them, but he held back with his original group. The twelve travelers went on ahead. Later, Ibn Battuta learned that the twelve had been attacked: one of them murdered, one escaped, and the others taken prisoner to be held for ransom. He thanked God for delivering him from these pirates! Ibn Battuta spent the night in a castle and the next day an officer escorted the travelers safely on to Málaga.


Málaga had a magnificent mosque with a courtyard of "Valencia" orange trees, named after a neighboring city's sweet oranges. Here he met the qadi and preacher who were trying to raise money for the ransom of the unfortunate men that Ibn Battuta had almost joined.


From Málaga he continued into the mountains, passed through Alhama (a town famous for its hot springs), and on to Granada.


Granada was a city of about 50,000. In earlier centuries Granada was a shining star of Andalusia, but the expansion of the Christian armies would eventually force the Muslims out. Ibn Battuta saw Granada in the reign of Yusuf I (1333-54), a successful sultan who was beautifying the courtyards of the Alhambra, "the red fort". From the outside the Alhambra looks like a forbidding castle fortress, but inside it is a palace decorated with beautiful fountains, exquisitely decorated halls and courts, and delicate designs using Arabic calligraphy and colored tiles.


"The peculiar charm of this old dreamy place is its power of calling up vague reveries and picturings of the past, and thus clothing naked realities with the illusions of the memory and the imagination," wrote Washington Irving, an America writer after his visit in the 19th century.

Photos of the Alhambra and Generalife courtesy of Go Spain!


Ibn Battuta may not have met the sultan himself because of the ruler's illness, but the sultan's mother sent him a purse of gold coins. He spent time resting in Sufi lodges and visiting the Muslim leaders. In the home of one jurist he met a 28-year-old named Ibn Juzayy. He was a writer of poetry, history, and law. The young man was fascinated with Ibn Battuta's stories of his travels and began to write down the names of some of the famous people that were named. The meeting was short, but in two and a half years, Ibn Juzayy would be writing down in proper form a complete record of Ibn Battuta's travels.


At the end of 1350 Ibn Battuta returned to Morocco. He had traveled throughout much of the Islamic World, but he had never seen much of his homeland, Morocco. So for the next several months he was a traveler again. He went down the Atlantic coast to Asilah, visited Salé, and then rode south across the coastal plains to Marrakech, a capital of the earlier sultans. He was saddened by that once great city. The Black Death and the movement of people to the new capital, Fez, had left it empty with many fine buildings becoming dilapidated - even worse than Baghdad after the Mongol Invasion.


Ibn Battuta visited Marrakech in 1350, a time when the Black Plague had claimed much of the city's population. The traditional Middle Eastern city is walled with gates. Above you see that the walls of Marrakech are fortress-like, often 20 to 30 feet thick and 30 to 40 feet high. This Gate of Guinea was built by order of Sultan Yaacoub el Mansour in 1185. [Photograph courtesy of Professor James Miller, GeoImages, UCB]


When Ibn Battuta returned to Fez the second time, it was in the fall of 1351. Morocco was at peace. The sultan was planning the construction of a great college. It would be a good time to settle down, to study or to become a judge or a teacher. But there was an important Muslim king he had not yet met: Mansa Sulayman, Emperor of Mali. He planned his next trip southward across the Sahara Desert to his capital which was 1,500 miles away.


How did Spain become part of Dar al-Islam?


The Berber Muslims of North Africa first moved into Spain in 711 C.E. General Tarik invaded and rapidly conquered the Visogoths who had taken over from the Romans. Within seven years the peninsula had been conquered. The Muslim army continued on until they had reached Poitiers in France. In 733 the Christian army stopped the Muslims from going further into Europe.


One of its greatest Muslim leaders was Abd al Rahman, who had escaped from a "deadly dinner" hosted by the Abbasids in Baghdad. The Abbasid general had invited 80 Umayyad leaders (the ruling family) to dinner. While the guests were eating, the general ordered them all killed. Only one of the Umayyads escaped from the Abbasids. He jumped out of a window, swam across the Euphrates River, and fled in disguise. He made his way out of Mesopotamia and went across North Africa and finally to al-Andalus (Spain). Once there, Abd al Rahman united the warring Muslim groups and established a new Umayyad government. Back in Baghdad the Abbasids took control from the Umayyads and moved the capital of the Muslim World from Damascus, Syria to Baghdad.




Al-Andalus (Andalusia, or Muslim Spain) became one of the great centers of civilization of the Middle Ages reaching its peak of glory in the 10th century. It is known for its art, poetry, architecture, science and learning. (This was at a time when much of Europe was in a "Dark Age". It was largely through al-Andalus that the knowledge held by the Muslims would be passed on to Europe - and start the European "Renaissance" or rebirth.)


Al-Andalus remained at least partially under Muslim control until 1492 when Granada was conquered by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. (Yes, the same rulers who gave Christopher Columbus three ships to do more exploring!)


By the time Ibn Battuta visited Andalusia, the Muslim civilization in Spain was threatened and would soon decline. He saw Andalusia in its golden sunset years before the Christian forces took over.


What did Ibn Battuta eat in Andalusia?


For actual Islamic recipes from the Middle Ages 10th - 15th centuries (900s - 1400s) see, Cariadoc's Miscellany: An Islamic Dinner. This site is prepared by a member of Creative Anachronisms Society (a group that likes to dress up and act as if they lived in the Middle Ages or during the Renaissance), and the author has researched recipes from Islamic cookbooks, mostly from Andalusia (Islamic Spain) and Baghdad (in Iraq). It has approximately 140 authentic recipes that can be made today.



Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part Twelve - Journey to West Africa (1351 - 1353)


When Ibn Battuta first visited Cairo in 1326, he undoubtedly heard about the visit of Mansa Musa (King of Mali from 1307 to 1332). Mansa Musa had passed through the city two years earlier making his pilgrimage to Mecca with thousands of slaves and soldiers, wives and officials. One hundred camels each carried one hundred pounds of gold. Mansa Musa performed many acts of charity and "flooded Cairo with his kindness." So much gold spent in the markets of Cairo actually upset the gold market well into the next century. Mali's gold was important all over the world. In the later Medieval period, West Africa may have been producing almost two-thirds of the world's supply of gold! Mali also supplied other trade items - ivory, ostrich feathers, kola nuts, hides, and slaves. No wonder there was talk about the Kingdom of Mali and its riches!


[Image from The Catlan Atlas, completed in 1375, showing Musa (King) holding a large globe made of gold and a traveler from across the Sahara, perhaps Ibn Battuta? Biblioteque National, Paris ]


Once again Ibn Battuta became restless. A trip to Mali, like all other trips, would be made easier because of already established trade routes controlled by Muslims. The rulers and many businessmen of Mali had converted to Islam a generation before and Muslim traders had come to live in Mali's business centers. Ibn Battuta could not resist another trip before he settled down. Or perhaps he thought about settling in Mali where the converts and Muslim settlers and even the king (sultan) were hungry for Islamic education and law. Mansa Musa had built mosques and minarets and established Friday prayer-days in Mali. He had brought judges to his country and became a student of religion, himself. Perhaps Ibn Battuta was looking for a job in the circle of rulers in Mali. This trip would take him 1,500 miles across the most fearsome wilderness on earth.

 [Photographs of the desert towns courtesy of Professor James Miller GeoImages Project.]


Ibn Battuta set out from Fez in the autumn of 1351 and crossed the Atlas Mountains. After traveling for eight or nine days he arrived at a town called Sijilmasa on the Oasis of Tafilalt. This was the last outpost before crossing the vast Sahara Desert. Here he spent four months waiting for the winter season when the great caravans could cross the desert. It was here where he bought camels of his own while staying with Muslims who offered him hospitality.

Photo courtesy of Adventure Travel Morocco


And so he set out across the Sahara Desert for Walata in a camel caravan in February, 1352. They traveled in the early morning and late afternoon and rested under awnings to avoid the scorching midday heat. Twenty-five days later the caravan reached the settlement of Taghaza, the main salt-mining center of the Western Sahara. Here workers loaded great slabs of salt which was in great demand in Mali. Taghaza was a desolate place. "This is a village with nothing good about it," complained Ibn Battuta. "It is the most fly-ridden of places." Then he described the huge amounts of gold that changed hands there.


The caravan stayed in Taghaza for ten days where he stayed in a house built entirely of salt except for the camel skin roof! The water was salty, too, and food had to be brought from the outside.



Then began the most dangerous part of the journey - almost 500 miles of sand where only one water place exists. Fortunately there had been some rainfall that year, so there was some scattered vegetation and occasionally even pools of water for the camels. The travelers drank water from goat skin bags. Yet there were more dangers:


"In those days we used to go on ahead of the caravan and whenever we found a place suitable for grazing we pastured the beasts there. This we continued to do till a man ... became lost in the desert. After that we neither went on ahead nor lagged behind."


Ibn Battuta worried about running out of water, about his guides losing their way, and about falling prey to the "demons which haunted those wastes." In the end of April, they arrived in Walata, a sweltering little town with mud brick houses next to barren hills and with a few palm trees. Ibn Battuta regretted coming at all to this town because he had been treated so much better in other parts of the Islamic world. He resented the governor who offered the visitors a bowl of millet with a little honey and yogurt as a welcoming meal.


"I said to them: 'Was it to this that the black man invited us?' They said: 'Yes, for them this is a great banquet.' Then I knew for certain that no good was to be expected from them and I wished to depart."

Photograph courtesy of "The Salt Caravan" Documentary


He stayed in Walata for several weeks, however, but he was offended on more occasions by the local customs. After all, he must have thought, he was a special visitor that should be pampered. And even more offensive were some different customs which Ibn Battuta thought were not appropriate for good Muslims. For example, he was used to the sexes being separated. On one occasion he entered in a qadi's (judge's) house to find a young and beautiful woman to greet him. She was the judge's friend! On another occasion Ibn Battuta called on a scholar and found the man's wife chatting with a strange man in the courtyard. Ibn Battuta expressed his disapproval and the man answered, "the association of women with men is agreeable to us and a part of good manners, to which no suspicion attaches. They are not like the women of your country."


Ibn Battuta followed the Niger River to several of Mali's biggest cities and rode in a boat such as these. He mistakenly called the river "the Nile". Photo courtesy of AdventureQuest


The travelers went southward along the Niger River to the king's palaces. Along the way he offered glass beads and pieces of salt in return for millet, rice, chickens, and other local foods. After two or more weeks on the road, he arrived at the seat of government, a town with several palaces for Mansa Sulayman, younger brother of Mansa Musa who had died. (Sulayman ruled from 1341 to 1360.) The main palace was built by a Muslim architect from Andalusia (Muslim Spain) and was covered with plaster painted with colorful patterns, a "most elegant" building. Surrounding the palaces and mosques were the residences of the citizens: mud-walled houses roofed with domes of timber and reed.


Ibn Battuta must have wanted to see the ruler quickly, but ten days after his arrival, he became seriously ill after eating some yams not cooked well. One of his traveling companions died from the same food! Ibn Battuta remained ill for two months. After he finally recovered, he went to observe a public ceremony - an audience with the sultan Mansa Sulayman.


"[The sultan] has a lofty pavilion ... where he sits most of the time... There came forth from the gate of the palace about 300 slaves, some carrying in their hands bows and others having in their hands short lances and shields... Then two saddled and bridled horses are brought, with two rams which, they say, are effective against the evil eye... The interpreter stands at the gate of the council-place wearing fine garments of silk... and on his head a turban with fringes which they have a novel way of winding... The troops, governors, young men, slaves, ... and others sit outside the council-place in a broad street where there are trees... Anyone who wishes to address the sultan addresses the interpreter and the interpreter addresses a man standing [near the sultan] and that man standing addresses the sultan." [Dunn, p. ]


He described those who came to the palace:


"Each commander has his followers before him with their spears, bows, drums and bugles made of elephant tusks. Their instruments of music are made of reeds and calabashes, and they beat them with sticks and produce a wonderful sound. Each commander has a quiver which he places between his shoulders. He holds his bow in his hand and is mounted on a mare. Some of his men are on foot and some on mounts." [Hamdun & King, pp. 47 - 48]


At another session (part of a festival) he describes:


"The men-at-arms come with wonderful weaponry: quivers of silver and gold, swords covered with gold... Four of the amirs stand behind him to drive off flies, with ornaments of silver in their hands... .... The Interpreter brings in his four wives and his concubines, who are about a hundred in number. On them are fine clothes and on their heads they have bands of silver and gold with silver and gold apples as pendants. ... A chair is there for the Interpreter and he beats on an instrument which is made of reeds with tiny calabashes below it [a "balophon"] praising the sultan, recalling in his song his expeditions and deeds. The wives and the concubines sing with him... about thirty of his pages... each has a drum tied to him and he beats it. Then ...[come acrobats and jugglers of swords]..." [Hamdun & King, pp. 52 - 53]


Ibn Battuta ended his eight-month stay in Mali with mixed feelings. On the one hand he respected the parents' strict teaching of the Koran to their children: "They place fetters [ropes or chains] on their children if there appears ... a failure to memorize the Koran, and they are not undone until they memorize it." He also admired the safety of the empire. "Neither traveler there nor dweller has anything to fear from thief or usurper."


On the other hand he criticized the traditional practices: "Female slaves and servants who went stark naked into the court for all to see; subjects who groveled before the sultan, beating the ground with their elbows and throwing dust and ashes over their heads; royal poets who romped about in feathers and bird masks." He also complained about the small gift of bread, meat and yogurt given to him by the king. "When I saw it I laughed, and was long astonished at their feeble intellect and their respect for mean things." Later he complained directly to the king: "I have journeyed to the countries of the world and met their kings. I have been four months in your country without your giving me a reception gift or anything else. What shall I say of you in the presence of other sultans?" [Dunn, p. 300, 303] That evidently made a difference. "Then the sultan ordered a house for me in which I stayed and he fixed an allowance for me... He was gracious to me at my departure, to the extent of giving me one hundred mithqals of gold." [Hamdun and King, p. 46]



   Mosque in Timbuktu


On his return trip, Ibn Battuta continued to explore parts of Mali. He went to Timbuktu, a town that was just beginning to flower as a center of Islamic scholarship and trade. Mansa Musa himself had a mosque built there. But Ibn Battuta was evidently not very impressed with Timbuktu - a city that would become great in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


His return journey was even more difficult. He had bought a riding camel and another to carry his supplies. But in the dessert heat one camel died. Other travelers offered to help carry his supplies, but further on Ibn Battuta fell sick again. He recovered in a small town called Takadda. Here Ibn Battuta received a message from the Sultan of Morocco commanding him to return to Fez immediately. They left Takadda on September 11, 1353 in the company of a large caravan carrying 600 black female slaves to Morocco. The slaves would be sold as domestics (house maids), concubines, or servants of the royal court.




The caravan went northward for 18 days through the wilderness and passed through the land of the veiled Berber nomads whom Ibn Battuta called "good for nothing. We encountered one of their chief men who held up the caravan until he was paid an impost of cloth and other things." They continued on and stopped at Sijilmasa where he stayed about two weeks. Then he went over the High Atlas Mountains in the dead of winter. "I have seen difficult roads and much snow [in other parts of the world], but I never saw a road more difficult than that."

At last he arrived in the capital Fez, a city that was the center of the intellectual universe west of Cairo. It was 1354. He was home - this time for good.


What did Ibn Battuta eat in West Africa?


Ibn Battuta complained about being given millet porridge with a little honey and yogurt by a host. He mentions eating camel meat along the way, and trading glass beads and salt for millet, rice, milk, chickens, fish, melons and pumpkins, and other local foods. He got sick from eating yams (or a similar root). From the king, he received a welcoming gift of three loaves of bread and a piece of beef fried in shea butter, and a gourd containing yogurt. (He was insulted by this meager gift, too.)


Ibn Battuta described the fruit of the baobab tree: "like a cucumber, when it ripens it bursts uncovering something like flour; they cook and eat it and it is sold in the markets." (Actually, the women pound it into a flour.) He also told of a ground crop like beans that was fried which tastes like peas, or made into a flour and fried in 'shea butter' (which he said was harmful to white men). [Hamdun & King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, p. 40.]


An anecdote told by Ibn Battuta concerned visitors to the Sultan: "a group ... who eat human beings... In their country there is a gold mine. The sultan was gracious to them. He gave them as a hospitality gift a slave woman. They slaughtered her and ate her." [Hamdun & King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, p. 462.]


On his way back, he tells of some Berbers who live off of dates and locusts (an insect like a grasshopper). [Hamdun & King, p. 74]


Three traditional recipes from Mali are given here. (However, watch for the modern ingredients - like pineapple and tomato which came from the Americas - and skip the ham, for Ibn Battuta's sake!)



             Tuareg nomads

                        Berber Nomads

[Photos courtesy of Wilderness Travel]



Conclusion: The Written Record of Ibn Battuta's Travels - The Rihla


After Ibn Battuta returned to Fez in 1354, the Sultan of Morocco listened to his report on Mali. He also listened to Ibn Battuta's other adventures, and ordered him to stay in Fez. He wanted to have these stories written down for the amusement of his family and others. So Ibn Battuta was commanded to "dictate an account of the cities which he had seen in his travel, and of the interesting events which had clung to his memory, and that he should speak of those whom he had met of the rulers of countries, of their distinguished men of learning, and of their pious saints." [From the introduction to the Rihla, transcribed by Ibn Juzayy, 1354.]


The Sultan hired a young writer - Ibn Juzayy - the young man Ibn Battuta had met in Granada three years earlier. Ibn Juzayy must have been excited about such a task! He had been fascinated by Ibn Battuta's stories earlier, and as a young writer, this job was one that could earn him respect. He was to put the stories into the proper form of a travel book, called a "rihla".


And so began the retelling of his adventures that had begun twenty-nine years before. Ibn Battuta wove his observations and hearsay, history and odds and ends into his story. Ibn Juzayy added poetry here and there, but generally he kept to Ibn Battuta's telling. Ibn Juzayy borrowed descriptions of Mecca, Medina and Damascus from a twelfth century traveler named Ibn Jubayr, and perhaps descriptions of other places from other travelers, too. And so the book grew.


Maybe Ibn Battuta exaggerated his own importance to people he met. After all, he was just a traveler with little formal education. In telling the story, perhaps he couldn't get all the details in order and perhaps his memory failed him on some details. Others who read his book would call him a liar! (One famous biographer of the time had met Ibn Battuta in Granada and said of him, "purely and simply a liar.")


But Ibn Battuta had his supporters, too. One advisor to the Sultan in Andalusia said, "Be careful not to reject such information about the condition of dynasties, because you have not seen such things yourself." And another scholar in Tunisia said, "I know of no person who has journeyed through so many lands as [he did] on his travels, and he was withal generous and welldoing." [Both quoted by Dunn, p. 316]


When it was finished, The Rihla had little impact upon the Muslim world. However, it was copied by hand and the whole book or shortened versions might be found in some libraries, or carried around by travelers who followed on parts of his trips. It was not until the 19th century that some of the Arabic books were found and translated into French, German, and then English. Then the book began to receive the attention it deserves as a record of history.


And what happened to Ibn Battuta after telling his story in the palace of the Sultan? He probably got a job as a qadi (judge), but we don't know where. Little is known about this period of his life. Perhaps he married again and fathered more children. Perhaps he entertained scholars and students with his stories, as he had entertained kings, commoners, and holy men on three continents.


Ibn Battuta died in 1368 or 1369. Tour guides in Tangier take tourists to see an unmarked grave that they claim to be his, but no one can confirm it as his final resting place.


The exterior of the burial monument of Ibn Battuta in Tangier. The grounds keeper said that this was built on Ibn Battuta's family's land, part of a garden. Today it also serves as a fountain, from a faucet, for the neighboring community.



This is inside the monument. The casket is very short, about five feet long, and the head of the casket points to a picture of Mecca.


And today Ibn Battuta is somewhat famous. A crater on the moon is named after him, as is an Internet online matchmaking service for Arab singles! But most appropriately, the airport of Tangier and a ferry going across the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier to Spain is named "The Ibn Battouta" - carrying young Moroccan travelers as they begin their own adventures.






Some themes to look for in Ibn Battuta's Story - Historical Insights to be Found




Ibn Battuta mentions slavery several times. He was given slaves as part of his "hospitality gifts" in Turkey, and he bought slaves there as well. Indeed, slavery existed in almost every place he traveled. The treatment of slaves seems to vary, as he says. Some slaves even became the wives of the Sultan and became the mothers of the next sultan! The Mamluk slaves (hired military for the Egyptian sultan) eventually took over the rule of Egypt. Most, of course, did not have such a glamorous life. For a more detailed account of slavery that can be found in his book, press [here]


Attitudes toward Women and Sex:


Ibn Battuta observes different customs as to the treatment of women. In many cases he is very critical of women having a high status or being able to meet socially with men. He is also critical of women who (in his view) are not modest in dress, going "topless" (as in West Africa and the Maldive Islands), and not having their faces covered (as in Anatolia and the Steppe). He praises women who cover up and are thereby "modest". He tells many examples of the separation (or lack of separation) of the sexes.


He tells of taking many wives and consorts ("lovers" or slave-girls), and has children by them, only to leave them, divorce them, or presumably sell them (for slaves). The details are not discussed in his story.


He is extremely strict, as a Muslim qadi would be, about adultery. (Adultery would carry a death penalty in most of the places he visited.) He is critical of prostitution (as he learned about in Anatolia).


He admired certain men who resisted seduction by celibacy or even by castrating themselves, and considered them holy. He also tells of some eunuchs (castrated men) who served in various countries in which he traveled.


He is critical of nudity in a bath-house in upper Egypt and complained to the governor who put a stop to that practice.


For a more detailed account of his attitudes toward women and sex, press [here].


Religious Tension


As a strict Sunni Muslim judge, Ibn Battuta definitely has opinions of other religious groups. He is critical of the Shi'i Muslims, and the Christians, and the Jews. He is especially antagonistic towards "heathens" - those who believe in more than one god, like the Hindu and the Chinese.


For a more detailed account of his attitudes toward religious groups, press [here].




Dunn, Ross, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989. This book gives much information about the societies into which Ibn Battuta traveled. It is outstanding in giving a historical context to Ibn Battuta's story.


Gibb, H.A.R., The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Vols. I, II, III, Hakluyt Society, Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, London, 1956. A translation and notes from the Arabic "Rihla" of Ibn Battuta. (The fourth and final part is still being translated by Professor C. F. Beckingham.)


Said Hamdun & Noel King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa (with a foreword by Ross Dunn), Markus Wiener Publishers, Princeton, 1975.


Books for young adults:


Travellers and Explorers, IQRA Trust, London, 1992. A beautifully illustrated children's book telling of several Muslim travelers of the Middle Ages, including eight pages about Ibn Battuta.


National Geographic Magazine Dec., 1991, "Ibn Battuta, Prince of Travelers" pp. 3 - 49. Well photographed, of course! A brief story of Ibn Battuta, and information and modern photographs of the places he visited.


Ibn Battuta: A View of the Fourteenth-Century World (A Unit of Study for Grades 7 - 10), by Joan Arno and Helen Grady, National Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los Angeles, 1998.


Amazing Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Durke and Ibn Battuta in the Valley of Doom, and The Travels of Ibn Battuta and others, Astrolabe Pictures (call 1-800-39-ASTRO) [Muslim Heroes series]. These books, except for the first, do not follow closely the real travels of Ibn Battuta, but go off into fantasy adventures. They are aimed at young children and don't contain Ibn Battuta's own words.