Who Was Ibn Battuta?
By Shani Asokan
Ceylon Today Features
History records several great explorers and travellers. Those who were brave enough to sail out into the unknown, discovered new lands, otherwise unknown cultures and civilisations. One such traveller was a man named Ibn Battuta, who spent 29 years travelling around the world during the Middle Ages. His voyages and expeditions covered approximately 75,000 miles of ground – around 44 modern day countries! During this time, he travelled through several empires, and embarked on many an adventure. Let’s take a closer look at this great explorer, shall we?
Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco on 25 February 1304. At this time, Morocco was part of the Islamic Empire, so Battuta grew up in a Muslim household. He also likely spent his early years studying at an Islamic school, learning reading and writing, as well as science, mathematics, and Islamic law.
When Battuta turned 21 years old, he decided to embark on a pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca. The trip to Mecca was thousands of miles long, and he knew that this journey would not be an easy one. Yet, he was determined to see it through. So, he bade goodbye to his family and set out on his own.
Battuta travelled across North Africa, joining caravans for company and safety. Along the way, he visited several cities, including Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem. He reached Mecca one and a half years after leaving home and finally completed his pilgrimage.
During his trip to Mecca, one could say that young Battuta was bitten by the travel bug. He learned that he loved seeing new places and experiencing different cultures and interacting with new people. So, he decided to continue travelling.
Over the next 28 years of his life, Battuta travelled the world. First, he visited Iraq and Persia, visiting cities such as Baghdad, Tabriz and Mosul. He also explored parts of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route that extended from China to Eastern Europe, ending somewhere near modern ay Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea. Following this, he travelled to the east coast of Africa, spending time in Somalia and Tanzania. After exploring much of the African coast, Battuta returned to Mecca for Hajj.
For the next leg of his travels, Battuta travelled north, visiting Anatolia (Turkey) and the Crimean peninsula. He stopped for a while at the city of Constantinople before heading east to India. Upon arriving in India, he went to work for the Sultan of Delhi as a judge. Battuta stayed in India for a few years before leaving for China. Sometime in 1345 he arrived in Quanzhou, China. While in China, Battuta visited cities like Beijing, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou. He even paid a visit to the Great Wall of China and met with the Mongol Khan who ruled China at the time. Battuta also travelled on the Grand Canal, the longest man-made waterway in the world that runs north and south in eastern China.
Sometime later, Battuta returned to Morocco, but learned upon his arrival in the city that both his parents had died while he was away. Not wanting to stay there any longer, he continued his travels. He visited Spain, and then the famous central African city of Timbuktu.
Battuta finally returned to Morocco in 1354. Here, he told the stories of his adventures to a scholar, who recorded it all in a book called the Rihla. The great explorer then remained in Morocco and worked as a judge until his demise in 1369.