Skip to content Skip to footer

#13 – The Travels Of Ibn Battuta

I was reading Vagabonds by Rolf Potts last year and somewhere he mentioned a quote by Ibn Battuta. I have never heard of Ibn Battuta before and therefore I did some research and what I found out was just surprising, so I thought I wanted to share that with you.

Ibn Battuta
was born in Tangier, Morocco on 25 February 1304 to a Muslim family. He studied Islamic Law and with only 21 years he started the longest travel journey ever done by a human being in his time. His first destination was Mecca in Saudia Arabia to fulfill his duty by doing the Islamic pilgrimage, which every Muslim once in his lifetime has to accomplish. While traveling he wrote down everything he did, saw, felt, smell, and observed. One of those first notes were:

I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveller in whose companionship I might find cheer, nor caravan whose part 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 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.

He was a globetrotter, touring the continents for almost 30 years and covering 120’000 km by foot, camel, and ships to over 40 countries. He traveled three times further than Marco Polo. He collected stories about the most amazing people and places. He sees coconut palms for the first time and describes them as the “strangest trees ever”. The nuts of the palms appear to him like human heads.

His way leads the man from Tanger to India, the Maldives, and the Chinese coasts. He even reaches Sumatra. But finally, he turns back. Ibn Battuta’s last journeys include a detour to Andalusia and an expedition through the Sahara to Timbuktu. He gets to know the desert as a merciless place, “haunted by demons” who confuse travelers by sandstorms and other tricks and lead them astray. At the court of Mali, he is disturbed by his subservience to the ruler, the people throw themselves into the dust before the king. Since the Sultan of Morocco insists that the traveler record his experiences for posterity, Ibn Battuta dictates his experiences to ascribe in the months following his final return. In addition to colorful descriptions of the strangers, this report also contains a song of praise for the homeland. Why did he set off to wander for a lifetime? It all began with a pilgrimage to Mecca, he dreamed on this journey that a bird would carry him through the world. He followed this dream and reached the remotest corners of the earth.

There are many “Books” about Ibn Battuta, I’ve found this one The Travels Of Ibn Battuta on Amazon – it is a translation of all his travel notes. I’ll write about some insights when I start reading it.

Sargans, Switzerland

Leave a comment