June 23rd 1325 tangier, a 21 year old scholar mounted on a donkey, leaves home for the first time his objective the holy city of Mecca he expects to be gone for two years possibly even three, “I set out alone” he wrote later, “having neither fellow traveler in whose companionship I might find a 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” and he will not return home for another 24 years.
when Ibn Battuta left Tangier, he had no idea that he was commencing on a journey so epic we d still be talking about it 700 years later, and in his quarter century of wandering he would end up seeing nearly the entire Muslim world of the 14th century from the deserts of the Empire of Mali, to the Islamic outposts of Indonesia, and southern China, in doing so he would travel around seventy five thousand miles, enough to circle the globe three times meet 60 heads of state and visit 40 modern countries he would survive kidnapping and shipwreck witness revolts and military campaigns be imprisoned by a mad Sultan, and encountered the horrors of the Black Plague, and when he finally returned the ruler of Morocco asked him to spend two years dictating all he saw to a literary scholar, the resulting book a gift to those who contemplate the wonders of cities and the marvels of traveling a title often shortened to the travels is a thousand pages long, so even if we tried to write a series of books we can’t actually give Ibn Battuta Justice to what he had done, but what we can do though is look at the travels the way historians do today, as a way of understanding the breadth of Islamic religion and culture during the 14th century how faith was adapted to local conditions and the trade and travel links that could take a man from North Africa to China, and of course we’ll look at the curious intrepid ambitious and often quite prickly man who experienced it all, apart from what we learned from the travels we actually know surprisingly little about Ibn Battuta himself, but we can be sure his formalities years in Morocco were the perfect training for a great traveler.
Tangier was not one of North Africa s great cities but it was a massive trade hub, to the north lay Europe to the south the golden kingdoms of sub Saharan Africa, to the east lay the Mediterranean trade networks, and to the west the burgeoning Atlantic trade, and its docks thronged with both Muslims and Christians along with merchants from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East Ibn Battuta family were scholars of Islamic law and gave their son in education that would let him follow in the family tradition, this education made him a kadhi a magistrate or judge of Islamic law, not only an honorable profession but one it turned out that would let him find work wherever there was a Muslim community, his education also likely instilled the curiosity that would drive him on his great journey for in Islam curiosity and the seeking of knowledge is considered a religious duty. in fact, a common saying at the time seek knowledge even unto China, would really end up becoming quite literal for this young man, but even Battuta travel experience began by embarking on the hatch, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a religious duty for all Muslim men if they had the resources were healthy enough to do it and they’re leaving wouldn’t place a burden on their family, he set out alone at first travelling east across North Africa but soon joined up with a pilgrim caravan for protection against bandits, and they were happy to have him as having a kadhi among a caravan meant the disputes and matters of religious law could be solved without stopping the train. So they crossed the land of the slave Sultan s the mom looks who had risen from being in slave soldiers to taking over the state, and though he was not far from home Ibn Battuta began to reveal what he would be like as a traveler
a fever hit him hard the first of many on his journey soon he was so ill he could barely stay on his mount, “ if God decrees my death” he said, “then my death shall be on the road with my face set toward Mecca” determined not to stop, he tied himself to his saddle in order to keep going but stopped he did and during that reef sojourn he did a very Ibn Battuta thing, while recovering he fell in love and formed a marriage contract, but then dissolved it before the ceremony after a dispute with the woman s father but then shortly afterward he would meet and marry another woman the first of ten, oh yeah that s right he would marry ten women on his journey. Now, we don t know much about these marriages, he simply mentions them in passing confirming the Islamic literary convention of keeping his private life, private.
often like with his first wife he would divorce his wives when he moved on, a common practice in medieval Islam and perhaps these divorces may even have been mutually agreed since religious law made that the easiest route to ending a marriage, but here is where we get the first hint of Ibn Battuta fast life fascination with women. Wherever, he went along with descriptions of food agriculture religious life and court processions, he often remarked on how attractive he found the local ladies he was also known to have innumerable lovers and concubines over his life, including several that were enslaved and it s also at this point we get an early indicator of his snippy nature on a stop in Egypt he visited the town bathhouse, and was shocked to find the men inside were not wearing the hip coverings required by law. Basically, they were naked in the locker room but now here s the thing about Ibn Battuta he could get a bit judgey, and if he saw you doing something he considered wrong.. He was definitely telling the teacher. in fact, historians often refer to him as a busybody you know for being all up in your business but to put it in a more modern vernacular given Battuta was a total Narc, so instead of just telling those guys to please cover up he went straight to the local governor and started an official crackdown on proper dress in the bathhouses.
the phrase that escalated quickly was kind of his brand, but while he often comes off as judgmental his job was to be a judge, and this trip across North Africa offered him the opportunity to develop those skills because while he was fully qualified as a Connie, the universities of Tangier were provincial when compared to those in Cairo Damascus and Alexandria so as he made his way toward Mecca, he would stop to study for a few months under great teachers gaining further certifications, he saw the great Lighthouse of Alexandria visited Cairo which he called the mother of cities, passed by the Giza pyramids and traveled down the Nile, but then was halted by a violent revolt so he doubled back to Cairo and instead took the Royal Road to Damascus diverting for a moment to visit the tomb of Abraham, then the Muslim sites in Jerusalem he finally made it to the mom looks second capital, but eager to move on he only spent 24days in Damascus, probably living in the dormitory of the Great Mosque though he did pack that three weeks full managing to survive another illness gaining further certifications and celebrating Ramadan, and of course he got married and divorced again.
There he finally joined the official route of the hatch, across a perilous desert route haunted by epidemic disease, burning days, and freezing nights. And this time Mamluk soldiers guarded them from bandits yet, the caravan made it to its destination without incident.
this city of Medina, where the Prophet Mohammed had retreated with his followers when driven out of Mecca while there he prayed at the mosque of the Prophet built over Muhammad s tomb, before continuing on then finally upon reaching the holy city of Mecca, he took part in the rituals of the Hajj making several circles around the Kaaba, bowing to the shrine of Abraham s, footprints standing on the plains before the Mount of Mercy, where the Prophet gave his farewell sermon reciting prayers and listening to religious teachings for a full day, and of course he studied seeking always more knowledge for this pilgrimage had merely wetted his appetite for seeing the world not to mention he had come across news that the sultan of Delhi immensely rich and generous was in need of officials with proper certifications which is why he was building his resume. Fame, fortune, and adventure, awaited in the east and he decided to extend to this 18months trip a little bit longer. So, even Battuta turned his mount towards the lands of Muslim Persia, and the devastated city of Baghdad.