Ibn Battuta's Trip: Part One [From Tangier across North Africa to Alexandria, Egypt]
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.]
Tlemcen, Algeria - This is what is left of the tomb of a Muslim holy man who, it was said, could perform miracles. He died in 1300 and his tomb would be a site Ibn Battuta would have visited. El Tayyar. Courtesy of Algeria Guide
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.
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.]
To continue on Ibn Battuta's trip into Egypt [press here].
To return to the introduction, [press here].
Links - Learn More About It!
- There are a few good sites showing the importance of camels to the people of the Middle East. See "Arab.net -- A-Z of the Arabian Camel" and Important Animals of the Islamic Empires (SFUSD Medieval Islamic Empires Site)
- Photographs of Egyptian monuments (with many mosques!)
- See the Wonders of the Ancient World! Ibn Battuta had just seen two of them!
Weather Reports of places along the way
- Historical and Modern Maps
- Modern map of Morocco with links for tourists
- Modern Map of Tunisia
- See maps showing the Expansion of Islam from Hyperhistory. Ibn Battuta traveled into Egypt, Syria, and Palestine when it was under the control of the Mamluk (or "slave") Dynasty.
- Map of Almoravid, Saldjuk, and Ghaznavid Expansion c.A.D. 1100 - great map showing Dar al-Islam, the Islamic World!
- Map of Dar al-Islam, the Muslim World c.A.D. 1300 near the time of Ibn Battuta! (Same as shown above.)