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Painting of a white man in a turban, riding on a camel

Ibn Battuta on his travels

Who was ibn Battuta?

He was born in Morocco, in Africa, in 1304 AD. He was from a rich Muslim family, and he went to the best schools in his hometown of Tangier.

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Why did he travel?

When Ibn Battuta was twenty years old, in 1325, he went east on hajj to Mecca, as many rich young men did because all good Muslims were supposed to visit Mecca (in modern Saudi Arabia).

What is the hajj?
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It took him about eight or nine months to get to Mecca, and he had many adventures along the way. He got sick, he was attacked by robbers, and he even got married! Because of the dangers, he had to go part of the way by ship from Cairo north to Damascus, and then come back south to Mecca under the protection of the Mamluk army. This gave Ibn Battuta a chance to see Damascus and Jerusalem on his way.

What did he see there?

The travels of Ibn Battuta

Pilgrims set off to go to Mecca on the haj.

Pilgrims set off to go to Mecca on the haj.

Ibn Battuta goes on further

But after he got to Mecca, he decided he liked to travel. He was still young, and he wasn’t in any hurry to go home. So in November, 1326 he left Mecca for the east. He went first to Iraq, where he saw the tomb of ‘Ali and visited Baghdad, recently destroyed by the Mongols.

Who was ‘Ali? 
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The Seljuks in Iran

Then he went on to Iran. After Iran, Ibn Battuta joined another group of people going west on hajj to Mecca, and traveled with them until he got back to Mecca. On the way he was very sick with diarrhea, and so he spent a year resting and studying in Mecca.

He goes to Ethiopia and Tanzania

But in 1328, Ibn Battuta started traveling again. He left Mecca on a ship headed south, down the coast of Arabia this time. He toured Yemen on a rented camel and then a horse, and then crossed over the Red Sea to see East Africa. Then he sailed down the coast of East Africa, seeing the cities of Zeila and Mogadishu in Ethiopia, where people spoke mainly Swahili. Then he went even further south to Kilwa (in modern Tanzania).

Medieval East Africa
Medieval African Economy

From Kilwa he sailed back north and east over to Oman, on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula. He saw traders from India, but he decided not to sail to India – yet. Instead, he went back to Mecca again for a rest. He got to Mecca in the winter of 1330.

More about his travels
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Bibliography and further reading about medieval Africa:

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