Ibn Battuta, a medieval globetrotter

Ibn Batutta in an old Iraqi manuscript

Ibn Battuta (1304-1369) traveled farther than Marco Polo. From his home town of Tangier in Morocco to Mecca, India, China, and finally Malawi, he criss-crossed the known muslim world for 29 years, taking odd jobs as a religious scholar and judge.

He was a slightly strict man of Berber descent, who frowned upon foreign customs, but that didn’t matter as long as he followed the Quran. He loved food, however, and narrated long passages on the various fruits and dishes he was served.

His favorite place was probably India, where he stayed for a period of ten years. Throughout his  journeys he was married several times, but he doesn’t talk much about his women in his book. It took him a while to overcome the lonlines of travel. He traveled with a male friend for some time, but in his later years there were always servants, slaves and other helpers.

When he returned home most of his family had died, and so he decided to visit Spain and finally Malawi, in Africa. Then he was summoned by the ruler of Morocco who wanted him to narrate a written account of his voyages. His 4 volume story was penned by Ibn Juzayy, an islamic historian with connections to the great city of Granada. After his book was completed, Battuta became a judge in Morocco and lived for another 13-14 years.

While the text of Marco Polo, who is famous throughout the west, was factual and business-like, Battuta offers an intimate account: what he felt and what he saw. This makes him unique in medieval travel literature.

“I left Tangier, my birthplace, on Thursday, June 14, 1325, being at that time twenty-two years of age…………. I set out alone, finding no companion to cheer the way with friendly intercourse, and no party of travellers with whom to associate myself. Swayed by an overmastering impulse within me, and a long-cherished desire to visit those glorious sanctuaries, I resolved to quit all my friends and tear myself away from my home” – Ibn Battuta

While there are many movies and drama series about Marco Polo, there have been few about the journeys of Battuta. In spite of the fact that the text offers us a more vivid description of his trials and tribulations, his illnesses, his shipwrecks, his encounters with pirates and bandits.   It took our popular culture to mythologize Marco Polo. Ibn Battuta, on the other hand, still lives through his own words.


Radio shows


Ibn Battuta: the man who walked Across the world (3 episodes below)