Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ibn Battuta, World Traveller

Ibn Battuta is one of the greatest travellers of all time. Born in 1304 and a near contemporary of Marco Polo's, he would eventually visit North and West Africa, Mecca, Southern and Eastern Europe, Constantinople, India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China. Some scholars have questioned if he really visited all these places (just as some scholars question whether or not Herodotus actually travelled as much as he claimed to have). Ibn Battuta dictated the story of his travels, a manuscript of which has survived to today and is usually referred to as "Rihla" (Voyage).

He visited the Ruins of Nineveh and described its walls and gates. He also saw the Giza Pyramids and the Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria. He described the Pharos lighthouse as:

"...a very high square building, and its door is above the level of the earth. Opposite the door, and of the same height, is a building from which there is a plank bridge to the door; if this is removed there is no means of entrance. Inside the door is a place for the lighthouse-keeper, and within the lighthouse there are many chambers. The breadth of the passage inside is nine spans and that of the wall ten spans; each of the four sides of the lighthouse is 140 spans in breadth. It is situated on a high mound and lies three miles from the city on a long tongue of land which juts out into the sea from close by the city wall, so that the lighthouse cannot be reached by land except from the city. On my return to the West in the year 750 [1349] I visited the lighthouse again, and found that it had fallen into so ruinous a condition that it was not possible to enter it or climb up to the door." (

Ibn Battuta is almost completely forgotten today, even in the Islamic world. This is unfortunate, as his life was a full and fascinating one.

A large portion of his book are available in English translation at:

A full biography of Ibn Battuta is: Dunn, Ross. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta", University of California Press, 1986.

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