Prior to the modern era, very few people traveled anywhere. It was rare for anyone to travel more than about 20 miles from where they were born.
However, there were a few people who managed to travel quite extensively. In particular, there was one man in the 14th century who might have traveled more than any other person up to that point in history. In fact, he was better traveled than even more people alive today.
Learn more about Ibn Battuta and his extensive journeys around the known world, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
There is a lot that we know about the life of Ibn Battuta, but one of the things we know very little is his upbringing.
We know that he was a Berber who was born in the city of Tangiers in what is today Morocco in 1304. He came from a family of Islamic legal scholars and his father served as a judge known as a qadi.
Based on his future life, he received an extensive education in the Maliki School of Islamic law.
Before I get too much further into the story, I should explain his name.
For the rest of the episode, I’ll be calling him Ibn Battuta. However, his full name was much longer and more complicated. His full name during his life would have probably been Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Battuta.
In Arabic, ibn simply means “son of” and Abu means “father of”, and it is common to name of child “Abu” when they are born, even if they don’t have children on the assumption that it will be the name of their firstborn son.
His complete name would have been Shams al-Din Abu’Abdallah Muhammad ibn’Abdallah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Lawati al-Tanji ibn Battuta.
The real story of Ibn Battuta starts when he was twenty-one years old. As a well-educated young man from a reasonably well-off family, he set off to conduct the hajj in June of 1325, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims should make at least once in their life if they are able.
The average length of the hajj from Tangiers at that time took about 16th months, traveling by land.
The trip that Ibn Battuta took to go to Mecca began a journey that would last his entire life.
The journey he was going to take across Northern Africa was a dangerous one…but that pretty much described traveling everywhere in the world in the 14th century.
He would often travel with caravans for safety and he ended up taking his time. He spent a full two months in Tunis and had extended stays in Tripoli and Alexandria.
By the time he reached Alexandria, there was a bit of change in his plans. The original intent of his trip was solely religious. However, he became fascinated with the people and places he encountered along the way.
From Alexandria, he then went north to Jerusalem to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and then turned south to Mecca.
He spent a full month in Mecca and completed his hajj. However, instead of turning around to go home, he joined a caravan and traveled to Baghdad.
However, before he got there, he left the group and went on a six-month side trip into the modern-day country of Iran. He visited and Shiraz, as well as the city of Basra.
When get got to Baghdad, he met with the Mongol ruler who ruled over the empire which encompassed modern-day Iraq and Iran, the Il-Khanate.
This was one of the first, but not last times he would meet with local rulers on his travels. The longer he traveled and the further away from home he was, the more of a curiosity and novelty he become.
From Baghdad, he went north to the cities of Tabriz and Mosul before heading back to Baghdad and then to Mecca, where he completed his second hajj.
It isn’t known exactly how long he stayed in Mecca. It was somewhere between 1 to 3 years. However long he stayed when he left he headed to Jedda and traveled south by ship.
He traveled to Yemen where he visited Saana and Aden, before crossing the sea to the Horn of Africa to Somalia.
In Mogadishu he found it to be a very wealthy city with many merchants and a thriving industry in cloth and fabrics.
From here he kept going south to Mombasa and the trading island of Kilwa in what is modern-day Tanzania.
Once the monsoon winds changed, he sailed north to Oman, went through the state of Hormuz, and then crossed the Arabian peninsula again to Mecca again to complete the hajj again.
Already he was one of the best-traveled people in the world, yet he was just getting started. He arrived in Mecca for his third hajj in either 1330 or 1332. By this time he had been traveling for 5 to 7 years.
He then set off on what would be his longest trip yet.
He headed west from Mecca to Cairo, then went by ship to Palestine, and then to Anatolia in Modern-day Turkey. He crossed the Black Sea and then began his exploration of Central Asia.
However, before that began, he managed to join a group that contained the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, and he traveled with them to Constantinople. It was his first trip outside of the Islamic World.
He actually met with the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III, visited the Hagia Sophia, and spoke to Orthodox priests.
After staying in Constantinople for a month, he left and made a massive overland trek through what is today Ukraine and Russia, north of the Caspian Sea.
He then turned south through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan where he stopped in Samarkand where he visited another Mongol ruler who ruled the ??Chagatai Khanate.
From there he again traveled to Kabul in Afghanistan, through Pakistan, and then to Deli in India.
If anyone were to make this trip today, it would be quite an accomplishment.
In Delhi, he was stuck in the court of the sultan, Muhammad bin Tughluq. The Sultan was one the richest men in the Islamic world, and he was also sort of insane.
Ibn Battuta was there for six years where he was recruited into service as a qadi, or Islamic judge.
He constantly flirted with being accused of treason and being a favored member of the sultan’s court.
He finally got out when a Chinese representative from the Yuan Dynasty came to Delhi and requested they open up an embassy. Ibn Battuta volunteered for the duty and used that as his excuse to leave.
He was robbed by bandits heading to the coast, and then one of the ships he was traveling with sank.
He arrived in what is today the Maldives, where he was once again made by the local ruler to serve as a judge. He was there for nine months where he did something that he did on many of his lengthy stops.
He got married. He actually was married many times, and each time he left wherever he was staying, he would get a divorce. In the Maldives, he had four wives.
When he left the Maldives he went to Sri Lanka, up to what is today Bangladesh, and then down to Ache, in Sumatra, Indonesia.
This was the easternmost limit of the Islamic world at the time.
From Ache he took a junk north, stopping in the Philippines and finally reaching China, landing in the city of Quanzhou.
He went south to Guangzhou and then north all the way to Beijing.
It is hard to fathom just how far from home he was, especially considering the ancient world. He was born in Tangiers which is near the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. At this point, he might have traveled further than any human in history.
In 1346, 21 years after he began his adventure began, he started back to the Middle East.
On his way back, he traveled mostly by ship and in a much more direct route. He bypassed India to avoid the sultan and arrived in Damascus in 1348.
There he found out that his father had died 15 years earlier. He also had arrived in the middle of an outbreak of the Black Death which had spread through the Middle East.
From here he went to Mecca to complete his fourth hajj and decided to return home. He made a side trip to Sardinia and finally arrived back in Tangiers in 1349, 24 years after he left. When he arrived, he discovered his mother had died just months before.
He was barely in Tangiers for a few days when he set out yet again. This time he went north across the Strait of Gibraltar to the Muslim part of Spain known as Al-Andalus. He actually went to defend the region from an attack by King Alfonso XI of Castile, but he died from the plague. So, Ibn Battuta visited Valencia and Granada.
He returned to Morroco and in 1351 set out once again, this time traveling south into the West African Sahara. He traveled by camel caravan down to Mali and Timbuktu.
He finally arrived back in Morocco in 1354 where, as far as we know his travels ended.
When he settled down, on the advice of the ruler of Morocco, he began telling the tale of his adventures to a scribe he met in Grenada. The result was a rihla, which is an Arabic word for a travelogue.
The final product, when translated into English, was A Masterpiece to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.
This book is the only recorded accounting of his adventures. Based on what we know, he never took notes during his trip and everything we know came from his account after the fact.
It is estimated that the total distance traveled by Ibn Battuta was over 73,000 miles or 117,000 kilometers.
Just to put that into perspective, the distance traveled by Ibn Battuta was greater than the other great contemporary travelers Zeng He and Marco Polo….combined.
It probably wasn’t for several centuries that anyone traveled farther than Ibn Battuta, and then it was via lengthy ocean voyages.
I traveled around the world for almost 9 years non-stop, and I was able to use airplanes and I had the internet to communicate. Even I’m impressed by the travels of Ibn Battuta, who has to go down as one of the world’s all-time greatest travelers.
Everything Everywhere Daily is an Airwave Media Podcast. The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett. Today’s review comes from listener Mindy Pollack over at Podchaser: She writes:Gotta have some way to learn random facts before a trivia night or sitting down with the family to play trivial pursuit. Gary does a fantastic job breaking interesting worldy events and facts into bite-sized chunks.Thanks, Mindy! Remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Use your powers of knowledge for good instead of evil.Remember, if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read on the show.