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Ibn Battuta - The Man Who Walked Across The World 03

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Ibn Battuta

The Man Who Walked Across The World
Episode Three

Trade Winds

All that is known about Ibn Battuta's life comes from the autobiographical information included in the account of his travels. Ibn Battuta was born into a family of Islamic legal scholars in Tangier, Morocco, on February 24, 1304 during the time of the Marinid dynasty. As a young man he would have studied the Sunni Maliki "school" of Muslim law which was dominant in North Africa at the time. In June 1325, when he was twenty one years old, Ibn Battuta set off from his hometown on a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, a journey that would take 16 months, but he would not see Morocco again for 24 years.

His journey to Mecca was by land, and followed the North African coast crossing the sultanates of Abd al-Wadid and Hafsid. His route passed through Tlemcen, Béjaïa and then to Tunis where he stayed for two months. He usually chose to join a caravan to reduce the risk of being attacked. In the town of Sfax, he got married for the first of several occasions on his journeys.

In the early spring of 1326, after a journey of over 3,500 km (2,200 mi), Ibn Battuta arrived at the port of Alexandria, then part of the Bahri Mamluk empire. He spent several weeks visiting the sites and then headed inland to Cairo, a large important city and capital of the Mamluk kingdom, where he stayed for about a month. Within Mamluk territory, travelling was relatively safe and he embarked on the first of his many detours. Three commonly used routes existed to Mecca, and Ibn Battuta chose the least-travelled: a journey up the Nile valley, then east to the Red Sea port of Aydhab. However, upon approaching the town he was forced to turn back due to a local rebellion.

Returning to Cairo, Ibn Battuta took a second side trip to Damascus (then controlled by the Mamluks), having encountered a holy man during his first trip who prophesied that he would only reach Mecca after a journey through Syria. An additional advantage to the side journey was that other holy places lay along the route—Hebron, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem—and the Mamluk authorities made great efforts to keep the routes safe for pilgrims.

After spending the Muslim month of Ramadan in Damascus, he joined up with a caravan travelling the 1,500 km (930 mi) from Damascus to Medina, burial place of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. After 4 days in the town, he journeyed on to Mecca. There he completed the usual rituals of a Muslim pilgrim, and having graduated to the status of al-Hajji, faced his return home but instead decided to continue journeying. His next destination was the Ilkhanate situated in modern-day Iraq and Iran.


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