Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s extensive travels—estimated to have covered approximately 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers)—carried him to the far corners of the Muslim world near the peak of its greatest glory.

Summary of Event

In the early nineteenth century, German scholars published translations of manuscripts obtained in the Middle East that described the travels of a Muslim legal scholar of the fourteenth century: Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. About the same time, a British scholar produced his own translation of a similar manuscript recovered by a Swiss explorer in Egypt. During the middle of the same century, French soldiers in Algeria discovered five incomplete manuscript versions of the same work, two of them the most complete identified so far. These manuscripts were edited and assembled in both Arabic and French by two French scholars and have become the basis of what readers in the Western world know about one of the world’s most indefatigable travelers. Exploration;Muslim [kw]Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, Travels of (1325-1355) Ibn Baṭṭūṭah Africa;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] China;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Central Asia;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Southeast Asia;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] India;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Egypt;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Arabia;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Spain;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Cultural and intellectual history;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Exploration and discovery;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] Historiography;1325-1355: Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[2720] [kw]Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah (1325-1355) Ibn Baṭṭūṭah Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi Muḥammad ibn Tughluq Abū ՙInān Fāris Khadija

A young member of a family of Muslim legal scholars and judges, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah set out with a party of attendants in 1325 on the hajj, the pilgrimage to the Arabian city of Mecca required of every able-bodied Muslim male. Mecca;Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[Ibn Battutah] Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s itinerary took him from his birthplace of Tangier in what is today Morocco across North Africa to the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo, a journey of ten months. He ascended the Nile River before turning eastward across the desert to Aydhab, the port from which ships normally crossed the Red Sea to the Arabian coast. Mecca;Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[Ibn Battutah]

Thwarted in this design by political unrest in the region, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah retraced his path and traveled from Cairo to Damascus in Syria, joining a caravan of fellow pilgrims headed for the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. Having finally completed the hajj, he turned northward to Iraq and Iran, returning to Mecca in September of 1327. Travel by land;Ibn Baṭṭūṭah[Ibn Battutah]

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah remained in the holy city for three years, studying Muslim law and eventually becoming a moderately successful scholar, albeit an itinerant one—for the attractions of travel had clearly taken hold. Rather than return to Morocco, he and his party set out in 1328 or 1330 on an expedition to East Africa. The group sailed down the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean, reaching Mombasa (now in Kenya) and Kilwa (now in Tanzania), some 600 miles (970 kilometers) south of the equator. They returned to Arabia via the Persian Gulf, traveling from Oman in eastern Arabia to Mecca, which Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was visiting for the third time.

The restless scholar set out in 1330 or 1332 for India, taking a roundabout route through Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, the Black Sea, and what are now the nations of Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Continuing through Persia and Afghanistan, he reached the Indian subcontinent in either 1333 or 1335. There, he spent seven eventful years as a judge, falling in and out of favor with the sultan of Delhi, Muḥammad ibn Tughluq Muḥammad ibn Tughluq (r. 1325-1351), and making and losing a fortune. Restored to favor and sent to China in 1341, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah fled to the Maldive Islands, far to the south in the Indian Ocean, when the ship carrying gifts to the Chinese emperor was lost in a storm. Here he found a patron in Queen Khadija Khadija (Maldives queen) , but his brief sojourn within the islands was apparently as tempestuous as his years in India, for he was forced to take refuge on the island of Sri Lanka off the southern tip of India, after only eight months.

A voyage up the eastern coast of India resulted in another disaster, when Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was shipwrecked, forcing him to return to the Maldives. In 1345, he renewed his efforts to visit China, sailing along the shores of the Bay of Bengal, rounding the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, stopping on the island of Sumatra, and eventually reaching the city of Quanzhou on the southeast coast of China. After visiting (according to his account) Beijing, Canton, and several other Chinese cities, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah began to retrace his steps, making a final pilgrimage to Mecca in 1346-1347. He witnessed in Syria the aftermath of the plague known as the Black Death Black Death . After a visit to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia (one of the few Christian lands in which he set foot), he reached Morocco in late 1349 at the age of forty-five.

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s travels had carried him from northwestern Africa to easternmost Asia, but they were not to be his last. In 1350, he turned northward, taking part in the defense of the peninsula of Gibraltar against Christian forces and visiting Granada, the rich region of what is now southern Spain that remained in Muslim hands. In 1353, he was sent by the sultan of Morocco on a less congenial journey deep into the Sahara Desert to investigate the empire of Mali, spending several months in the then-little-known city of Timbuktu and passing through what are today the nations of Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania.


Ibn Baṭṭūṭah returned to Morocco for good in 1355. At the request of Moroccan sultan Abū ՙInān Fāris Abū ՙInān Fāris , he agreed to recount his extensive travels to a noted scribe, Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi , who incorporated them into an elaborate work of prose and occasional poetry, completed in 1355. Its general pattern is that of the riḥlah, a popular form of the time that recounted a journey or journeys, usually to Mecca.

The work, Tuḥfat al-nuẓẓār fi gharaՙib al-amsar wa-ՙajaՙib al-asfar (1357-1358; Travels of Ibn Battuta, 1958-2000, best known as the Riḥlah Riḥlah (Ibn Baṭṭūṭah)[Rihlah (Ibn Battutah)] ), is not only an account of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s travels but also a description of virtually the entire Muslim world. Because Ibn Juzayy also drew on earlier works, it is difficult to be sure how much of the detail of the Riḥlah reflects Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s own experience. Scholars even wonder whether Ibn Baṭṭūṭah actually traveled as extensively in China or East Africa as the narrative suggests.

Although copies of the Riḥlah reached the cities of North Africa beyond Morocco, it does not seem to have had much influence or impact. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah ended his life as a provincial judge of only modest fame. Only when his account was discovered by Europeans in the nineteenth century did its significance as the most extensive work of its kind become obvious.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abercrombie, Thomas J., and James L. Stanfield. “Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, Prince of Travelers.” National Geographic 180 (December, 1991): 2-49. Substantial article following Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s travels and showing many of the places he visited as they exist today. Map, numerous color illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Arno, Joan, and Helen Grady. Ibn Baṭṭūṭa: A View of the Fourteenth-Century World. Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los Angeles, 1998. A seventy-three-page teacher’s manual for teaching both Ibn Baṭṭūṭah and fourteenth century North Africa to students in grades 7-10. Illustrations, maps, bibliographical references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beckingham, Charles F. “In Search of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah.” Asian Affairs 8 (1977): 263-277. Text of an informal lecture by one of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s translators touching on his travels, their historical and geographical context, and the discovery of the manuscripts recounting them.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunn, Ross E. The Adventures of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. The standard work in English on the great traveler, quoting frequently from the Riḥlah. Includes maps, notes, an extensive bibliography, black-and-white illustrations, glossary, and elucidations of subjects such as the Muslim calendar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamdun, Said, and Noël King, trans. and eds. Ibn Baṭṭūṭa in Black Africa. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1994. A selection of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s writings during his two sub-Saharan trips—his second, to Mali, being his last recorded adventure. Illustrations, maps, bibliographical references, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. The Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. London: Picador, 2002. Abridged, introduced, and annotated by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, this volume is based on the Hakluyt Society translation and is the most accessible edition for the general reader.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. The Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, A.D. 1325-1354. London: Hakluyt Society, 1958-2000. Translated by Hamilton A. R. Gibb and Charles F. Beckingham. Index compiled by A. D. H. Bivar. The standard edition in English, based on the Arabic text edited by C. Défrémery and B. R. Sanguinetti and supplemented with an extensive scholarly apparatus.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mackintosh-Smith, Tim. Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. New York: Welcome Rain, 2001. A modern travelogue in which the author follows Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s route from Tangier to Istanbul. Includes maps, a bibliographical note, and atmospheric drawings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rumford, James. Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Baṭ-ṭūṭa, 1325-1354. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. A semifictional biography designed for young readers. Color illustrations, maps.

Categories: History