Ibn Battuta, the greatest traveler of all time

Ibn Battuta, 1304-1369 CE, was a Moroccan explorer of Berber descent. He is a good candidate for the title of the greatest traveler of all time. His journeys began in 1325, when he set off on a hajj to Mecca. However, once his religious obligations were completed, he did not go home but continued instead to the Mongol Ilkhanate in Persia. He visited Baghdad in 1327, went to Mecca for a second hajj, but this time too he refused to return home. Instead he continued southward to Yemen, Aden and Somalia. He then went for a third hajj, and this time he stayed in Mecca for an entire year. He then decided to seek employment with the sultan of Delhi. He traveled to India via Constantinople, the Black Sea, and the trade routes of the Golden Horde. He visited Astrakan and Samarkand, and via Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush he eventually made it to Delhi. Here he worked as a judge for six years before he was dispatched as the sultan’s ambassador to the Yuan dynasty in China.

On his journey to China his ship was attacked and he ended up in the Maldive islands where he stayed for nine months and married into the royal family. Yet he did not give up on his assignment, but continued to Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh and continued on to Malacca, Vietnam, and eventually to the Fujian province of China. In Beijing he introduced himself as the long-lost ambassador from India and was received by the emperor. Only now did he decide to return to Morocco. Traveling along the caravan routes of Central Asia he saw the first signs of the contagious disease which was to kill millions of people. [Read more:The Black Death“] Coming home in 1349, he discovered that his father and mother were dead, and he decided to go on a trip to southern Spain. He then went to Timbuktu where he gives an account of an encounter with a hippopotamus.

Scholars are uncertain whether Ibn Battuta really visited all the places he describes, and in some cases he may be recounting tales he heard from other travelers. However, Ibn Battuta himself was confident regarding his achievements. “I have indeed – praise be to God – attained my desire in this world, which was to travel through the earth, and I have attained this honor, which no ordinary person has attained.”

Ibn Battuta, “Egypt”

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