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Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta

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Marco Polo is one of the first names that came to people's minds in terms of famous international travelers. However, there was another 14th-century traveler who hailed from Tangier in Morocco. This African and Islamic traveler covered five times the distance that Marco Polo traveled, crossing three continents and forty different countries. His name was Ibn Battuta. His significance to the history of the Muslim and Medieval world of Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean is substantial.

History and Biography of Ibn Battuta

Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta (even here we are writing an abbreviation of his full name) was born in Morocco in 1304 to a wealthy and scholarly family. Ibn Battuta received formal education in his youth, extensively studying and even memorizing the Quran, the most important religious text in the Islamic faith. He also studied to be a Qadi–a religious interpreter and judge in Islamic society. Being a Qadi would greatly benefit Ibn Battuta in his future quests.

Ibn Battuta impact and significance Study Smarter

Fig. 1- Ibn Battuta in Egypt.

In the Muslim faith, men who are bodily and financially able must make the hajj, a holy pilgrimage, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Considering himself fit for the task, a 21-year-old Ibn Battuta left Tangier to travel to Mecca, the holy city of his faith.

I set out alone, having neither fellow-traveler in whose companionship I might find cheer, nor caravan whose part I might join, but swayed by an overmastering impulse within me and a desire long-cherished in my bosom to visit these illustrious sanctuaries..."

–Ibn Battuta

Despite the lonesome drama of the above quote, Ibn Battuta soon joined a massive caravan traveling across North Africa to protect himself from bandit raids. Ibn Battuta's first of three major voyages had begun.

Ibn Battuta Timeline

  • 1304: Ibn Battuta is born in Morocco.

  • 1325: Ibn Battuta leaves home to embark on his hajj.

  • 1326: Ibn Battuta arrives in Mecca.

  • 1333-1341: Traveling to India, Ibn Battuta finds work as a Qadi in the Sultan of Delhi for eight years.

  • 1345: Ibn Battuta sails along China's coast and briefly serves as a judge in the Yuan Dynasty.

  • 1349: Ibn Battuta returns home amidst the height of the Black Death.

  • 1356: By request of the Moroccan ruler, Ibn Battuta dictates his life journey.

Ibn Battuta Travel Route

Ibn Battuta's life was a single journey. For thirty years, the traveler rarely settled down in a place for more than a couple of months. For purposes of the maps below, his lifelong journey has been split into three different voyages.

Ibn Battuta's First Voyage

Ibn Battuta traveled across the breadth of North Africa. In the Egyptian city Alexandria, Ibn Battuta met two mystics who reportedly prophesized that he would travel to lands far beyond Mecca. Afterward, Battuta traveled to Syria and Palestine, visiting the cities of Jerusalem and Damascus. In 1326. Ibn Battuta arrived in Mecca (not resembled on the map below, but shortly east of Jeddah). His religious journey was complete, but Ibn Battuta was not done traveling.

Ibn Battuta First Voyage Map StudySmarter

Fig. 2- Ibn Battuta's First Voyage Map.

After spending months studying in Mecca, Ibn Battuta traveled north to Iraq, Persia, and Iraq. The Mongolian Ilkhanate reigned over these regions. Conveniently, the Ilkhanate's official religion was Islam, making it very easy for Ibn Battuta to find work as a Qadi. Ibn Battuta then sailed along the eastern coast of Africa.

The Swahili Coast

The Swahili Coast refers to the combined eastern coast region comprising parts of modern-day Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, and Somalia. Traveling with seaborne traders, Ibn Battuta visited cities such as Mombasa and Zanzibar along the coast. He visited Kilwa, a wealthy city that exercised wealth and power over much of the Swahili Coast. Ibn Battuta described Kilwa as one of the most beautiful cities he had ever seen. In the 17th century, Kilwa's gold attracted the oppressive attention of Portugal.

In 1332, Ibn Battuta landed in Constantinople (he travels a lot, doesn't he?) where he was able to see Hagia Sophia–an impressive church within the city dating since Constantine the Great. Battuta was met with generosity by Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III. Although Constantinople was a Christian city at the time, Ibn Battuta was treated kindly and corresponded with curiosity and admiration for the city.

Ibn Battuta's Second Voyage

Next, Ibn Battuta set his eyes on India. Traveling by foot, he reached India in 1333, where he would serve as Qadi to the Sultan of Delhi for eight years. In each new land, Ibn Battuta took great delight in the variety of architecture and people he saw and met.

Ibn Battuta Second Voyage Map Study Smarter

Fig. 3- Ibn Battuta's Second Voyage Map.

Growing restless in India, Ibn Battuta traveled even further east, finding work as a judge in Yuan Dynasty China in 1345. He returned to Mecca in 1346 by sailing through the Indian Ocean. Already, Ibn Battuta had peacefully traversed much of Asia, thanks to the prominence of Islam throughout the Mongolian territories.

I have indeed–praise be to God–attained my desire in this world, which was to travel through the earth, and I have attained in this respect what no other person has attained to my knowledge.

-Ibn Battuta

As Ibn Battuta gained more experience in foreign lands, he became more adept at interacting with local populations and understanding their customs. As a traveling Qadi, however, Ibn Battuta was strict in his enforcement of Islamic laws within Muslim territories.

Ibn Battuta's Third Voyage

Amidst the height of the Black Death across Eurasia, Ibn Battuta ventured back to Morocco in 1349. Finding that both of his parents had died, Battuta decided to continue traveling. He went to Granada, across the Strait of Gibraltar. Touching foot in Europe, Battuta was intent on assisting the Islamic Moorish defenders against Catholic Spanish invaders.

Who were the Moors?

'Moors' is the European definition for Muslim people living on the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors were based primarily in the south of the peninsula, in the province of Granada. In the 14th century, Castilian King Alfonso XI fought against the Moors, desiring to push Muslims away from Christian territories. However, the King was infected and died while Granada was being sieged (Alfonso died before Ibn Battuta arrived). The Moors would find less peace in the following centuries, as Spain eventually drove them out of the Peninsula in the early 17th century.

Ibn Battuta Third Voyage Map Study Smarter

Fig. 4- Ibn Battuta's Third Voyage Map.

A battle never came, however, and Ibn Battuta returned to Africa. While venturing across the Saharan desert in 1356, the ruler of Morocco commissioned Battuta to return home to record the knowledge he had obtained from his journeys. Battuta assented.

Ibn Battuta's Famous Work

Traveling... leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

–Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta did not keep a journal of his travels across Eurasia. But upon the request of the ruler of Morocco, Battuta dictated his lengthy tale to a writing scribe. The final work was called A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, or Rihla of Ibn Battuta. It was a long and detailed account of Ibn Battuta's voyage.


A genre of Arabic travel literature.

Ibn Battuta's rihla has provided Medieval and Islamic scholars with a plethora of information regarding the 14th-century Asian world. Some scholars debate whether the work was embellished or altered by the scholar who translated Ibn Battuta's life from word to written language, but Ibn Battuta's impact and contribution to world history are undeniable.

Ibn Battuta - Key takeaways

  • Ibn Battuta was an Islamic Moroccan explorer who traveled to China, India, the Middle East, and southern Europe.
  • Ibn Battuta's travels began with a holy pilgrimage to Mecca, then became a curious exploration of the world around him.
  • Bring a trained Qadi (Islamic judge), Ibn Battuta traveled with relative ease throughout a predominantly Muslim 14th-century Asia.
  • Ibn Battuta's many journeys were written down by a scribe, later providing historians with a plethora of information on 14th-century Asia and Europe.


  1. Fig. 2 First Voyage Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ibn_Battuta_1325-1332.png) by Wikipedia Users, licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).
  2. Fig. 3 Second Voyage Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ibn_Battuta_1332-1346.png) by Wikipedia Users, licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).
  3. Fig. 4 Third Voyage Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ibn_Battuta_1349-1354.png) by Wikipedia Users, licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).

Frequently Asked Questions about Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta was an Islamic Moroccan explorer who traveled to China, India, the Middle East, and southern Europe. 

Ibn Battuta stopped traveling in 1349 when he returned home to Morocco after a 24-year journey.

Ibn Battuta's written record of his life travels has provided historians with a plethora of information regarding 14th-century Asia and Europe.

Ibn Battuta was not a merchant. He was a traveling Qadi, a judge in the Islamic faith, who found work in many different courts across Muslim territories in Asia. 

Ibn Battuta is famous for his many exciting journeys across Asia and into Europe in the 14th-century.

Final Ibn Battuta Quiz

Ibn Battuta Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


In what continent was Ibn Battuta born?

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What is the most important religious text in the Islamic faith? (Ibn Battuta memorized its contents as a child.)

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The Quran 

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What is a Qadi?

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A Qadi is a religious interpreter and judge in Islamic society.

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What is a hajj?

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A mandatory holy pilgrimage to Mecca for Islamic men.  

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What was the destination of Ibn Battuta's first voyage? 

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What was the dominant religion in most of the areas that Ibn Battuta traveled in? 

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How do historians know so much about Ibn Battuta's journeys? 

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Ibn Battuta dictated his travels to a scribe, who recorded them for the Ruler of Morocco.

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How did Ibn Battuta function as a traveling Qadi? 

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He traveled to different foreign Islamic courts, serving strict sentences and holding the law to a high standard. 

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What Islamic dynasty was in power in 14th-century China during Ibn Battuta's travels? 

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Yuan Dynasty

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What disease was sweeping through Eurasia upon Ibn Battuta's return to Morocco in the mid 14th-century? 

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The Black Death 

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