IBN BATUTA, 1328-1353

Ibn Batuta—The Nile—Gaza, Tyre, Tiberias, Libanus, Baalbec, Damascus, Meshid, Bussorah, Baghdad, Tabriz, Mecca and Medina—Yemen—Abyssinia—The country of the Berbers—Zanguebar—Ormuz—Syria—Anatolia—Asia Minor—Astrakhan—Constantinople—Turkestan—Herat—The Indus—Delhi—Malabar—The Maldives—Ceylon—The Coromandel coast—Bengal—The Nicobar Islands—Sumatra—China—Africa—The Niger—Timbuctoo.

Marco Polo had returned to his native land now nearly twenty-five years, when a Franciscan monk traversed the whole of Asia, from the Black Sea to the extreme limits of China, passing by Trebizond, Mount Ararat, Babel, and the island of Java; but he was so credulous of all that was told him, and his narrative is so confused, that but little reliance can be placed upon it. It is the same with the fabulous travels of Jean de Mandeville. Cooley says of them, "They are so utterly untrue, that they have not their parallel in any language."

But we find a worthy successor to the Venetian traveller in an Arabian theologian, named Abdallah El Lawati, better known by the name of Ibn Batuta. He did for Egypt, Arabia, Anatolia, Tartary, India, China, Bengal, and Soudan, what Marco Polo had done for Central Asia, and he is worthy to be placed in the foremost rank as a brave traveller and bold explorer. In the year 1324, the 725th year of the Hegira, he resolved to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, and starting from Tangier, his native town, he went first to Alexandria, and thence to Cairo. During his stay in Egypt he turned his attention to the Nile, and especially to the Delta; then he tried to sail up the river, but being stopped by disturbances on the Nubian frontier, he was obliged to return to the mouth of the river, and then set sail for Asia Minor.

Ibn Batuta in Egypt
Ibn Batuta in Egypt.

After visiting Gaza, the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Tyre, then strongly fortified and unassailable on three sides, and Tiberias, which was in ruins, and whose celebrated baths were completely destroyed, Ibn Batuta was attracted by the wonders of Lebanon, the centre for all the hermits of that day, who had judiciously chosen one of the most lovely spots in the whole world wherein to end their days. Then passing Baalbec, and going on to Damascus, he found the city (in the year 1345) decimated by the plague. This fearful scourge devoured "24,000 persons daily," if we may believe his report, and Damascus would have been depopulated, had not the prayers of all the people offered up in the mosque containing the stone with the print of Moses' foot upon it, been heard and answered. On leaving Damascus, Ibn Batuta went to Mesjid, where he visited the tomb of Ali, which attracts a large number of paralytic pilgrims who need only to spend one night in prayer beside it, to be completely cured. Batuta does not seem to doubt the authenticity of this miracle, well known in the East under the title of "the Night of Cure."

From Mesjid, the traveller went to Bussorah, and entered the kingdom of Ispahan, and then the province of Shiraz, where he wished to converse with the celebrated worker of miracles, Magd Oddin. From Shiraz he went to Baghdad, to Tabriz, then to Medina, where he prayed beside the tomb of the Prophet, and finally to Mecca, where he remained three years. It is well known that from Mecca, caravans are continually starting for the surrounding country, and it was in company with some of these bold merchants that Ibn Batuta was able to visit the towns of Yemen. He went as far as Aden, at the mouth of the Red Sea, and embarked for Zaila, one of the Abyssinian ports. He was now once more on African ground, and advanced into the country of the Berbers, that he might study the manners and customs of those dirty and repulsive tribes; he found their diet consisted wholly of fish and camels' flesh. But in the town of Makdasbu, there was an attempt at comfort and civilization, presenting a most agreeable contrast with the surrounding squalor. The inhabitants were very fat, each of them, to use Ibn's own expression, "eating enough to feed a convent;" they were very fond of delicacies, such as plantains boiled in milk, preserved citrons, pods of fresh pepper, and green ginger.

After seeing all he wished of the country of the Berbers, chiefly on the coast, he resolved to go to Zanguebar, and then, crossing the Red Sea and following the coast of Arabia, he came to Zafar, a town situated upon the Indian Ocean. The vegetation of this country is most luxuriant, the betel, cocoa-nut, and incense-trees forming there great forests; still the traveller pushed on, and came to Ormuz on the Persian Gulf, and passed through several provinces of Persia. We find him a second time at Mecca in the year 1332, three years after he had left it.

But this was only to be a short rest for the traveller, for now, leaving Asia for Africa, he went to Upper Egypt, a region but little known, and thence to Cairo. He next visited Syria, making a short stay at Jerusalem and Tripoli, and thence he visited the Turkomans of Anatolia, where the "confraternity of young men" gave him a most hearty welcome.