Who Was Ibn Battuta?
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta was born in 1304 in Morocco's northern port of Tangier. Wise beyond his years, at an early age he shortened his name to Ibn Battuta*, thereby ensuring that he would not have to go down in history as "Abu What's-His-Name, the Greatest Traveler Who Ever Lived."
But make no mistake, Ibn Battuta was indeed the greatest traveler to ever walk the earth. In an era when precious few possessed the means, the time, or the courage to submit to curiosity and venture off the map's edge, Ibn Battuta set out to complete Islam's traditional pilgrimage to Mecca, and ultimately spent the better part of his life wandering.
In nearly 30 years on the road, Ibn Battuta traversed North Africa, Egypt, and the Swahili coast; reached Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula, passing through Palestine and Greater Syria en route; swung through Anatolia and Persia to Afghanistan; crossed the Himalayas to India, then Sri Lanka and the Maldives; and reached the eastern coast of China before turning around and zigzagging all the way back to Morocco.
Even before the term existed, Ibn Battuta lived as a true "Renaissance man." A trained qadi, or judge, Ibn Battuta was also proficient in geography, botany, Islamic theology, and possessed a social scientist's shrewd capacities of observation. But the primary reason Ibn Battuta lives on today is his writing.
Though his prose may not have been the most exhilarating, Ibn Battuta established the science which would eventually become the art of travel writing. Along his journey, he recorded copious observations, notes, insights, and lessons. This magnum opus was preserved by a young scribe who, at the request of Morocco's sultan, spent many months transcribing Ibn Battuta's story, ultimately compiling al-Rihla (الرحلة) or "The Travels."
The Travels of Ibn Battuta are the inspiration for this travel blog**, in which the author seeks to follow the example set by history's greatest itinerant, traveling to little known or misunderstood places and bringing the stories of those places and their inhabitants to life.
* Ibn Battuta actually wrote his name in his native Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد ابن عبد الله اللواتي الطنجي ابن بطوطة. But much to the chagrin of feverishly Googling world history students, in the Latin alphabet his name has never been spelled the same way twice. (e.g. Ibn Battutah, Ibn Battoutah, Ibn Batouta, Ben Batouta, etc.) I prefer simply Ibn Battuta, or ابن بطوطة.
** The name of this blog reflects its inspiration. In Arabic, ibn means "son of", and was used in traditional practice to indicate one's lineage. Thus, "Ibn Ibn Battuta" could be translated as "the son of Ibn Battuta."