Ibn Battuta


Ibn Battuta : biography

1304 – 1369

Return home and the Black Death

After returning to Quanzhou in 1346, Ibn Battuta began his journey back to Morocco. In Kozhikode, he once again considered throwing himself at the mercy of Muhammad bin Tughluq, but thought better of it and decided to carry on to Mecca. On his way to Basra he passed through the Strait of Hormuz, where he learned that Abu Sa’id, last ruler of the Ilkhanate Dynasty had died in Persia. Abu Sa’id’s territories had subsequently collapsed due to a fierce civil war between the Persians and Mongols.

In 1348, Ibn Battuta arrived in Damascus with the intention of retracing the route of his first hajj. He then learned that his father had died 15 years earlier and death became the dominant theme for the next year or so. The Black Death had struck and he was on hand as it spread through Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. After reaching Mecca he decided to return to Morocco, nearly a quarter of a century after leaving home. On the way he made one last detour to Sardinia, then in 1349 returned to Tangier by way of Fez, only to discover that his mother had also died a few months before.

Al-Andalus and North Africa

After a few days in Tangier, Ibn Battuta set out for a trip to the Moor controlled territory of al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula. King Alfonso XI of Castile and León had threatened to attack Gibraltar, so in 1350 Ibn Battuta joined a group of Muslims leaving Tangier with the intention of defending the port. By the time he arrived, the Black Death had killed Alfonso and the threat of invasion had receded, so he turned the trip into a sight-seeing tour, traveling through Valencia and ending up in Granada.

After his departure from al-Andalus he decided to travel through Morocco, one of the few parts of the Muslim world that he had never explored. On his return home, he stopped for a while in Marrakech, which was almost a ghost town following the recent plague and the transfer of the capital to Fez.

Once more Ibn Battuta returned to Tangier, but only stayed for a short while. In 1324, two years before his first visit to Cairo, the West African Malian Mansa, or king of kings, Musa had passed through the same city on his own hajj and caused a sensation with a display of extravagant riches brought from his gold-rich homeland. Although Ibn Battuta never mentioned this visit specifically, when he heard the story it may have planted a seed in his mind as he then decided to cross the Sahara and visit the Muslim kingdoms on its far side.

Swahili Coast

Ibn Battuta continued by ship south to the Swahili Coast, a region then known in Arabic as the Bilad al-Zanj ("Land of the Zanj"), with an overnight stop at the island town of Mombasa. Although relatively small at the time, Mombasa would become important in the following century. After a journey along the coast, Ibn Battuta next arrived in the island town of Kilwa in present-day Tanzania, which had become an important transit centre of the gold trade. He described the city as "one of the most beautiful and well-constructed towns in the world".Leften Stavros Stavrianos, The world to 1500: a global history, (Prentice-Hall, 1970), p.354.

Ibn Battuta recorded his visit to the Kilwa Sultanate in 1330, and commented favorably on the humility and religion of its ruler, Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman, a descendant of the legendary Ali ibn al-Hassan Shirazi. He further wrote that the authority of the Sultan extended from Malindi in the north to Inhambane in the south and was particularly impressed by the planning of the city, believing it to be the reason for Kilwa’s success along the coast. From this period date the construction of the Palace of Husuni Kubwa and a significant extension to the Great Mosque of Kilwa, which was made of Coral Stones and the largest Mosque of its kind. With a change in the monsoon winds, Ibn Battuta sailed back to Arabia, first to Oman and the Strait of Hormuz then on to Mecca for the hajj of 1330 (or 1332).