I’ve got a little journeying of my own to do over the next couple of weeks, so we’ll pause here, with Ibn Battuta leaving Morocco and heading east into the rest of North Africa, and pick up there early next month. Thanks for reading!
Precise dating for the first part of Ibn Battuta’s trip is all but impossible. We know that he arrived, or at least that he remembered arriving, in Alexandria on April 5, 1326, so just a bit shy of ten months after his departure from Tangier. We know (again, based on his recollection) that he set out from Tunis toward the beginning of November 1325. But otherwise he doesn’t really offer a lot of help with the chronology of his trek across North Africa. We’re of course further hampered by the fact that Ibn Battuta dated his adventures according to the Islamic calendar, whereas we’re converting dates to the Gregorian calendar. So when we do get specific dates keep in mind that they could still be a little wobbly. And also keep in mind that this whole journey is being recounted by Ibn Battuta years after he took it, which introduces some extra wobbliness into the situation. To simplify things, even though he doesn’t get to Alexandria until April 1326, we’ll treat his North African leg as 1325 and start 1326 with his arrival in Egypt.
The first territory Ibn Battuta crossed on his journey was, obviously, his homeland. So that’s where our journey has to begin as well.
Actually, we should probably start in an even more basic place than that, with a little etymology. Sorry. The thing is that my use of the name “Morocco,” which helps my English-speaking brain situate Ibn Battuta’s homeland geographically, is kind of problematic. Historically, for Arabic speakers, this region–at the far western edge of North Africa–is the Maghrib or, as you’ll sometimes see in modern usage, “Maghreb.” The word simply means “western place” so its usage here should be fairly self-explanatory. The modern nation is usually called al-Maghrib in Arabic, though its full name is al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah, “the Western Kingdom.” The name “Morocco” derives from the city of Marrakesh, whose name may be Tamazight (Berber) in origin but we can’t be sure. In European usage for centuries Morocco was known as the “Kingdom of Marrakesh” since Marrakesh was often its capital and most important city. Morocco is still called “Marrakesh” today in Persian and several Persian-influenced languages (Pashto, Urdu, Uzbek, Sindhi, Azerbaijani, etc.)
Turks, by the way, call the country Fas, after the city of Fez. Same idea as Morocco/Marrakesh but different city. It’s a land of contrasts.
I have to confess that I started this project without really having a solid plan for it in my head. I got the idea, and then the anniversary of Ibn Battuta’s departure from Tangier was coming up and I knew I wanted to start that day, so I just kind of started while I was still working out the details. But a picture is starting to form in my head and I’m ready to share it with you.
Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Lawati al-Tangi ibn Battuta, or “Ibn Battuta” for short, was born in the Moroccan city of Tangier in 1304. By all rights he was an unremarkable man: educated but not elite, born into a comfortable but not wealthy or powerful family in a city that was not one of the dominant cultural centers of the Islamic Maghreb (western North Africa). Had he remained in Tangier it’s likely that he would have lived and died in relative anonymity, and that we wouldn’t know his name today.
Activity here at the website will be picking up this weekend, so please stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I’ve happened upon a set of three BBC documentaries on YouTube retracing Ibn Battuta’s steps in modern times. This first episode covers Ibn Battuta’s journey across North Africa to Egypt. Aside from an overview of the trip, it offers a great look at modern life in these places, so I hope you enjoy it. I’ll post the other videos in the series when we get to those parts of the trip. (more…)
On June 14, 1325 (give or take), a 21 year old Morocccan man of the Lawata Berber tribe named Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Lawati Ibn Battuta set out from Tangier on what promised to be a 16 month journey to Mecca to make the Hajj.
Ibn Battuta wouldn’t see home again until 1349, after a journey that took him all the way to China. He then left again on a five year trek that took him north to al-Andalus and south to Mali. Please join me in recounting his remarkable travels. (more…)