Wanderlust: the strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world. We all suffer from it sometimes - that compulsion to leave everything behind and head out to explore the world. 

But, did you know that back in the 14th century, a medieval Moroccan scholar of law, too had a passion for travelling? One that lasted for 30 years? One that didn't involve hostels, online booking, travel insurance, credit cards, and certainly, no travel vaccines? 

Travelling nowadays is a lot safer, cheaper and much more convenient than it used to be centuries ago, and this is why we have much appreciation for: 

Ibn Battuta

A portrait of Ibn Battuta as imagined by an artist

Ibn Battuta is widely recognized as one of the greatest travelers of all time. 

He lived in the 14th century CE, and left his hometown, Tangier, around June 1325, at the age of 21 for a Mecca pilgrimage - a journey that would normally take sixteen months back at the time. He would return to Morocco several years later. 

North Africa and Egypt

Old Cairo at night

On his way to Mecca, he visited Egypt and made many observations of Cairo:

"The city is so crowded that their movements reminds you of waves of the sea… although an old city, it still remains youthful ." -Ibn Battuta 

The Levant

The dome of the rock, Jerusalem

Ibn Battuta visited Jerusalem and was astonished by the Dome of the Rock, before proceeding to Bethlehem. 

Damascus, too, impressed Ibn Battuta for the social spirit and the dedication of its population to religious foundations. 

"If Paradise be on this earth, Damascus it is and none but she; If in the heavens, from her derives its air and its amenity. ‘Fair city and forgiving Lord!’ Enjoy her – swift the hours will flee!" – Ibn Battuta


The Grand Mosque in Mecca, Image credit: Al Jazeera English, CC: BY 2.0

After spending the month of Ramadan in Damascus, Ibn Battuta joined a caravan heading south to Medina. Four days later, he would head to Mecca for his pilgrimage.  

"The people of Mecca are known for many excellent and noble qualities, by their beneficence to the poor and weak, and by their kindness to strangers." -Ibn Battuta 


Imam Ali shrine in Najaf

After spending a month in Mecca, Ibn Battuta traveled to Iraq. He reached Najaf before leaving for Wasit, and south to Basra. 

Months later, he arrived to Baghdad in June 1327. Some parts of the city were still ruined from the damage inflicted by the Invading Mongols led by Hulago Khan in 1258, he noted, but that didn't stop him from seeing its beauty. 

"Baghdad  has so many beautifully constructed baths. Most of the baths are painted with pitch, which looks like black marble. The pitch is brought to Baghdad from a spring located between Basra and Kufa, from which it flows continually." - Ibn Battuta 


Nasir- Al -Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran

In Perisa, Ibn Battuta visited Isfahan, then headed south to Shiraz - a large, flourishing city that was luckily spared the destruction perpetrated by the Mongol invasion. 

"I entered Tabriz and came to a great bazaar, the Ghazan bazaar, one of the finest bazaars I have seen in the world. Every type of trade is grouped separately in it. I walked through the jewelers' bazaar, and the varieties of the precious stones displayed  there dazzled my eyes ." - Ibn Battuta


Aden, Yemen.

Once he reached Yemen, he visited Zabīd, Ta'izz, and Sana'a, before finally making his way to the vital trading port of Aden. From Aden, Ibn Battuta embarked on a new journey by sea. 

"I traveled to Aden on the coast of the ocean. The town is surrounded by mountains and can be reached from one side only. It is a very hot place. There are Indian and Egyptian merchants residing there. The inhabitants are all either merchants, porters, or fishermen." - Ibn Battuta 

Somalia, Swahili Coast and Tanzania

The old Hamar weine quarter of Mogadishu, Somalia

He visited Mogadishu and described it as an exceedingly large trading center serving as an important port. 

"The city was full of rich merchants, and noted for its high-quality fabric that was exported to other countries, including Egypt." - Ibn Battuta  

Modern-day Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Ibn Battuta's travels also took him to Eğirdir, Konya, Erzurum, Constantinople (Istanbul) and other cities in what is now modern-day Turkey. Of his visit, he said:  

"The Turks could easily leave their livestock free to graze without  the need for guards or shepherds. They had very strict laws against stealing" -Ibn Battuta 

Uzbekistan and Afghanistan

Registan square in Samarkand/Uzbekistan

Ibn Battuta visited Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan. From there he proceeded south to Afghanistan, and then India via the snow-covered mountain passes of the Hindu Kush. 

"We traveled all day long until sunset. We kept spreading clothes in front of the camels for them to tread on, to avoid them sinking in the snow." -Ibn Battuta 


Varanasi at dawn. Source: arturdebat

The esteemed traveler was welcomed generously by the Sultan of Delhi. He stayed in India for 8 years, where he worked as a judge. 

"We traveled to the town of Calicut (a city in the state of Kerala), which is one of the main ports in Malabar. It is visited by men from China, Jāwa, Ceylon, the Maldives, Yemen and Persia, and there merchants gather from all parts of the world. Its harbor is one of the largest in the world"  - Ibn Battuta 

Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka

Ibn Battuta reached Ceylon in 1344 near Puttalam (Batthalah) which was part of the then-Jaffna kingdom. The Jaffna king helped him pay a visit to Adam's PeakIbn Battuta also mentioned that pearl diving was in progress at Puttalam and the king gave him some of the finest pearls he had ever seen. 

"In Ceylon, people believed in Buddhism, yet they showed respect for Muslim mystics, invited them to their houses, and offered them food"- Ibn Battuta


The great wall of China

His journey also saw him reach China, where he was impressed with the silk and porcelain production, as well as the country's fruits, and the advantages of paper money. 

In his book, he described how they made large ships in the city of Quanzhou. He also mentioned Chinese cuisine in details.  

"The Chinese have three kinds of vessels: Junks which are the large ships, middle-sized ones called zaws, and small ones called kakams. The junks can have up to twelve sails, which are made of bamboo rods plaited like mats" - Ibn Battuta 

Mali and Mauritania

The great mosque of Djenne

After returning to Morocco, and visiting Valencia and Granada in modern-day Spain, Ibn Battuta would begin a new adventure in 1352. 

He traveled south and crossed the Sahara desert to visit the African kingdom of Mali. 

 "The town of Iwalatan (Oualata In Modern day Mauritania) is very hot. There were some small date-palms and they had sowed watermelons in their shade. Water came from underground waterbeds. The inhabitants wear clothes of fine quality and of Egyptian origin. The women are blessed with exceptional beauty, they are Independent, and are highly respected." -Ibn Battuta 


The voyages of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Ibn Battuta documented his travels in a book titled, Rihla (The Journey). The book constitutes an important account of many areas of the world in the 14th century. 

From each land he visited, Ibn Battuta listed his experiences and observations, providing a unique account on the social customs, nature, architecture, history, and governance of various parts of the world. His valuable and interesting record of places adds to our understanding of the medieval world.

Ibn Battuta completed the book in 1355. He would work as a judge in Morocco for the remainder of his life, up until his death in 1368. 

Just Travel

Ibn Battuta's journeys continue to serve as an inspiration to both young and old from the Arab and Muslim world alike. 

There is an international airport in Tangier named after the great traveler. A small crater on the moon has also been named the Ibn Battuta crater. The crater was formerly called Goclenius A. before being changed by the IAU (International Astronomical Union) to carry the famed travelers legacy. 

If Ibn Battuta were among us today, we have no doubt that he would have made it to the moon or maybe even Mars.