Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Lawātī al-Tanjī ibn Baṭṭūṭah, known more often simply as Ibn Battuta, the author of a famous book of his travels a generation after Marco Polo, was born in Tangier, Morocco on February 24, 1304.
Like Marco Polo Ibn Battuta travelled extensively in the Middle East and China. He also travelled across North Africa and the West African coast, India, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and more. Polo (who died in 1324) and Ibn Battuta lived during a time when the Mongol Empire ruled much of the known world and was itself at peace, making travel and trade routes more accessible.
Being a Muslim gave Ibn Battuta an advantage Polo didn’t have, since much of his travels were to Muslim countries. Ibn Battuta, whose father was a judge, was also trained in Islamic law and was able to use his skills profitably in his journeys.
The account of his travels and adventures, Riḥlah (“Travels”), was dictated by Ibn Battuta in 1353. Its full title was “The Gift of the Beholders on the Peculiarities of the Regions and the Marvels of Journeys.”
Historians have used Ibn Battuta’s descriptions of everyday life, customs and rituals that he saw on his travels, especially in areas that have few other contemporary reports.
Like with Marco Polo, some modern scholars question the reliability of some of Ibn Battuta’s assertions and question how far he actually travelled.
There is agreement that some embellishments were later added to Ibn Battuta’s account, but most of his claims are still held to be authentic.
His Travels was first translated into English in the 19th century and a new scholarly three-volume translation was completed in the 1970s. In 2002 travel writer and documentation Tim Mackintosh-Smith published a single-volume abridgement of the text.
Little is known about Ibn Battuta’s life after he ended his nearly 30 years of travelling. He settled back in Morocco, where he was appointed as a judge, and died in either 1368 or 1369.