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Great Adventures: the travels of Ibn Battuta

Pat Kinsella meets a 14th-century Moroccan globetrotter, whose 29-year journey led him over 75,000 miles across three continents, visiting some 44 modern-day countries…


THE GREAT DESERT A caravan treks through the Sahara in Mali – Ibn Battuta crossed the same sun-baked sands some 665 years ago

Like Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta’s adventures weren’t recorded until he’d stopped travelling – and some of his claims are deemed questionable. Yet the book about his wanderings, Rihla: My Travels, remains a fascinating portal into Dar al-Islam – the medieval Muslim world – and an important source of information about everything from politics and geography through to cultural attitudes.

Although often outraged by the state of undress of local women, he wed multiple times, kept a string of concubines and female slaves, and sired numerous children. Yet his wasn’t a carefree sojourn. During the course of his travels, he was accosted by bandits and pirates, shipwrecked, became embroiled in battles and nearly executed by a notoriously unhinged sultan.


Born in 1304 in Tangiers, Ibn Battuta studied Muslim law before beginning his first pilgrimage in 1325, travelling solo by donkey along the Maghreb (coastal North Africa) towards Egypt.

After traversing the Moroccan mountains, he joined a caravan. Falling ill, Battuta’s companions tied him into his saddle and he spent two months in a Tunis madrasa – an educational institution – recuperating. Leaving as part of a bigger hajj group, he was appointed the caravan’s qadi, or Islamic judge.

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