More about The Travels of Ibn Battuta, 2019
The lure of West African gold, together with the introduction of the dromedary camel in the 2nd century AD to North Africa, ‘impelled Muslim merchants and cameliers of the Maghrib and the North Sahara to organize trans-desert business and transport operations to an unprecedented level of sophistication.’ (Ross Dunn). The spread of a common Arabic language and a common Islamic law saw the establishment of the great East-West trade routes linking North Africa and Central Asia to India, China and as far south as Samudra, in present day Indonesia.
‘Abu ’Abdallah ibn Battuta has been rightly celebrated as the greatest traveller of pre-modern times. He was born into a family of Muslim legal scholars in Tangier, Morocco, in 1304, during the era of the Marinid dynasty. He studied law as a young man and in 1325 left his native town to make the pilgrimage, or hajj, to the sacred city of Mecca in Arabia. He took a year and a half to reach his destination, visiting North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria along the way. After completing his first hajj in 1326, he toured Iraq and Persia, then returned to Mecca.
In 1330 (or 1332), he ventured to India to seek employment in the government of the Sultanate of Delhi. Rather than taking the normal ocean route across the Arabian Sea to the western coast of India, he travelled north through Egypt and Syria to Asia Minor. After touring that region, he crossed the Black Sea to the plains of West Central Asia. He then, owing to fortuitous circumstances, made a westward detour to visit Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, in the company of a Turkish princess. Returning to the Asian steppes, he travelled eastward through Transoxiana, Khurasan, and Afghanistan, arriving at the banks of the Indus River in September 1333 (or 1335).
He spent eight years in India, most of that time occupying a post as a qadi, or judge, in the government of Muhammad Tughluq, Sultan of Delhi. In 1341, the king appointed him to lead a diplomatic mission to the court of the Mongol emperor of China. The expedition ended disastrously in shipwreck off the southwestern coast of India, leaving Ibn Battuta without employment or resources.
Then, despite the failure of his ambassadorial mission, he resolved in 1345 to go to China on his own. Travelling by sea, he visited Bengal, the coast of Burma, and the island of Sumatra, then continued on to Guangzhou. The extent of his visit to China is uncertain but was probably limited to the southern coastal region. In 1346–47 he returned to Mecca by way of South India, the Persian Gulf, Syria, and Egypt. After performing the ceremonies of the hajj one last time, he set a course for home. Travelling by both land and sea, he arrived in Fez, the capital of Morocco, late in 1349. The following year he made a brief trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to the Muslim kingdom of Granada.
In 1355 he returned to Morocco to stay. In the course of a career on the road spanning almost thirty years, he crossed the breadth of the Eastern Hemisphere, visited territories equivalent to about 40 modern countries, and put behind him a total distance of approximately 73,000 miles.
Early in 1356 Sultan Abu ’Inan, the Marinid ruler of Morocco, commissioned Ibn Juzayy, a young literary scholar of Andalusian origin, to record Ibn Battuta’s experiences, as well as his observations about the Islamic world of his day, in the form of a rihla, or book of travels.’ Ross Dunn
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The 15th Century saw the Christians regain Spanish territory and usher in the Spanish Inquisition while the 16th Century brought with it a flowering of culture and religious tolerance in Central Asia and later the 17th Century brought forth an enlightened Qing Dynasty that would conquer the regressive and insular policies of the Ming.
The Christian court of Queen Isabella of Spain made it possible for Christopher Columbus to embark on one of the first Voyages of Discovery thinking to discover the sea route to China but sailed on across the Atlantic to Americas where he found the gold that made Spain rich.
The Mughal Empire of India was established by Babur whose family roots were from the Turco-Mongol, Timurid dynasty of Central Asia claiming direct descendence from Genghis Khan. Later during the "classic period" of the Mughal Empire that began in 1556 with the ascension of Akbar I to the throne saw economic progress, religious harmony and Persian influenced Mughal art. Akbar also established the Din-I Ilahi religion made up of the elements of Islam and Hinduism, mixed with the teachings of Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
In 1501 Shah Ismail established the first capital of the great Safavid Empire at Tabriz, Persia. Ismail himself a descendant from a mystical Sufi family, established a form of Islam in Persia known as Shi’a and the Safavid Empire saw the rise of poetry, art and architecture. Later in 1557 Shah Abass would move the capital to Isfahan and create a great building program - Isfahan meaning ‘half the earth’. Safavid Persian trade prospered at this time in a country that maintained a religious tolerance.
Suleiman the Magnificent was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, now modern day Turkey, from 1520 until his death in 1566. He was a distinguished poet and goldsmith; he also became a great patron of culture, overseeing the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire in its artistic, literary and architectural development.
Dunn, Ross E., The Adventures of Ibn Battuta (pp. 1-3). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Starr Frederick, S., Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2015
Bragg Melvin, Professor Gleave R, Loosley Emma, Newman Andrew, In Our Time: The Safavid Empire, BBC Podcasts, In Our Time, Jan 12, 2002
Frankopan Peter, Silk Roads – A New History of the World, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015
Mackie Louis, W., Symbols of Power - Luxury Textiles from Islamic Lands, 7th-21st Century, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2015
Tseng Marie C., Sacred Ikat – From Heirloom to Trade, Dept of Museums Malaysia, 2011
Side A: The 14th Century and the cultures of the overland Silk Route
Morocco – Carved stone ceiling decoration from Bou Inania, madrasa, Fez, AD1350, Marinid Period
Egypt – Hanging with rows of peahens and palmettes, Egypt, al-Bahnasa, Tulunid period, 9thC. The Textile Museum, Washington DC. - Four Horsemen in roundels, Baptistere de Saint Louis, Mamluk, Egypt and Syria, 1320-40, Louvre, Paris
Persia – Winged Lions in roundel, silk, Iran, Buyid or Seljuq period, 11thC. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Selected images from fabrics of the period. Pilgrim Caravan, from the Maqamat of al-Hariri, Bagdad, 1237, Bibliotheque Nationale de France.
India - Printed ceremonial textile, Jain Style, Gujarat, India, The Met Museum, New York. late14th Century
China - Yuan Dynasty, painted blue cobalt vase decoration with motifs on the neck derived from Central Asia.
Side B – The 15th Century and the First Age of Discovery
China - Mandarin Square, Qing Dynasty, 7th Scholar class represented by the symbol of the Mandarin Duck. Collection unknown.
Sumatra - Legendary Serpents, Ceremonial Textile, Malaysia Museums, 19th C. Sacred Ikat (Tampan), Sarawak, Lampung Culture, cotton woven textile, silver wrapped thread, silk, The Met Museum, New York, 19th Century
Persia – Falconer and Attendant – velvet silk and gilt metal thread from robe. Iran, Kashan, Safavid period, med 16th century. Cleveland Museum of Art.
Dragon slayers - Iran, Safavid period, 2nd half 16thCentury. Lampas: silk and metal thread, State Armoury Museum, Moscow.
Turkey – Tulips on Vine, brocaded velvet, Turkey, Bursa or Istanbul, mid 16th century, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Ship, Iznik surrounded by Cloud Pattern on tiles, Topkapi Palace, 15th Century, Istanbul.
Spain – Crowned Lions, palmettes, Granada, Nasrid or Christian period, 15th -16th century, Cleveland Museum of Art surrounded by stone carving from Bou Inania, madrasa, Morocco.