Ibn Battuta’s Fabled Travels
According to the “Rihla”, Ibn Battuta visited Mecca three times. Such accounts are dubious. Let’s do a brief re-cap of his (alleged) journey.
The first visit supposedly occurred c. 1326, when he was 22 years old. Hailing from the Marinid sultanate in Morocco, he traversed the Maghreb to the port-city of Alexandria in Mamluk Egypt. As the story goes, after visiting Cairo, he went to the port-city of Aydhab…from which he traveled to…Damascus. From there, he ventured eastward all the way into the Ilkhanate of Persia. We are told that it was between Damascus and Persia that he visited Medina and Mecca. This makes no sense. Clearly, had he wanted to visit Mecca, traversing the Red Sea from Aydhab would have been the prime occasion. What is most likely: He went to Aydhab to sail up to Aila (Aqaba), from which he would follow the established route up to Syria. A trip to Damascus would have made perfect sense.
In any case, on his way back from Persia the next year, Ibn Battuta stopped in Baghdad, then headed north to Tabriz. From there, he ventured to Nineveh / Kurdistan. His path took him from Sinjar to Mosul, and then back to Baghdad. Next, he traveled all the way down to Yemen (at the time, ruled by the Rasulids). The second visit to Mecca supposedly occurred during that trip (in the late 1320’s); yet, again, this is unlikely, as he would have SAILED from the port-city of Aila (Aqaba) to the Yemeni port-city of Muza (Mokha). He then went the Yemeni port-city of Eudaemon Arabia (Aden); and, from there, he sailed to the port-city of Zeila on the African Horn…at which point he visited the capital of the Ajuran Sultanate (Sarapion; a.k.a. “Mogadishu”). He then ventured down the Swahili coast to Kilwa Kisiwani. From there, he supposedly visited Mecca for the third time (c. 1330).
His next travels brought him to the far north, through Anatolia (where he purportedly visited Iconium and Erzurum)…and then north-eastward, up through the Caucuses, to the capital of the Kipchak Khanate, Astrakhan (in the domain of the Golden Horde). In 1333, he joined an expedition from Astrakhan to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. We are told that he then returned to Astrakhan, whereupon he decided to venture deeper into the Eurasian Steppes, where he visited Sarai.
(Or so the story goes.)
Next, we are told that he traveled the Silk Road to Balkh and Bukhara…before finally ending up at the capital of the Chagatai Khanate: Samarkand. Thereafter, he purportedly ventured across the Hindu Kush into northern India, where he visited the Sultanate of Delhi. From there, we’re told that he traveled south to the Kingdom of Kozhikode (Calicut) in the Malabar region of India…before going to…China. According to the official story, he eventually made it as far southeast as Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. And what then? Well, the next we hear, he is suddenly back in Morocco. (!) From there, he would go north into Andalusia; then south into the Mali Empire. His last sojourn involved accompanying a caravan transporting 600 female slaves back to Morocco from the Kingdom of Takedda.
So what’s the REAL story? It is possible that he made it as far as Samarkand. It’s more likely, though, that after he visited Constantinople in 1333, he headed back to the Magreb (rather than, as the story goes, to the farthest southeast reaches of Asia). Because so many of his exploits were farcical, what with all the cribbing from earlier sources, it is not unreasonable to assume that the purported visits to Mecca were likewise confabulations.