Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah

BOOK: Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
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Also by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

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Landfalls: On the Edge of Islam from Zanzibar to the Alhambra

The Travels of Ibn Battutah (

First published in Great Britain in 2001 by John Murray (Publishers)
An Hachette UK company

Text © Tim Mackintosh-Smith 2001
Illustrations © Martin Yeoman 2001

The right of Tim Mackintosh-Smith to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Maps drawn by Martin Collins

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-84854-676-9

John Murray (Publishers)
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH

‘If you are a son of this Maghrib of ours and wish for success, then head for the land of the east!’

Ibn Jubayr of Valencia (d. 1217),

‘I have milked the teats of Time, pair after pair,

Wandered the world around,

And rivalled al-Khadir in my circumambulations.’

Abu Dulaf (tenth century),
The Ode of the Banu Sasan

, of Aden,
Professor Alan Jones, of Oxford,
two outstanding teachers



Also by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Title Page




Prefatory Note


Preamble: Lust and Lore

Morocco: One End of the World

The Delta: A Dark and Greenish Country

Cairo: The Palace on Crimson Street

Upper Egypt: Eastward from Edfu

Damascus: The Shilling in the Armpit

Northern Syria: Old Men of the Mountains

Oman: The Coast of the Fish-eaters

Dhofar: The Importance of Being Rasulid

Kuria Muria: Minor Monuments

Anatolia: Hajji Baba, the Skystone and Other Mysteries

The Crimea: Fourteenth-century Features

Constantinople: Talking about Jerusalem

Bibliographical Note


Prefatory Note

(hereafter IB) spent half a lifetime on his journeys and travelled some 75,000 miles. I grappled with the logistics of covering his
in one volume of my own, and lost. This book deals therefore with the first stage of his journey, from Tangier to Constantinople; another one – perhaps other ones – will follow him to further parts. In many places I have shadowed him more or less closely. Elsewhere I have dropped in on him. I have left gaps, and sometimes big ones. I only wish I had the odd thirty years to spare, and IB’s enviable knack of extracting large amounts of cash, robes and slaves from compliant rulers.

For reasons of clarity and conciseness, I have made a few alterations to the Hakluyt Society’s English translation by Gibb of the
. Computers tend to treat my Ibn Battutah and Gibb’s Ibn Battuta as two distinct persons. They are, of course, identical. The final
is a matter of taste, which is not among the criteria of electronic indexing.



IB was born in Tangier in 1304. His family were of Berber origin but thoroughly Arabized; they belonged to the educated classes and had a tradition of serving as
Islamic judges. Nothing is known of IB’s youth, but he probably received the scholastic training usual to his class. At the age of 21 he set out on the Pilgrimage to Mecca. So far so unremarkable; but let us turn to the notice of him from Ibn Hajar’s
Concealed Pearls,
a biographical dictionary of the fourteenth century:

Ibn al-Khatib says: “Ibn Battutah had a modest share of the sciences. He journeyed to the East in the month of Rajab 725 [1325], travelled through its lands, penetrated into Iraq al-Ajam, then entered India, Sind and China, and returned through Yemen … In India, the king appointed him to the office of
He came away later and returned to the Maghrib [the western Islamic world, i.e. north-west Africa and Muslim Spain], where he related his doings and what had befallen him, and what he had learned of the people of different lands. Our
Abu ’l-Barakat Ibn al-Balfiqi told us of many strange things which Ibn Battutah had seen. Among them was that he claimed to have entered Constantinople and to have seen in its church twelve thousand bishops. He subsequently crossed the Strait to the Spanish coast, and visited the Negrolands. Thereafter the ruler of Fez summoned him and commanded him to commit his travels to writing

I have seen in the handwriting of Ibn Marzuq the statement … that Ibn Battutah lived to the year 770 [1368–9] and died while holding the office of
in some town or other. Ibn Marzuq also said: “And I know of no person who has travelled through so many lands as Ibn Battutah did on his travels, and he was withal generous and welldoing



Lust and Lore

‘A book is a visitor whose visits may be rare, or frequent, or so continual that it haunts you like your shadow and becomes a part of you.’

al-Jahiz (d. 868–9),
The Book of Animals

just arrived here in San’a from a Russian lady, Nina Suvorova. She writes on lightly scented paper from the Crimean port of Feodosia, a place still known to Tatars and to Turks of the older generation as Keffe. Nina was very pleased, she says, to receive my letter on the eve of the New Year. ‘But there are no more letters from you. Maybe you went somewhere … How is Battutah? I often recollect your eyes and your expression talking about Battutah, and how we called you Battutah.’


I first met Ibn Battutah – strictly, Nina is incorrect to drop the ‘Ibn’ – in San’a, in the Greater Yemen Bookshop, so small that all the departments are within the diameter of a swung cat. I wasn’t looking for him; it was a chance encounter – better, as the saying goes, than a thousand appointments.

Not long before, while I was eating a boiled potato from a barrow on the street outside my house, I felt a tap on my elbow. It was a neighbour, a man who takes gentle pleasure in publicly eroding my bookish reputation. ‘Where does the word
, potato, come from?’ he asked. Without waiting for an answer he said, ‘Haven’t you heard of IB? Battutah …
,’ and disappeared.

It seemed plausible, for about a nanosecond. Then I thought:
IB lived in the old, pre-potato world … didn’t he? Of course I had heard of him. He was the most famous Arab traveller. And that, I realized, was the extent of my knowledge.

So, while I wasn’t looking for him, he was filed under ‘Shameful Gaps in Knowledge’ in some dusty lobe of my brain. And there he was, sitting on a shelf in the Greater Yemen Bookshop and bound in pillar-box red – or rather his
Tuhfat al-nuzzar fi ghara’ib al-amsar wa aja’ib al-asfar (The Precious Gift of Lookers into the Marvels of Cities and Wonders of Travel
; or perhaps, to preserve the original rhymed prose – an effect called
’, ‘the cooing of doves’ –
An Armchair Traveller’s Treasure: the Mirabilia of Metropolises and the Wonders of Wandering
; although maybe, to avoid music-hall levity, the
tout court
, is best). I looked at the Contents. There was an introduction, then on page ten we were off with ‘Departure from Tangier’. I turned to the text: ‘My departure from Tangier, my birthplace, took place on Thursday the second of the month of God, Rajab the Unique, in the year seven hundred and twenty-five …’ Chapter and verse:
725 was
1325, give or take a year – the Middle Ages. Potatoes were still slumbering in the pre-Columbian sod.

BOOK: Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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