Medieval Geographers. Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta. Marco Polo. Born : 1254 in Venice, Italy Traveled : 1271-1295 Died : 1324. Marco Polo. Probably the most famous Westerner who traveled the Silk Road. Excelled in his determination, writing and influence.
Marco Polo and
1254 in Venice, Italy
This medieval manuscript illustration shows Marco Polo (along with his father, Niccolò, and his uncle, Maffeo) beginning their famous trip from Italy to China in 1271. For many years Polo’s book, The Description of the World, was the only account of such places as China, Thailand (then Siam), Japan, Java, Vietnam, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Tibet, India, and Myanmar (then known as Burma). The book also served as a stimulus to Christopher Columbus’ journey to the New World in 1492. The colored illuminated manuscript here dates from 1375. THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE/Corbis (http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/RefMedia.aspx?refid=461532061&artrefid=761556866&sec=-1&pn=1)
Kublai Khan and a “tablet of safe passage” given to Marco and his family on their travels
1304 in Tangier, Morocco
1325 – approx. 1355
1369 in Fez, Morocco
Ibn Batutta traveled through much of the area within the green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.
Here is an example which describes Baghdad in the early 14th century:
"Then we traveled to Baghdad, the Abode of Peace and Capital of Islam. Here there are two bridges like that at Hilla, on which the people promenade night and day, both men and women. The baths at Baghdad are numerous and excellently constructed, most of them being painted with pitch, which has the appearance of black marble. This pitch is brought from a spring between Kufa and Basra, from which it flows continually. It gathers at the sides of the spring like clay and is shoveled up and brought to Baghdad. Each establishment has a number of private bathrooms, every one of which has also a washbasin in the corner, with two taps supplying hot and cold water. Every bather is given three towels, one to wear round his waist when he goes in, another to wear round his waist when he comes out, and the third to dry himself with."
In the next example Ibn Battuta describes in great detail some of the crops and fruits encountered on his travels:
"From Kulwa we sailed to Dhafari [Dhofar], at the extremity of Yemen. Thoroughbred horses are exported from here to India, the passage taking a month with favouring wind.... The inhabitants cultivate millet and irrigate it from very deep wells, the water from which is raised in a large bucket drawn by a number of ropes. In the neighborhood of the town there are orchards with many banana trees. The bananas are of immense size; one which was weighed in my presence scaled twelve ounces and was pleasant to the taste and very sweet. They also grow betel-trees and coco-palms, which are found only in India and the town of Dhafari."
Ancient travel map of Europe, northern Africa, green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.
and the Mediterranean region
Here is an excerpt from his travels through Turkey:
"From Alaya I went to Antaliya, a most beautiful city. It covers an immense area, and though of vast bulk is one of the most attractive towns to be seen anywhere, besides being exceedingly populous and well laid out. Each section of the inhabitants lives in a separate quarter. The Christian merchants live in a quarter of the town known as the Mina [the Port], and are surrounded by a wall, the gates of which are shut upon them from without at night and during the Friday service. The Greeks, who were its former inhabitants, live by themselves in another quarter, the Jews in another, and the king and his court and mamluks in another, each of these quarters being walled off likewise. The rest of the Muslims live in the main city. Round the whole town and all the quarters mentioned there is another great wall. The town contains orchards and produces fine fruits, including an admirable kind of apricot, called by them Qamar ad-Din, which has a sweet almond in its kernel. This fruit is dried and exported to Eqypt, where it is regarded as a great luxury."
This final example displays Ibn Battuta’s level of geographic detail:
"Then the Nile (Niger) comes down from Zagha to Tunbuktu (Timbuktu), then to Kawkaw (Gao), the two places we shall mention below. Then the river flows to Yufi (Nupe?), which is one of the biggest cities of the blacks. A white man cannot go there because they would kill him before he arrived there. Then the river comes down from there to the land of the Nubians who follow the Nasraniyya (Christian) faith, and on to Dunqula (Dongola), which is the biggest town in their land. ...Then it descends to the cataracts. This is the last district of the blacks and the first of Uswan (Aswan) in Upper Egypt."