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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.

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Medieval geographers l.jpg

Medieval Geographers

Marco Polo and

Ibn Battuta


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Marco Polo

  • Born:

    1254 in Venice, Italy

  • Traveled:

    1271-1295

  • Died:

    1324


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Marco Polo

  • Probably the most famous Westerner who traveled the Silk Road.

  • Excelled in his determination, writing and influence.

  • His journey through Asia, which he began at the age of 16, lasted 24 years and reached further than any of his predecessors - beyond Mongolia to China.

  • He became a confidant of Kublai Khan (1214-1294), traveled much of China and returned to tell the tale, “The Description of the World,” which became a great and influential travelogue.



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Marco Polo

  • The Description of the World was very popular and had a tremendous impact on Europe in his day.

  • Known as IL MILIONE (“The Million Lies”) and Marco earned the nickname “Marco Milione” because few believed that his stories were true. Most Europeans dismissed the book as exotic fable (which some of it clearly was).

  • More than a hundred years passed before the stories were verified and many accepted as non-fiction.

  • Background on Europe & China during this period


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Marco Polo

  • His father and uncle, both merchants, traveled to China when Marco was a child.

  • He set out on a return journey with them in 1271 to travel to the Mongol Empire. They arrived in Shangdu at the court of Kublai Khan, Mongol ruler of China, in 1275.

  • Marco Polo found favor with the Khan, was appointed to high posts in his administration, and traveled a great deal in China as a result. He was amazed with China's enormous power, great wealth, and complex social structure.


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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)


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Kublai Khan and a “tablet of safe passage” given to Marco and his family on their travels


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Marco Polo Marco and his family on their travels

  • The account of his travels exercised deep influence on European readers. His book is a mix of accurate descriptions of things he saw and the passing along of fables about far away lands.

  • His systematic observations of nature, anthropology, and geography were ahead of his time.

  • For hundreds of years, his story was one of the only sources of European information about China (Columbus relied heavily on Marco Polo’s geography when planning his own voyage to reach Asian markets by sailing west from Europe).


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Mongol Empire Marco and his family on their travels


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Marco Polo Marco and his family on their travels

  • He received little recognition from the geographers of his time, but some of the information in his book was incorporated in important maps of the later Middle Ages.

  • His system of measuring distances by days' journey has turned out for later generations of explorers to be remarkably accurate.

  • Today topographers have called his work the precursor of scientific geography.


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Ibn Battuta Marco and his family on their travels

  • Born:

    1304 in Tangier, Morocco

  • Travels:

    1325 – approx. 1355

  • Died:

    1369 in Fez, Morocco


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Ibn Battuta Marco and his family on their travels

  • Arab equivalent of Marco Polo. He traveled much of the known world of his day and recorded volumes about the people and places he visited.

  • His travels began in 1325, when he was twenty-one years of age, on a Hajj, or Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. They lasted for about thirty years, covering about 75,000 miles, visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries.

  • He dictated accounts of his journeys, known as the famous Rihala (“My Travels”) of Ibn Battuta.

  • They are a valuable and interesting record of places which add to our understanding of the Middle Ages.


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Ibn Batutta traveled through much of the area within the green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.


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Ibn Battuta green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.

  • Only medieval traveler who is known to have visited the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time. He also traveled in Ceylon (present Sri Lanka), China and Byzantium and South Russia.

  • His sea voyages and references to shipping indicate that Muslims completely dominated the maritime activity of the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Chinese waters.

  • He visited China sixty years after Marco Polo and traveled far more extensively than his predecessor.

  • Throughout his travels he recorded descriptions of people, places and customs in vivid detail.


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Ibn Battuta 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."


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The medieval Muslim empire green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.


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Ibn Battuta green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.

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."


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Ancient travel map of Europe, northern Africa, green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.

and the Mediterranean region


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Ibn Battuta green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.

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."


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Painting of Muslim mosque and religious life green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.


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Ibn Battuta green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.

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."


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References green line. Compare with Marco Polo’s travels, indicated by the red line.

  • Marco Polo

    • http://www.silk-road.com/artl/marcopolo.shtml

    • http://www.silk-road.com/maps/images/polomap.jpg

    • http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/mpolo44-46.html

    • http://geography.about.com/library/weekly/aa081798.htm

    • http://www.kyrene.k12.az.us/schools/brisas/sunda/great/polo.jpg

    • http://www.tk421.net/essays/polo.shtml

    • http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/refarticle.aspx?refid=761556866

  • Ibn Battuta

    • http://www.sfusd.k12.ca.us/schwww/sch618/Ibn_Battuta/Ibn_Battuta_Rihla.html

    • http://www.ummah.net/history/scholars/ibn_battuta/

    • http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/batuta.html

    • http://www.manntaylor.com/battuta.html

    • http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/a_journey_battuta/


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