Rihla Book 12

Return Home 1346 - 1349

Battuta's Return Voyage and Fourth Hajj (blue line)

Rihla 12, 1346
Lost at Sea and a vision of the Rukh 1347

Mirage at Sea, watercolor by Gian Berto Vanni
Photo from a children's book by Vanni, tokinowasuremono.com

As we approached the land of Tawalisi, the wind changed, the sky darkened, and it rained heavily. We passed ten days without seeing the sun, and then entered a sea which we did not know. The crew of the junk became alarmed and wished to return to China, but that was out of the question. We passed forty-two days not knowing in what sea we were.

On the forty-third day there was visible to us at early dawn a mountain, projecting from the sea at a distance of about twenty miles, and the wind was carrying us straight towards it. The sailors were puzzled and said: "We are nowhere near land, and there is no record of a mountain in the sea. If the wind drives us on it we are lost." So all on board began to humble themselves and concentrate their thoughts on God, and renew their repentance.

Next morning when the sun rose we saw that the mountain had risen into the air, and that daylight was visible between it and the sea. We were amazed at this, and I saw the crew weeping, and taking farewell of one another. So I said: "What is the matter with you ?" They replied " What we thought was a mountain is the Rukh, and if it sees us it will make an end of us." Just then God in His mercy sent us a favourable wind, which turned us in another direction - so that wenever saw the mountain or learn its true shape.

Rihla 12, 1347
Return Voyage 1347

Two months after the experience with the Rukh we reached Jawa and landed at [the town of] Sumutra. We found its sultan al-Malik az-Zahir just returned from a raid, with a large train of captives. He sent me two girls and two boys, and lodged me in the usual manner. I was present at the marriage of his son to the daughter of the sultan's brother.

After two months' slay on this island I took a passage on a junk [Januar 1347]. The sultan on bidding me farewell, gave me a great deal of aloewood, camphor, cloves, and sandalwood. I left him and set sail, and after forty days [across the Indian Ocean] reached Kawlam [QuilonJ.

Rihla 12, 1347
Kawlam (Qilon) 1347

I disembarked in Kawlam and put up in proximity to the qadi of the Muslims; this was in Ramadan [January 1347] and I attended the festival prayer in the cathedral mosque there. From Kawlam we went on to Calicut, and stayed there for some days.

I intended to return to Delhi, but on second thoughts I had some fears about doing so, so I re-embarked and twenty-eight days later I arrived at Dhafari [Dhofar,Zfar], that being in Muharram of the year [seven hundred and] fort-yeight [end of April 1347]

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Masqat-Oman 1331+1347

The old town and harbor of Masqat-Oman
Photo Serge Kolkov, Panoramio

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Tadmur-Palmyra 1347

Palmyra Fort built by the Jinn
Photo tetrakinitos, Panoramio

Thereafter we journeyed to Tadmur [Palmyra], the city of Prophet Solomon, which was built for him by the jinn

Rihla 12, 1347
Aleppo 1347

Old etching of Aleppo
Photo templaricavalieri.it

When early in June 1347 we arrived in Aleppo we heard that the plague had broken out at Gaza, and that the number of deaths there reached over a thousand a day. On travelling to Hims I found that the plague had broken out there: about three hundred persons died of it on the day that I arrived.

So I went on to Damascus, and arrived there on a Thursday.

The number of deaths among the Damascenes had reached 2,400 a day. Thereafter I journeyed to Jerusalem, where I found that the ravages of the plague had ceased. We revisited Hebron, and thence went to Gaza, the greater part of which we found deserted because of the number of those who died there of the plague. I was told by the qadi that the number of deaths there reached 1,100 a day.

Rihla 12, 1348
The Black Death 1348

The Black Death,
Gilles le Musit, Royal Library of Belgium, Bridgeman Art Library
Image: Caroline Stone, Aramco

The Great Plague, or Black Death, swept from Central Asia to Europe,
killing an estimated one-third of the population wherever it spread.

In 1348 Battuta arrived in Damascus at the same time as the Black Death

"I saw a remarkable instance of the veneration in which the Damascenes hold their Umayyad Mosque during the great pestilence on my return journey through Damascus, in the latter part of July 1348.

The viceroy Arghun Shah ordered a crier to proclaim through Damascus that all the people should fast for three days and that no one should cook anything eatable from the market during the daytime. So the people fasted for three successive days, the last of which was a Thursday, then they assembled in the Great Mosque, amirs, sharifs, qadis, theologians, and all the other classes of the people, until the place was filled to overflowing, and there they spent the Thursday night in prayers and litanies.

After the dawn prayer next morning they all went out together on foot, holding Korans in their hands, and the amirs barefooted. The procession was joined by the entire population of the town, men and women, small and large; the Jews came with their Book of the Law and the Christians with their Gospel, all of them with their women and children. The whole concourse, weeping and supplicating and seeking the favour of God through His Books and His Prophets, made their way to the Mosque of the Footprints, and there they remained in supplication and invocation until near midday.

They then returned to the city and held the Friday service, and God lightened their affliction; for the number of deaths in a single day at Damascus did not attain two thousand, while in Cairo and Old Cairo it reached the figure of twenty-four thousand a day."

Battuta would wander back and forth in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt for several months searching for a way to avoid the plague.

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Damascus 1347/48

I arrived at Damascus, which I had visited twenty years before. I had left a wife of mine there pregnant, and I learned while I was in India that she had borne a male child, whereupon I had sent forty gold dinars in Indian money to the boy's maternal grandfather.

When I arrived in Damascus on this occasion I had no thought but to enquire after my son. I went to the mosque, where by good fortune I found Nur ad-Din as-Sakhawi, the imam and principal [shaykh] of the [Maroccan] Malikites. I greeted him but he did not recognize me, so I made myself known to him and asked him, about the boy. He replied " He is dead these twelve years."

He told me that a scholar from Tangier was living in the Zahiriya academy, so I went to see him, to enquire after my father and relatives. I found him to be a venerable shaykh, and when I had greeted him and told him the name of my family he informed me that my father had died fifteen years before and that my mother was still alive.

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Cairo 1348

We continued our journey overland to Damietta, and on to Alexandria. Here we found that the plague was diminishing in intensity, though the number of deaths had previously reached a thousand and eighty a day.

I then travelled to Cairo, where I was told that the number of deaths during the epidemic rose to twenty-one thousand a day.

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Fourth Hajj 1348/49

From Cairo I travelled through the Sa'id [Upper Egypt] to 'Aydhab, whence I took ship to Judda, and thence reached Mecca on the l6th November 1348.

After the pilgrimage of this year, in March 1349 I travelled with the Syrian caravan to Tayba [Madi'na], thence to Jerusalem, and back through Gaza to Cairo.

Rihla 3, 1331
Battuta's fourth and last Hajj to Mecca 1348/49

The Hira (Mt. Muzdalifah)
Photo MyStyLa, Panoramio

Rihla 12, 1349
After the pilgrimage of this year, in March 1349 I travelled with the Syrian caravan to Tayba [Madi'na], thence to Jerusalem, and back through Gaza to Cairo.

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Damietta 1349

In April-May 1349 took ship on a small trading-vessel belonging to a Tunisian from Safar [Damietta] and travelled to Jerba, where I disembarked. The vessel went on to Tunis, and was captured by the [Christian] enemies.

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A mosque in Djerba

From Jerba I went in a small boat to Qabis [Gabes], where I put up as the guest of the two illustrious brothers, Abu Marwan and Abu'l-Abbas, sons of Makki, the governors of Jerba and Gabes. I attended with them the festival of the birthday of the Prophet .

Thereafter I went by boat to Safaqus [Sfax] and continued by sea to Bulyana, from which point I travelled on land in the company of Arabs, and after some discomforts reached the city of Tunis, at the time when it was being besieged by the Arabs.

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Tunis 1349

I stayed at Tunis thirty-six days and then took ship with Catalans, who headed for the island of Sardaniya [Sardinia].

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Sardanya Sardinia 1349

The Bay of Cagligari, Sardinia
Photo PierpaoloScioni, Panoramio

We reached Sardaniya [Sardinia], one of the islands belonging to the Christians, where there is a wonderful harbour, with great baulks of wood in a circle round it and an entrance like a gateway, which is opened only if they give permission.

In the island there are fortified towns; we went into one of them, and [saw] in it a large number of bazaars. I made a vow to God to fast for two successive months if He should deliver us from this island, because we found out that its inhabitants were proposing to pursue us when we left to take us captive. We sailed away and ten days later reached the town of Tenes, then Mazuna, then Mustaghanim [Mostaganem], and so to Tilimsan [Tiemsen].

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Taza 1349

In the town of Taza I learned the news of my mother's death of the plague—may God the Most High have mercy on her.

Rihla 12, 1349, 1353-1377
Fez 1349

View of modern Fez
Photo Galen Freysinger

I arrived at the royal city of Fez on Friday, at the end of the month of Sha'ban of the year 750 [13th November 1349].

I presented myself before our most noble master, the most generous imam, the Commander of the Faithful, al-Mutawakkil Abu 'Inan—may God enlarge his greatness and humble his enemies. His dignity made me forget the dignity of the sultan of Iraq, his beauty the beauty of the king of India, his fine qualities the noble character of the king of Yemen, his courage the courage of the king of the Turks, his clemency the clemency of the king of the Greeks, his devotion the devotion of the king of Turkistan, and his knowledge the knowledge of the king of Jawa.

I laid down the staff of travel in his glorious land, having assured myself after unbiased consideration that it is the best of countries, for in it fruits are plentiful, and running water and nourishing food are never exhausted. Few indeed are the lands which unite all these advantages, and well spoken are the poet's words:

Of all the lands in the West by this token it's the best:
Here the full moon is spied and the sun speeds to rest.