Ibn Battuta's route in Spain and Mali

Thence [from Malaga] I went to on the city of Gharnata [Granada], the metropolis of Andalusia and the bride of its cities. Its environs have not their equal in any country in the world. They extend for the space of forty miles, and are traversed by the celebrated river of Shannil [Xenil] and many other streams. Around it on every side are orchards, gardens, flowery meads, noble buildings, and vineyards. One of the most beautiful places there is "Ayn ad-dama" [the Fountain of Tears], which is a hill covered with gardens and orchards and has no parallel in any other country. [from Gibb]

al-Andalus (Spain)

Ibn Battuta had left Morocco in 1325 at the age of 21 and by the time he returned he was about 45. But he was still interested in traveling and adventure. At the time of his return to Morocco, al-Andalus (Andalusia or Muslim Spain) was threatened by several Christian rulers who were trying to reconquer the land from the Muslims. The Arabic name for Spain, al-Andalus, means Land of the Vandals. This name reflects the fact that an ethnic group called the Vandals controlled the region when Muslim armies conquered it in the 8th century.

Ibn Battuta heard reports about the army of Alfonso XI of Castile who might try an attack on Gibraltar soon. Gibraltar was the only port on the northern shore of the strait that was still in Muslim hands. If Alfonso was successful, the Muslim cities in Andalusia would be in great danger of invasion.

camel image to indicate side trip Side Trip: How did Spain become part of DaR al-Islam?

Ibn Battuta heard about a Moroccan army of volunteers who would defend Gibraltar. He had taken up arms a couple of times in his career, and he felt strongly about this war against the Christian invaders. So he set off by boat with a small group of passionate warriors to Gibraltar in April, 1350. By the time he arrived, the immediate danger had passed. The Black Death had taken King Alfonso and many of the soldiers on both sides. The Strait of Gibraltar would remain under Muslim control for another 112 years! But he decided to continue on into al-Andalus as a tourist, not as a soldier.

This 1810 postcard (issued by LJ Stagnetto) shows the Rock of Gibraltar on the southwestern tip of Spain.

Now across the strait, he and his party met up with twelve other travelers. He wanted to join them, but he held back with his original group. The twelve travelers went on ahead. Later, Ibn Battuta learned that the twelve had been attacked: one of them murdered, one escaped, and the others taken prisoner to be held for ransom. He thanked God for delivering him from these pirates! Ibn Battuta spent the night in a castle and the next day an officer escorted the travelers safely on to Málaga.

Málaga had a magnificent mosque with a courtyard of "Valencia" orange trees, named after a neighboring city's sweet oranges. Here he met the qadi and preacher who were trying to raise money for the ransom of the unfortunate men that Ibn Battuta had almost joined.


View from inside the Alhambra

From Málaga he continued into the mountains, passed through Alhama (a town famous for its hot springs), and on to Granada.

Granada was a city of about 50,000. In earlier centuries Granada was a shining star of al-Andalus, but the expansion of the Christian armies would eventually force the Muslims out. Ibn Battuta saw Granada in the reign of Yusuf I (1333-54), a successful sultan who was beautifying the courtyards of the Alhambra, "the red fort." From the outside the Alhambra looks like a forbidding castle fortress, but inside it is a palace decorated with beautiful fountains, exquisitely decorated halls and courts, and delicate designs using Arabic calligraphy and colored tiles. The image to the right shows part of the palace's Court of the Lions.

Click the image below to take a virtual walking tour of the Alhambra. You will see the ornateness of the building and get a sense of the floor plan.

Click here to explore a virtual walking tour of the Alhambra, hosted by Aramco World.

Ibn Battuta may not have met the sultan himself because of the ruler's illness, but the sultan's mother sent him a purse of gold coins. He spent time resting in Sufi lodges and visiting the Muslim leaders. In the home of one jurist he met a 28-year-old named Ibn Juzayy. He was a writer of poetry, history, and law. The young man was fascinated with Ibn Battuta's stories of his travels and began to write down the names of some of the famous people that were named. The meeting was short, but in two and a half years, Ibn Juzayy would be writing down in proper form a complete record of Ibn Battuta's travels.

What did Ibn Battuta eat in al-Andalus?

For actual Islamic recipes from the Middle Ages 10th - 15th centuries (900s - 1400s) see, Cariadoc's Miscellany: An Islamic Dinner. This site is prepared by a member of Creative Anachronisms Society (a group that likes to dress up and act as if they lived in the Middle Ages or during the Renaissance), and the author has researched recipes from Islamic cookbooks, mostly from Andalusia (Islamic Spain) and Baghdad (in Iraq). It has approximately 140 authentic recipes that can be made today.

Back to Morocco

At the end of 1350 Ibn Battuta returned to Morocco. He had traveled throughout much of the Islamic World, but he had never seen much of his homeland, Morocco. So for the next several months he was a traveler again. He went down the Atlantic coast to Asilah, visited Salé, and then rode south across the coastal plains to Marrakech, a capital of the earlier sultans. He was saddened by that once great city. The Black Death and the movement of people to the new capital, Fez, had left it empty with many fine buildings becoming dilapidated - even worse than Baghdad after the Mongol Invasion.

Ibn Battuta visited Marrakech in 1350, a time when the Black Plague had claimed much of the city's population. The traditional Middle Eastern city is walled with gates. Below you see that the walls of Marrakech were fortress-like, often 20 to 30 feet thick and 30 to 40 feet high.

walls of Marrakesh

This image shows the walls of Marrakesh.

Source: Orinigally from SPIRO at UC Berkeley, now housed at ARTstor.

This Gate of Guinea (Bab Agnaou) in the Marrakech wall was built by order of Sultan Yaacoub el Mansour in 1185. It is one of 19 gates built during the 12th century.

Source: Donar Reiskoffer - Own work, GFDL.