Category: Ibn Battutah (page 1 of 4)

Comparison of Ibn Battutah Modern Map and Medieval Map

There are marked differences between the modern map of Ibn Battuta’s travels and the medieval map of his travels. The most obvious difference is that the modern map is intended to be geographically accurate and is made with satellite imaging. Ibn al-Wardi’s map was not intended to be geographically accurate but was meant to represent a cosmological understanding of the world. Because of this, the medieval map and travel route depicted on it is completely distorted. The distances between locations appears shorter than it is. It also represents bodies water in more abstract ways, not accurately depicting the coastlines and river distances. It makes the Nile River look incredibly wide when it is compared with the Arabian sea. Because bodies of water are distorted, medieval people’s understanding of the size and scope of them may not have been clear. There is also the issue of what the map is centered on. For the modern map, any place in the world can be chosen as the “center.” It is all arbitrary because it is a globe. When you click on the map, it automatically centers around the middle of the Arabian desert because that is the most central point in relation to all the points located on the map. The medieval map is completely different. Because it is a cosmological map, it has Medina and Mecca directly in the center. This indicates their importance and the centrality of Islam to life and their understanding of the universe. Medina and Mecca are towards the bottom of the modern map. Overall, it is interesting to compare the two maps because the intentions behind their creation and representation are completely different, which causes them to look different. It is important to note that the points I chose for Ibn Battutah are all located in the Middle East, which is shown at least semi-accurately on the map. If I had chosen points in sub-Saharan Africa, India, or China, the points would not have made any sense at all because these locations are distorted on the medieval map.

Ibn Battutah Modern Map

Locations in order visited: Alexandria, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Medina, Mecca, Messhed Ali (Najaf), Basra, Shiraz, Baghdad

Ibn Battutah Medieval Map


Locations in order visited: Alexandria, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Medina, Mecca, Messhed Ali (Najaf), Basra, Shiraz, Baghdad

Ibn Battutah Modern Map (Visualization)


Ibn Battuta Medieval Travel Map (Written Analysis)

Using collected information from the fourteenth century narrative, The Travels of Ibn Battutah, and modern mapping techniques, it has been possible to map the early stages of Ibn Battutah’s pilgrimage and exploration. While one map shows Battutah’s journey through Google Earth’s digital mapping software, the other map marks his journey on a digitized copy of the Hereford Mappa Mundi. Both maps display the same ten locations that Battutah first visits, starting in Tlemcen, Morocco, and ending in Alexandria, Egypt, however each map provides a unique display of these points. Mapping the same part of Battutah’s journey on two different types of maps, one being modern and the other medieval, shows both the different purposes of each map as well as the shared characteristics that remained consistent over the span of seven hundred years.

Because the modern map uses a mercator projection while the medieval map uses a T-O projection, these two maps have different orientations and  geographic features that alter the appearance of Battutah’s journey. The Hereford Mappa Mundi, which has an eastern orientation, places Tlemcen, Morocco near the bottom of the map and Alexandria, Egypt, near the middle. The digital map, however, has a northern orientation, and places Tlemcen near the left of the map and Alexandria further to the right. Although both maps show that Battutah traveled eastward, this direction of travel has more meaning on the Hereford Map due to the religious beliefs, as depicted on the map, associating an eternal “Paradise” with the East. By traveling in an upward direction, Battutah gets closer to the Garden of Eden,“Paradise”, and God/Allah, as depicted at the top of the map. The Hereford Map acts as a geographic and a spiritual reference, so it makes sense that the religious importance of this eastward movement is portrayed only on the medieval map.

The differing orientations made it difficult to translate the points from the modern map onto the medieval map, however the major water masses portrayed on both maps made this process more feasible. This section of Battutah’s journey occurred along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, so it was helpful to locate this body of water and then map the points in relation to it. Mapping the points in relation to a geographic feature results in less precise markers, but this method was necessary considering the major differences between the two maps. 

The spatial distance between each of the marked points, however,  remains relatively similar across the two maps. Even though the Hereford Map distorts the sizes of Asia, Africa, and Europe on a large scale, the sizes of individual countries in Africa are more realistic, at least along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in relation to each other. Battutah passes through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt during this section of his pilgrimage; the first eight cities he visits are more clustered together, while the last two cities he visits, Tripoli, Libya, and Alexandria, Egypt, have a greater distance between them. Both maps show that Battutah traveled the longest the distance going from Tripoli to Alexandria, and the second longest distance going from Gabes to Tripoli. This similarity shows that even when maps have different orientations or scales, it is still possible to show the general relation between locations.

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