Ibn Battutah has taken me to Syria in ‘The Travels’ while I have not even pushed him past the Maghreb in my blog. Need to pick up speed. So I am going to vault to Egypt. Though he describes Gabes, Tripoli and Alexandria on the way, he singles out Cairo and the Nile for fulsome praise. Here are a couple of passages:


“It is said that in Cairo there are twelve thousand water-carriers who transport water on camels, and thirty thousand hirers of mules and donkeys, and that on its Nile, there are thirty-six thousand vessels belonging to the sultan and his subjects, which sail upstream to Upper Egypt and downstream to Alexandria and Damietta, laden with goods and commodities of all kinds. On the bank of the Nile opposite Cairo is the place known as al-Rawdah (The Garden), which is a pleasure park and promenade, containing many beautiful gardens. The people of Cairo are fond of pleasure and amusement. I once witnessed a fete there, which was held for al-Malik al-Nasir’s recovery from a fracture which he had suffered in his hand. All the merchants decorated their bazaars and had rich stuffs, ornaments, and silken fabrics hung up in their shops for several days.”

The Nile

“The Egyptian Nile surpasses all rivers of the earth in sweetness of taste, breadth of channel and magnitude of utility. Cities and villages succeed one another along its banks without interruption and have no equal in the inhabited world, nor is any river known whose basin is so intensively cultivated as that of the Nile. The course of the Nile is from the south to the north, contrary to all the great rivers. One extraordinary thing about it is that it begins to rise in extreme hot weather, at the time when rivers generally diminish and dry up, and begins to subside at the time when rivers increase in volume and overflow.”

Ibn Battutah had a great love for trivia, something which makes reading ‘The Travels’ all the more enjoyable. The rising of the Nile he mentions is down to heavy precipitation over the Ethiopian Highlands to the far south.

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and scanned from a book, ‘Egypt Painted & Described’ (A & C Black), authored by the British Orientalist and landscape artist, Robert Talbot Kelly (1861-1934). This was Kelly’s first illustrated travel book. Like Ibn Battutah, he too loved foreign lands, moving to North Africa in 1883, learning Arabic and traversing the Egyptian countryside. Kelly then visited Burma, producing ‘Burma Painted & Described’.

Reference: The Travels of Ibn Battutah (edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith)