Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The World’s Greatest Traveller

Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta

(1304 to 1369)

"I left Tangiers, my birth place on Thursday, 13 June 1325 with the intention of going on pilgrimage to Mecca. I was alone, without companions, not in a caravan, but I was stirred by a powerful urge to reach my goal… I left my friends and my home, just as a bird leaves its parental nest. My father and mother were still alive, and with great pain, I parted with them. For me as for them, it was cause of insufferable illness. I was then only twenty two."

With these words, Ibn Battuta narrated the beginning of his journeys that would eventually take him to most parts of the known Islamic world and even beyond. Born in Tanger, Morocco, in 1304, he was a scholar and a judge, before he embarked on what was to become one of the greatest adventures of all times.

The narration of his adventures is known as “Ibn Battuta’s Rihla (Journey)”, and the original manuscript of his dictations is kept today in the National Library in Paris.

Muhammad Ibn Battuta
© Wikipedia

Over a period of almost 30 years, the traveller Ibn Battuta explored what would today be 44 countries in Africa, Europe and Asia. He covered some 117,000 kilometres, easily surpassing the performance of his almost-contemporary Venetian Marco Polo. What he brought back with him was a prime account of far-away kingdoms, foreign cultures and authentic adventure tales.

Despite his own words being the almost exclusive source of authentic storytelling, the details of his narration strongly suggest that at least most of it is in fact true and based on real personal experience.

Map of the Travels of Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo
© wwnorton.com

A number of literary sources deal with the extraordinary performance of Ibn Battuta as a traveller. Especially the English Arabist, writer and traveller Tim Macintosh-Smith has published widely on the medieval explorer from Morocco. He edited a modern version of the Rihla to bring back to life the insightful travel account from the fourteenth century.

© Macintosh-Smith

Ibn Battuta, Tim Macintosh-Smith
The Travels of Ibn Battuta 1325-1354
ISBN 0330418793

In another work, Tim follows the travels of his idol from Morocco via the Arabian Peninsula to Turkey in modern times. He looks for evidence from Ibn Battuta’s times and narrates encounters with a multitude of different people.

© Macintosh-Smith

Tim Macintosh-Smith
“Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam’s Greatest Traveler”
ISBN 0812971647

With the above recommended books providing a very rich and entertaining start into the world of the Arab traveller, here are some more links to Ibn Battuta:

Ibn Battuta at Wikipedia

Ibn Battuta at Muslim Heritage
Tim Macintosh-Smith
Wonderful Guided Trip by the SFUSD

Enjoy following Ibn Battuta, one of the greatest travellers of all times, on his fascinating journey across the world of the 14th century!

Andreas Hauser

Monday, 14 July 2008

Destination Report: Saudi Arabia

Mada’in Saleh enlisted as

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mada’in Saleh is ready: as the first site in the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia, it has recently been inscribed by the UNESCO in the World Heritage List.

UNESCO Inscription Mada'in Saleh

The Nabatean city, located 400 km north of the Holy City of Madinah and 25 km away from the biblical settlement of al-‘Ula, has for long been recognised as a potential world class attraction. The nomination as one of the world's historical sites of “outstanding universal value” finally acknowledges Mada’in Saleh’s status on the Arabian Peninsula. Until today, it has reached only a trickle of the attention that its sister city Petra in neighboring Jordan is getting – but this might change in the future.

Archaelogical Landscape of Mada'in Saleh

Mada’in Saleh (or al-Hijr in local language) was inhabited from approximately 200 BCE until 200 CE, first by the Thalmuds and then by the Nabateans. The latter established it firmly as a a trading station along the incense route across the Arabian Peninsula. While little remains of the urban structures in the centre of the site, remnants of walls, cisterns and water systems can still be found. The paramount highlight, however, are the surrounding mountains that boast a total of 131 tombs carved into the desert stone.

Rock Tombs in the Desert Sandstone

For those able to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its strict visa procedures, a visit to Mada’in Saleh via the starting base al-‘Ula is rather straightforward: access can be made by domestic flights or by car, and the desert town has a choice of two good hotels: the very friendly Mada’in Saleh Hotel and the Arac Hotel Al-Ula.

Morning Impressions of the Oasis at al-'Ula

Visiting the site of Mada’in Saleh requires a free permit to be obtained beforehand through the hotel or the tour operator. A thorough visit by 4x4 usually comprises two half-days, necessary to cover most of the sites around the 13 km² area and to enjoy the different lightning conditions in the morning and in the evening. A special site feature is a restored Hijaz Railway station where old locomotives of German origin can still be seen.

Restored Station of the Hijaz Railway

The Saudi General Commission for Tourism and Antiquities has welcomed the nomination by the UNESCO and currently contemplates suggesting more heritage sites for inclusion in the list. As part of the World Heritage, Mada’in Saleh will certainly get a boost in attention from local and international tourism. It is to be expected that in the near future, a thorough site management including interpretation centres will be established, thus strongly enhancing the visitor experience.

Unique Rock Formations in the Desert Landscape

Mada’in Saleh combines a unique scenery with outstanding cultural and historic heritage. Visiting it nowadays in the loneliness of the spectacular landscape simply leaves the interested onlooker breathless and in awe.

And from my personal experience I can only recommend to anyone going to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia not miss it – it is a true beauty in the Arabian desert.

Andreas Hauser

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Hidden Hotel Gems: Granada / Spain

Room Mate Migueletes

Turning an old building into a hotel can be an excellent form to provide tourists and travellers with a unique local accommodation experience. However, it takes a lot of time, money and dedication to create a real hotel gem. A prime example can be found in the Spanish city of Granada: Room Mate Migueletes.

The boutique hotel was created within the walls of a 17th-century mansion in the heart of Granada’s old town. Declared a ruin in 1995, the mansion was restored to its original splendour with all modern amenities. Located on the lower hills of the Albayzín, a UNESCO world heritage area, it is an ideal place to start exploring the enchanting sights of the city, including the world-famous Alhambra palace.

The Location in the Old Town of Granada

25 different rooms are set around an inner courtyard reflecting the historic heritage of the city. The rooms are rustily decorated wooden-beamed ceilings, handmade headboards and white linen, creating an extraordinary atmosphere of tranquillity in an urban setting. For those travellers looking for a “sense of place” wherever they go, Migueletes offers a truly intensive experience.

A Foto Gallery of Migueletes
© www.room-matehotels.com

Between standard rooms and suites, a special highlight is room number 26: built in a tower setting on top of the building, it offers prime views of the Alhambra above the surrounding roof tops, combined with a lovingly cool breeze during the hot summer months.

View of the Alhambra from Room No. 26

And last but not least, special mention goes to the highly motivated and personal service: multilingual and enthusiastic, the staff provides all sorts of extra information and treats for their guests – including the short-term reservation of incredibly romantic dinner locations…

Prices for a double room in Migueletes start at EUR90 including breakfast in low season – but it would also be well worth spending a little more to get spoiled with the amenities of a larger room.

Room Mate Migueletes
C/ Benalúa, 11 (Plaza Nueva)
Granada 18010
Reservations: +34 958 210700

Andreas Hauser