The World of The Rihla

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11328

Do you find the idea of a medieval bazaar kind of bizarre? Discover the world of Ibn Battuta. Historians use ancient writings to find out about the world. Dig into the past and create a documentary!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Dig through your family's collection of old photographs sometime. Instead of looking at the people, though, look behind them and around them. You will notice all kinds of interesting artifacts that tell a story about that time. It might be the 1950s, the 1970s, or the early 2000s, but you will find traces of a time that is now past. Try it and see what objects you can find! It could be a kind of carpet, cars, toys, or other objects. It might be the way people dressed or styled their hair. Ask your parent or teacher about those things and what they reveal about that era.

Historians do the same thing with a text. Using sources like Ibn Battuta's Rihla, they can gather a lot of useful information about the time periods they represent.

The best way to learn about cultures of the past would be to get into a time machine and go visit the peoples and places of bygone eras, take photographs and videos, conduct interviews, then bring all that information back and process it.

That being impossible at the moment, the second best way is to read a first-hand account by someone who did that work for us. Fortunately, we have people like Ibn Battuta, and his book, The Rihla, to rely upon for information about the medieval world.

If you missed or would like to review the first lesson in our The Journey of Ibn Battuta series, find it in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons.

Ibn Battuta is famous now — six centuries after his legendary life — for traveling. He set out in his early twenties from his home in Morocco. Initially aiming to go to Mecca, he continued his travels for another three decades!

Ibn Battuta made observations on a range of themes. By focusing on a passage, we can extract a great deal of information about a time and place.

Take a look at the passage below. As you do, write down any information you discover about the time, place, and people Ibn Battuta encountered:

The riches of the Ghazan bazaar in Tabriz: The next morning I entered the town and we came to a great bazaar, called the Ghazan bazaar, one of the finest bazaars I have seen the world over. Every trade is grouped separately in it. I passed through the jewelers' bazaar, and my eyes were dazzled by the varieties of precious stones that I beheld. They were displayed by beautiful slaves wearing rich garments with a waist-sash of silk, who stood in front of the merchants, exhibiting the jewels to the wives of the Turks, while the women were buying them in large quantities and trying to outdo one another. As a result of all this I witnessed a riot—may God preserve us from such! We went on into the ambergris and musk market, and witnessed another riot like it or worse.

What did you discover? Based on Ibn Battuta's description, can you put yourself back in that time?

Now read the passage one more time. Be sure to look up any difficult words or terms using or using an Internet search. While you read this time, however, list any information you can locate in the passage about

  • architecture.
  • commerce.
  • events.
  • customs.
  • other details.

Did you find more information this time? Share the passage and your findings with a parent or teacher. Reflect on the following questions and discuss:

  • In what ways is a text passage from times past like an old photograph?
  • How could this passage be of value to historians?
  • If you were a historian, what other sources or evidence would you seek out to deepen your understanding of the time and place Ibn Battuta described in this passage?

You have had a little practice at unpacking a piece of text and pulling out some of the valuable historical details. In the Got It? section, you will broaden your historical investigation to include other parts of The Rihla.

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