Ludovico di Varthema

Ludovico di Varthema

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Ludovico di Varthema, also known as Barthema and Vertomannus (c. 1470-1517) was an Italian
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 traveller and diarist, known for being the first non-Muslim European to enter Mecca
Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

 as a pilgrim
Hajj
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so...

. Nearly everything that is known about his life comes from his own account of his travels, Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese, published in Rome in 1510.

First explorations and journey to Mecca


Varthema was born in Bologna
Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

.

He was perhaps a soldier before beginning his distant journeys, which he undertook apparently from a passion for adventure, novelty and the fame which (then especially) attended successful exploration.

He left Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 near the end of 1502. Early in 1503 he reached Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 and ascended the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 to Cairo
Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

. From Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 he sailed to Beirut
Beirut
Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon, with a population ranging from 1 million to more than 2 million . Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport, and also forms the Beirut Metropolitan...

 and thence travelled to Tripoli
Tripoli, Lebanon
Tripoli is the largest city in northern Lebanon and the second-largest city in Lebanon. Situated 85 km north of the capital Beirut, Tripoli is the capital of the North Governorate and the Tripoli District. Geographically located on the east of the Mediterranean, the city's history dates back...

, Aleppo
Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

 and Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, where he managed to get himself enrolled, under the name of Yunas (Jonah), in the Mamluk garrison. From Damascus he made the pilgrimage
Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

 to Mecca and Medina
Medina
Medina , or ; also transliterated as Madinah, or madinat al-nabi "the city of the prophet") is a city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, and serves as the capital of the Al Madinah Province. It is the second holiest city in Islam, and the burial place of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, and...

 as one of the Mamluk
Mamluk
A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

 escort of the Hajj caravan (April-June 1503).
He describes the sacred cities of Islam and the chief pilgrim sites and ceremonies with remarkable accuracy, almost all his details being confirmed by later writers.

From the imprisonment to India


With the view of reaching India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, he embarked at Jeddah
Jeddah
Jeddah, Jiddah, Jidda, or Jedda is a city located on the coast of the Red Sea and is the major urban center of western Saudi Arabia. It is the largest city in Makkah Province, the largest sea port on the Red Sea, and the second largest city in Saudi Arabia after the capital city, Riyadh. The...

, a city-port around 80 km west to Mecca, and sailed down the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

 and through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb
Bab-el-Mandeb
The Bab-el-Mandeb meaning "Gate of Grief" in Arabic , is a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, Djibouti and Eritrea, north of Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, and connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden...

 to Aden
Aden
Aden is a seaport city in Yemen, located by the eastern approach to the Red Sea , some 170 kilometres east of Bab-el-Mandeb. Its population is approximately 800,000. Aden's ancient, natural harbour lies in the crater of an extinct volcano which now forms a peninsula, joined to the mainland by a...

, where he was arrested and imprisoned as a Christian spy. By his own account, he gained his liberty after imprisonment both at Aden and Radaa because of a love affair with one on the sultan
Sultan
Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

as of Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

. Later, he made an extensive tour in south-west Arabia (visiting San‘a’), and took ship at Aden for the Persian Gulf
Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.The Persian Gulf was the focus of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War, in which each side attacked the other's oil tankers...

 and India. On the way he touched at Zeila
Zeila
Zeila, also known as Zaila , is a port city on the Gulf of Aden coast, situated in the northwestern Awdal region of Somalia.Located near the Djibouti border, the town sits on a sandy spit surrounded by the sea. It is known for its offshore islands, coral reef and mangroves. Landward, the terrain is...

 and Berbera
Berbera
Berbera is a city and seat of Berbera District in Somaliland, a self-proclaimed Independent Republic with de facto control over its own territory, which is recognized by the international community and the Somali Government as a part of Somalia...

 in Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

; he then (early in 1504) ran across to the Indian port of Diu in Gujarat, afterwards famous as a Portuguese
Portuguese Empire
The Portuguese Empire , also known as the Portuguese Overseas Empire or the Portuguese Colonial Empire , was the first global empire in history...

 fortress.

From Diu he sailed up the Gulf of Cambay to Gogo, and thence turning back towards the Persian Gulf made Julfar (just within the entrance of the gulf), Muscat
Muscat, Oman
Muscat is the capital of Oman. It is also the seat of government and largest city in the Governorate of Muscat. As of 2008, the population of the Muscat metropolitan area was 1,090,797. The metropolitan area spans approximately and includes six provinces called wilayats...

 and Ormuz. From Ormuz he seems to have journeyed across Persia to Herat
Herat
Herāt is the capital of Herat province in Afghanistan. It is the third largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of about 397,456 as of 2006. It is situated in the valley of the Hari River, which flows from the mountains of central Afghanistan to the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan...

, returning thence south-west to Shiraz
Shiraz, Iran
Shiraz is the sixth most populous city in Iran and is the capital of Fars Province, the city's 2009 population was 1,455,073. Shiraz is located in the southwest of Iran on the Roodkhaneye Khoshk seasonal river...

, where he entered into partnership with a Persian merchant, who accompanied him during nearly all his travels in South Asia.

After an unsuccessful attempt to reach Samarkand
Samarkand
Although a Persian-speaking region, it was not united politically with Iran most of the times between the disintegration of the Seleucid Empire and the Arab conquest . In the 6th century it was within the domain of the Turkic kingdom of the Göktürks.At the start of the 8th century Samarkand came...

, the two returned to Shiraz, came down to Ormuz, and took ship for India. From the mouth of the Indus, Varthema coasted down the whole west coast of India, touching at Cambay and Chaul
Chaul
Chaul is a former city of Portuguese India, now in ruins. It is located 60 km south of Mumbai, in Raigad District of Maharashtra state in western India....

: at Goa
Goa
Goa , a former Portuguese colony, is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located in South West India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its...

, whence he made an excursion inland to Bijapur
Bijapur, Karnataka
Bijapur Urdu:بیجاپور city is the district headquarters of Bijapur District of Karnataka state. Bijapur city is well known for its historical monuments of architectural importance built during the rule of Adil Shahi dynasty...

, at Cannanore
Kannur
Kannur , also known as Cannanore, is a city in Kannur district in the Indian state of Kerala. It is the administrative headquarters of the District of Kannur and 518km north of state capital Trivandrum. During British rule in India, Kannur was known by its old name Cannanore, which is still in...

, from which he again struck into the interior to visit Vijayanagar
Vijayanagara
Vijayanagara is in Bellary District, northern Karnataka. It is the name of the now-ruined capital city "which was regarded as the second Rome" that surrounds modern-day Hampi, of the historic Vijayanagara empire which extended over the southern part of India....

 on the Tungabhadra; and at Calicut (c. 1505), where he stops to describe the society, manners and customs of Malabar, as well as the topography
Topography
Topography is the study of Earth's surface shape and features or those ofplanets, moons, and asteroids...

 and trade of the city, the court and government of its sovereign (the Zamorin), its justice, religion, navigation and military organization.

Nowhere do Varthema's accuracy and observing power show themselves more strikingly. Passing on by the backwater of Kochi
Kochi (India)
Kochi , formerly Cochin, is a major port city on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea. Kochi is part of the district of Ernakulam in the state of Kerala. Kochi is often called by the name Ernakulam, which refers to the western part of the mainland Kochi...

, and calling at Kollam
Kollam
Kollam , often anglicized as ', is a city in the Indian state of Kerala. The city lies on the banks of Ashtamudi Lake on the Arabian sea coast and is situated about north of the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram...

 (formerly known as Quilon), he rounded Cape Comorin, and passed over to Ceylon (c. 1506). Though his stay here was brief (probably at Colombo
Colombo
Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital of the country, since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo...

), he learnt a good deal about the island, from which be sailed to Pulicat
Pulicat
Pulicat is a historic seashore town in Thiruvallur District, of Tamil Nadu state, South India. It is about 60 km north of Chennai and 3 km from Elavur, on the barrier island of Sriharikota, which separates Pulicat Lake from the Bay of Bengal. Pulicat lake is a shallow salt water lagoon...

, slightly north of Madras, then subject to Vijayanagar. Thence he crossed over to Tenasserim
Tanintharyi Division
Tanintharyi Region , is an administrative region of Myanmar, covering the long narrow southern part of the country on the Kra Isthmus. It borders with the Andaman Sea to the west and with the Tenasserim Hills, beyond which lies Thailand, to the east. To the north is the Mon State. The capital of...

 in the Malay Peninsula, to Bengal
Bengal
Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

, perhaps near Chittagong
Chittagong
Chittagong ) is a city in southeastern Bangladesh and the capital of an eponymous district and division. Built on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, the city is home to Bangladesh's busiest seaport and has a population of over 4.5 million, making it the second largest city in the country.A trading...

, at the head of the bay of Bengal, and to Pegu, in the company of his Persian friend and of two Chinese Christians whom he met at Bengal.

Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Nagapattinam


After some successful trading with the king of Pegu, Varthema and his party sailed on to Malacca, crossed over to Pider (or Pedir) in Sumatra
Sumatra
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia , and the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 with a population of 50,365,538...

, and thence proceeded to Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh is the provincial capital and largest city in the province of Aceh, Indonesia, located on the island of Sumatra, with an elevation of 35 meters. The city regency covers an area of 64 square kilometres and according to the 2000 census had a population of 219,070 people...

 and Monoch (one of the Moluccas), the farthest eastward points reached by the Italian traveller.

From the Moluccas he returned westward, touched at Borneo
Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located north of Java Island, Indonesia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia....

, and there chartered a vessel for Java, the largest of islands, as his Christian companions reckoned it. He notes the use of compass and chart by the native captain on the transit from Borneo to Java, and preserves a curious, more than half-mythical, reference to supposed Far Southern lands.

From Java he crossed over to Malacca
Malacca
Malacca , dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south...

, where he and his Persian ally parted from the Chinese Christians. From Malacca he returned to the Coromandel coast
Coromandel Coast
The Coromandel Coast is the name given to the southeastern coast of the Indian Subcontinent between Cape Comorin and False Divi Point...

, and from Nagapattinam
Nagapattinam
Nagapattinam is a town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the administrative headquarters of Nagapattinam District. It is a prominent seaport on the east coast of India and an important centre of trade and commerce.The town of Nagapattinam dates back to the Sangam period...

 in Coromandel he voyaged back, round Cape Comorin, to Kulam and Calicut.

Return to Europe


Varthema was now anxious to resume Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and return to Europe.
After some time he succeeded in deserting to the Portuguese garrison at Cannanore (early in 1506). He fought for the Portuguese in various engagements, and was knighted by the viceroy
Viceroy
A viceroy is a royal official who runs a country, colony, or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. A viceroy's province or larger territory is called a viceroyalty...

 Francisco de Almeida
Francisco de Almeida
Dom Francisco de Almeida , also known as "the Great Dom Francisco" , was a Portuguese nobleman, soldier and explorer. He distinguished himself as a counsellor to King John II of Portugal and later in the wars against the Moors and in the conquest of Granada in 1492...

, the navigator Tristão da Cunha
Tristão da Cunha
Tristão da Cunha was a Portuguese explorer and naval commander. In 1514 he served as ambassador from king Manuel I of Portugal to Pope Leo X leading a luxurious embassy presenting in Rome the new conquests of Portugal...

 being his sponsor.

For a year and a half he acted as Portuguese factor at Kochi
Kochi (India)
Kochi , formerly Cochin, is a major port city on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea. Kochi is part of the district of Ernakulam in the state of Kerala. Kochi is often called by the name Ernakulam, which refers to the western part of the mainland Kochi...

, and on the 6th of December 1507 he finally left India for Europe by the Cape route. Sailing from Cannanore, Varthema apparently struck Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 about Malindi
Malindi
Malindi is a town on Malindi Bay at the mouth of the Galana River, lying on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. It is 120 kilometres northeast of Mombasa. The population of Malindi is 117,735 . It is the capital of the Malindi District.Tourism is the major industry in Malindi. The city is...

, and (probably) coasting by Mombasa
Mombasa
Mombasa is the second-largest city in Kenya. Lying next to the Indian Ocean, it has a major port and an international airport. The city also serves as the centre of the coastal tourism industry....

 and Kilwa arrived at Mozambique
Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

, where he noticed the Portuguese fortress then building, and described with his usual accuracy the Negroes of the mainland.

Beyond the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

 he encountered furious storms, but arrived safely in Lisbon
Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

 after sighting St Helena and Ascension Island
Ascension Island
Ascension Island is an isolated volcanic island in the equatorial waters of the South Atlantic Ocean, around from the coast of Africa and from the coast of South America, which is roughly midway between the horn of South America and Africa...

 and touching at the Azores
Azores
The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, and is located about west from Lisbon and about east from the east coast of North America. The islands, and their economic exclusion zone, form the Autonomous Region of the...

. In Portugal the king received him cordially, kept him some days at court to learn about India, and confirmed the knighthood conferred by d'Almeida.

Legacy


His narrative finally brings him to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, where he takes leave of the reader. As Richard Francis Burton
Richard Francis Burton
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS was a British geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia, Africa and the Americas as well as his...

 said in his book The Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah:
Varthema's work (Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese) was first published in Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

at Rome in 1510. Other Italian editions appeared at Rome, 1517, at Venice, 1518, 1535, 1563, 1589, &c., at Milan, 1519, 1523, 1525. Latin translations appeared at Milan, 1511 (by Archangelus Madrignanus); and at Nuremberg, 1610.