Ludovico di Varthema
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Ludovico di Varthema, also known as Barthema and Vertomannus (c. 1470 – 1517), was an Italian traveller, diarist and aristocrat known for being the first non-Muslim European to enter Mecca as a pilgrim. 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.
Varthema was born in Bologna. 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.
Journey to Mecca
Varthema left Europe near the end of 1502. Early in 1503, he reached Alexandria and ascended the Nile to Cairo. From Egypt, he sailed to Beirut and thence travelled to Tripoli, Aleppo and Damascus, where he managed to get himself enrolled, under the name of Yunas (Jonah), in the Mamluk garrison. From Damascus, Varthema made the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina as one of the Mamluk 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.
India and Burma
With the view of reaching India, he embarked at Jeddah, a city-port around 80 km west to Mecca, and sailed down the Red Sea and through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb to Aden, 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 sultanas of Yemen. Later, he made an extensive tour in south-west Arabia (visiting San‘a’), and took ship at Aden for the Persian Gulf and India. On the way, he alighted at Zeila and Berbera in Somalia. He then in early 1504 traveled to the Indian port of Diu in Gujarat, which later became famous as a Portuguese 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 and Ormuz. From Ormuz he seems to have journeyed across Persia to Herat, returning thence south-west to Shiraz, 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, 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 (presentday Gujarat) and Chaul: at Goa, whence he made an excursion inland to Bijapur, at Cannanore, from which he again struck into the interior to visit Vijayanagar on the Tungabhadra; and at Calicut (c. 1505), where he stopped to describe the society, manners and customs of Malabar, as well as the topography 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, and calling at Kollam (formerly known as Quilon), he rounded Cape Comorin, and passed over to Ceylon (c. 1506). Though his stay here was brief (probably at Colombo), he learnt a good deal about the island, from which be sailed to Pulicat, slightly north of Madras, then subject to Vijayanagar. Thence he crossed over to Tenasserim in the Malay Peninsula, to Bengal, perhaps near Chittagong, at the head of the bay of Bengal, and to Pegu, Burma, 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, and thence proceeded to Banda Aceh and Monoch (one of the Moluccas), the farthest eastward points reached by the Italian traveller.
From the Moluccas, he returned westward, touched at Borneo, and there chartered a vessel for Java, the largest of islands, as his Christian companions reckoned it. Varthema 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, where Varthema and his Persian ally parted from the Chinese Christians. From Malacca, he returned to the Coromandel coast, and from Nagapattinam in Coromandel he voyaged back, round Cape Comorin, to Kulam and Calicut.
Return to Europe
Varthema was now anxious to resume Christianity 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 Francisco de Almeida, the navigator Tristão da Cunha being his sponsor.
For a year and a half, Varthema acted as Portuguese factor at 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 about Malindi, and (probably) coasting by Mombasa and Kilwa arrived at Mozambique, 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 he encountered furious storms, but arrived safely in Lisbon after sighting St Helena and Ascension Island and touching at the Azores. 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.
Work and legacy
|“||For correctness of observation and readiness of wit Varthema stands in the foremost rank of the old Oriental travellers. In Arabia and in the Indian archipelago east of Java he is (for Europe and Christendom) a real discoverer. Even where passing over ground traversed by earlier European explorers, his keen intelligence frequently adds valuable original notes on peoples, manners, customs, laws, religions, products, trade, methods of war.||”|
Varthema's work "Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese" was first published in Italian 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. The book has been translated into 50 languages.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Itinerary of Ludovico Di Varthema of Bologna from 1502 to 1508. By Lodovico de Varthema, John Winter Jones, Richard Carnac Temple. Contributor Lodovico de Varthema, John Winter Jones, Richard Carnac Temple. Published by Asian Educational Services, 1997. ISBN 81-206-1269-8, ISBN 978-81-206-1269-3. 121 pages.
- The Travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508. By Lodovico de Varthema; Edited by George Percy Badger; Translated by John Winter Jones. Originally published by the Hakluyt Society, London in 1863. Reprint by Adamant Media Corporation, 2001. ISBN 1-4021-9553-2, ISBN 978-1-4021-9553-2. 320 pages.
- Ludouici Patritii Romani Nouum itinerarium Aethiopiae, Aegipti, vtriusque Arabiae, Persidis, Siriae, ac Indiae, intra et extra Gangem.
- BBC News. In pictures: Itinerary, first 'travel best-seller' on India. 25 October 2012.
- Mariners' Museum. Ludovico di Varthema.