Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema

Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema – Vicent Garcia Editores – R/12615 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)

Seville (Spain) — 1520

Written by the first non-Muslim European to visit Mecca: Ludovico di Varthema recounts his 5-year journey to Indonesia

  1. This important 16th century travelogue was written by Ludovico di Varthema (ca. 1470–1517)

  2. He set out from Venice in 1502, travelling for 5 years through the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia

  3. The edition at hand was published in 1520 by Jacobo Cromberger (ca. 1472–1528) in Seville

Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema

This famous 16th century travelogue was written by the Italian nobleman Ludovico di Varthema, who is also cited as Barthema, the first non-Muslim visitor to Mecca who also travelled as far as Indonesia. His writings are the oldest European impressions of South Asia and enjoyed widespread circulation during his life and after his death. It serves as a precious testament to the spirit of the Age of Exploration and the European fascination with the exotic. The Spanish translation of the work was executed by Cristóbal de Arcos, who was also responsible for other notable translations including the works of Jacome Fontano and Agostino Nifo. Richard Francis Burton said in his book The Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah: “For correctness of observation and readiness of wit Varthema stands in the foremost rank of the old Oriental travelers. 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.”

Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema

This important 16th century travelogue was written by Ludovico di Varthema (ca. 1470–1517), an Italian aristocrat from Bologna made a name for himself as a traveler, diarist, and the first non-Muslim European to visit Mecca. He set out from Venice in 1502 on a grand adventure travelling through the Middle East, eventually taking him as far as India, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia before returning to Europe in 1507, dying ten years later in Rome. His travelogue was originally published in Rome in 1510, the edition at hand was published in Seville in 1520 by Jacobo Cromberger (ca. 1472–1528) and was translated into Spanish by Cristóbal de Arcos, chaplain to Diego de Deza (1444–1523), Archbishop of Seville. It represents the oldest surviving testimonial regarding many of these regions.

Inspired by Antiquity

Virtually all that is known about the life of the author comes from his own writings and it is believed that he was a soldier with a sense of adventure who left Europe in 1502. Varthema gives the following explanation for his ambitious journey: “moved with zeal and love to see with the eyes: what he sometimes read in Ptolemy, Strabo, Pliny, and others who wrote about cosmography and geography: he determined to entrust his soul to God: and the body to the works and variety of fortune: and to go around most of Asia and Africa: only those things he wished to see that were hidden from us.” Fascination with the exotic gripped the Late Middle Ages and travelogues both real and fantastic were extremely popular. As such, Varthema is a perfect reflection of the Zeitgeist of the Age of Exploration.

Sneaking into the Holy Cities of Islam

The author’s exotic adventure into the East began when he arrived in Alexandria in early 1503 before making his way up the Nile. He left Egypt and sailed for Beirut and then visited Tripoli, Aleppo, and Damascus, where he supposedly enrolled himself in the Mamluk garrison under the name Yunus or “Jonah”. Posing as a Mamluk escort of a caravan of pilgrims participating in the Hajj and it was in this guise that he became one of the first non-Muslim Europeans to see the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. The accuracy with which he describes the cities as well as the chief pilgrimage sites and ceremonies confirm his story.

The Journey to Asia

On his way to India, Varthema was imprisoned in Aden and freed by becoming the lover of a sultana of Yemen before coming to Persia and reuniting with the merchant he met in Mecca. “Cazazioner” is his travel companion throughout Asia and they first sail to India, reaching the mouth of the Indus River by 1504. They travel extensively and explore both the coasts and much of the interior of India before travelling through the Bay of Bengal from Caylon to Burma, where he claims to have met a pair of Christian Chinese merchants. After crossing the Strait of Malacca, the four of them proceeded to Sumatra, where Varthema describes plentiful spices and perfume plants, which inspired them to visit the famous Spice Islands. Again, Varthema may have been the first European to ever visit the Moluccas and writes extensively about the spices, their cultivation, and their prices.

Return to Europe

Varthema and Cazazioner began the return journey West via Borneo and Java before returning to Calcutta, where they encountered two Italian military engineers hired by the local ruler to cast European-style canons to counter the incursions of the Portuguese. After revealing himself to his compatriots as a Christian and an Italian, they in turn revealed that they were being held against their will. Knowing that a Portuguese fleet was expected to arrive in September of 1505, Varthema came up with a plan to get them home with the help of a letter of introduction from his old Persian friend whom he would never see again.
After coming to Cannanore, where the Portuguese fleet was anchored, with a group of Persian merchants, he managed to slip away from them and met with the commander Lourenço de Almeida (ca. 1480–1508). He shared his observations of Calcutta’s defenses in exchange for help, although the two Italian military engineers were killed by a mob before they could be rescued. There he remained for a year and a half in service of the Portuguese and witnessed the Battle of Cannanore, which he describes in detail, endured the 1507 Siege of Cannanore, and participated in a punitive raid on Ponnani in November of that year.
He departed for Europe on the 6th of December 1507, sailing around Africa, of which Varthema gives numerous accounts, some of which appear to be second-hand. After he reached Lisbon in the spring of 1508, he received a confirmation of the knighthood that was granted to him in India, and then travelled to Rome where the travelogue ends and where Verthema spent the rest of his life.


Alternative Titles
Itinerario del Venerable Varon Micer Luis Patricio Romano, en el qual cuenta mucha parte de la Ethiopia, Egipto y entrambas Arabias, Siria y la India
Size / Format
120 pages / 30.0 × 21.5 cm
Coat of arms on the frontispiece and engraved initials
Varthema's travelogue from Venice to Africa and Asia
Artist / School
Facsimile Editions

#1 Itinerario del Venerable Varon Micer Luis Patricio Romano, en el qual cuenta mucha parte de la Ethiopia, Egipto y entrambas Arabias, Siria y la India

Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 2004

Publisher: Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 2004
Limited Edition: 3160 copies
Binding: Binding of parchment on wooden cover Cloth-lined presentation case with gold engraved leather spine
Commentary: 1 volume
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
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