The first recorded visit of a Westerner to Mecca: the Hakluyt Society's edition

Varthema, Lodovico di / Jones, John Winter (transl.). The Itinerary of Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna from 1502 to 1508. Translated from the Original Italian Edition of 1510, by John Winter Jones F.S.A. in 1863 for the Hakluyt Society. With a discourse on Varthema and his travels in southern Asia by Sir Richard Carnac Temple.

London, Argonaut Press, 1928.

Large 4to (203 x 263 mm). LXXXV, (1), 121, (3) pp. With 5 maps and 2 illustrations. Original blue cloth with white cloth spine.


First Hakluyt edition (one of 975 copies, this one unnumbered), reissuing an 1863 translation of the original Italian edition of 1510.

Varthema's "Itinerario" describes the first recorded eyewitness account by a Westerner of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. A gentleman adventurer and soldier from Bologna, the author left Venice at the end of 1502. In 1503 he reached Alexandria and ascended the Nile to Cairo, continuing to Beirut, Tripoli, Aleppo and Damascus, where, adopting Islam and taking the name of Yunas, he joined a Mameluke escort of a Hajj caravan and began the pilgrimage to Mecca. Thanks to his knowledge of Arabic and Islam, Varthema was able to appreciate the local culture of the places he visited. Impressed and fascinated, he described not only rites and rituals, but also social, geographical, and day-to-day details. After embarking at Jeddah and sailing to Aden, he was denounced as a Christian spy and imprisoned. He secured his release and proceeded on an extensive tour of southwest Arabia. Stopping in Sanaa and Zebid as well as a number of smaller cities, he describes the people, the markets and trade, the kind of fruits and animals that are plentiful in the vicinity, and any historical or cultural information deemed noteworthy. Returning to Aden, and after a brief stop in Ethiopia, he set sail for India.

The present edition is accompanied by a "Discourse" by Sir Richard Carnac Temple, in which he traces Varthema's route and "deals at length with [the] question of Varthema's credibility, and comes to the conclusion that he was truthful, yet capable of making mistakes" (The Geographical Journal 73.1 [1929], pp. 79-81).

Corners mildly bumped, otherwise fine.