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The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela

Benjamin of Tudela, from Spain, is a famous world traveler of the 12th century. He started his journey from northeast Spain around 1165. His travel began in the city of Zaragoza, further down the valley of the Ebro, whence he went north to France, and then set sail from the port of Marseilles. After visiting Genoa, Pisa, and Rome in present-day Italy; Greece; and Constantinople, he set off across Asia. He visited Syria, Lebanon, Land of Israel, and northern Mesopotamia before he came to Baghdad. From there he went to Persia, then cut back across the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt and North Africa, returning to the Iberian Peninsula in 1173. In general Benjamin visited over 300 cities, including many of importance in Jewish history, such as Susa, Sura, and Pumbedita in southern Persia. Besides, he collected information about many more areas which he heard about on his travels, including China and Tibet. He recorded details on cultures such as that of Al-Hashishin, the hemp smokers, introducing Western Europeans to people and places far beyond their experience.
Some modern historians consider him as the person who gave the most precise description of every-day life in the Middle Ages. Originally the book was written in Hebrew. Later it was translated into Latin and then became an extremely popular piece of Jewish literature in many languages. The modern reader might think of it as something alien and unusual. But the author actually intended to give his contemporaries an actual account of his journeys. What exactly did Benjamin plan to reach when he started out on his awesome travel? At first, probably nothing but a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which despite the Crusades, retained a magic attraction for the pious Jew. A pilgrimage-an Aliyah-probably with the thought to stay there for the rest of his life. But the fact is that he did take the long road, sometimes making stops, meeting people, visiting places, describing professions and giving a demographic count of Jews in every town and country. This book is outstanding. Actually, this is travel diary of Benjamin. He brightly describes the different communities he visits throughout Spain and the Middle East. This is a work which gives insight into Jewish communal life in the Middle Ages.
This book describes the countries he visited, with an emphasis on the Jewish communities, including their total populations and the names of notable community leaders. Benjamin also described the customs and traditions of the local population, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with an emphasis on urban life. He gave detailed descriptions of sites and landmarks seen along the way, as well as important buildings and marketplaces. This book is important not only because it has detailed descriptions of the Jewish communities, but also as a trustworthy source about the geography and ethnography of the Middle Ages. "The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela" is really worth reading. Anyone who prefers primary historical sources will enjoy reading this book as it is full of true facts and exciting details of the past.

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