Skip to Main Content

MIT Libraries logo MIT Libraries

Massaschusetts Institute of Technology logo Search Account

Early Arabic Sources for the History of Islam: Places

Digitized primary sources in Arabic for the study of Islamic history and civilization. Includes historical, geographical, and biographical texts.

On this page

This page focuses on geographical texts in the Arabic-Islamic tradition, which combines works on physical, human, and mathematical geography. 

Ya‘qūbī : Kitāb al-Buldān
يعقوبي : كتاب البلدان

An early geographical treatise in Arabic with information on the topography and administrative geography of the early Muslim Empire. By Aḥmad ibn Abī Ya‘qūb al-Ya‘qūbī (d. after 905/292 AH).

Source: Muhammad Qasim Zaman, "al-Yaʿḳūbī," EI2.

  • Leiden 1861 Edition: The first critical edition of Ya'qubi's Arabic text to be published. A second edition (Leiden 1891) adds some inforamation and corrections to this early version. Published as Kitāb al-Buldān. Ed. T. G. J. Juynboll. Leiden: Brill, 1861.

Complete book (Internet Archive)

  • Leiden 1891 Edition: Preferred edition of the work. Published as Kitāb al-Buldān. Ed. M. J. de Goeje. Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, vol. 7. Leiden: Brill, 1891. **NOTE: The first part of this volume is a critical edition of another geographical work titled Kitāb al-A‘lāq al-nafīsa by Ibn Rusta (see below). Ya'qubi's text begins on page 230.**

Complete book (Internet Archive)

Ibn Khurradādhbih : al-Masālik wa’l-mamālik
ابن خرداذبه : المسالك والممالك

A book of administrative geography and itineraries by Abbasid courtier Abū al-Qāsim ‘Ubayd-Allāh Ibn Khurradādhbih (d. ca. 911/300 AH). The first of its kind to survive in Arabic.

  • Leiden 1889 Edition. Published as Kitāb al-Masālik wa’l-mamālik. Ed. M. J. de Goeje. Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, Vol. 6. Leiden: Brill, 1889. Note: this volume also includes the edited Arabic text of part of another early geographical treatise by Qudāma ibn Ja‘far (d.before 948/337 AH ) titled Kitāb al-Kharāj wa-ṣan‘at al-kitāba.

Complete Book (Hathi Trust)

Hamadhānī : Kitāb al-Buldān
همذاني : كتاب البلدان

Geographical text distinguished from other early geographies for its fantastical stories and mentions of mirabilia. The author is Ibn al-Faqīh al-Hamadhānī, active in the later part of the ninith/third century AH.

  • Leiden 1885 Edition. Early edition of the Arabic text. Published as Mukhtaṣar Kitāb al-Buldān. Ed. M. J. de Goeje. Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicarum Vol. 6. Leiden: Brill, 1885.

Complete Book (Internet Archive)

Ibn Rusta : al-A‘lāq al-nafīsa
ابن رستة : الاعلاق النفيسة

This geographical text is the only volume to survive of a multi-volume encyclopedic work by Abū ‘Alī Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Rusta (active beginning of tenth/end of the third century AH). It includes astronomical information and a discussion of the shape and rotation of the Earth. 

  • Leiden 1891 Edition. Authoritative edition of the Arabic text, published along with Ya‘qūbī’s Kitāb al-Buldān (see above) as Kitāb al-Aʿlāḳ al-nafīsa. Ed. M. J. de Goeje. Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, Vol. 7. Leiden: Brill, 1891.

Complete Book (Internet Archive)

Ibn Ḥawqal : Kitāb Ṣūrat al-arḍ
ابن حوقل : كتاب صورة الارض

A geographic text notable for its inclusion of information about Sudan, Nubia, and southern Italy by Abū al-Qāsim al-Naṣībī, known as Ibn Hawqal, active during the second half of the tenth century/fourth century AH.  The edition below is the first, which can be used, but the second edition, published in 1938 and edited by J. H. Kramers. (Find a Copy on Worldcat).

  • Leiden 1873 Edition. In a pinch, the first edition of this publication can be consulted. It was published as Kitāb al-Masālik wa’l-mamālik [Viae et regna]. Ed. M. J. de Goeje. Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 1873. 

Complete Book (Internet Archive)

Indices (Internet Archive)

Hamdānī : Ṣifat Jazīrat al-‘Arab
الهمداني : صفة جزيرة العرب

A description of the geography of the Arabian Peninsula composed by Yemeni scholar Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥasan b. Aḥmad al-Hamdānī, also known as Ibn al-Ḥā'ik (d. 945/334 AH). The author's works are considered to be a key source for the history of Yemen, and the Ṣifat is indispensable for the study of the region's historical geography.

  • Leiden 1891 Edition. A widely-used scholarly edition based on a number of manuscripts edited by David Heinrich Müller as Ṣifat Jazīrat al-‘Arab. Leiden: Brill, 1884-1891.

Complete Book (Internet Archive)

  • Sana'a 1990 Edition. A third printing of an edition of the text published in 1983 and edited by Muḥammad al-Akwa'.  With additional notes, this edition is useful to consult in conjunction with the widely-used 1884 edition cited above. Published as Ṣifat Jazīrat al-‘Arab. Ed. Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī al-Awka’ al-Ḥawālī. Sana’a: Maktabat al-Irshād, 1990.

Complete Book (Internet Archive)

Muqaddasī : Aḥsan al-taqāsīm fī ma‘rifat al-aqālīm
مقدسي : احسن التقاسيم في معرفة الاقاليم

A landmark work in the field of geography, divergent from the works describing countries and routes that came before in its precise definition of the hierarchical system of cities, regions, and districts in the Empire of Islam. The author is Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Muqaddasī (d. ca. 990/380 AH). 

  • Leiden 1906 Edition. Second edition of the Arabic text published as Kitāb Aḥsan al-taqāsīm fī ma‘rifat al-aqālīm [Descriptio Imperii Moslemici]. Ed. M. J. de Goeje. Leiden: Brill, 1906.

Complete Book (Hathi Trust)

  • Calcutta 1897 Translation. Early translation of Muqaddasi's text edited and translated by G. S. A. Ranking and R. F. Azoo and Ahsanu-t-taqasim fi ma'rifati-l-aqalim. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1897. NOTE: more recent translations are available. 

           Complete Book (Internet Archive)

Bīrūnī : Geographical Works
بيروني : مألفاته في الجغرافيا

Collected geographical writings dispersed over a number of larger works by Abū al-Rayḥān Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Bīrūnī (d. ca. 1050/442 AH). This work draws on Arabic geographical knowledge that had accumulated over the previous two centuries, as well as Greek, Persian and Indic sources.

  • Geographical Extracts from Bīrūnī's Works: Bīrūnī's works were not edited until the 1950s and are not in the public domain. However, extracts from these works edited and published in Arabic are found in Bīrūnī’s Picture of the World (Ṣifat al-ma‘mūra ‘alā al-Bīrūnī). Ed. A. Zeki Togan, Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India 53 (New Delhi: 1941). This publication includes geographical extracts from al-Qanūn al-Mas‘ūdī fī hay’a wa’l-nujūm, Taḥdīd nihāyat al-amākin li-taṣḥīḥ masāfat al-masākin, Kitāb al-jamāhir fī ma‘rifat al-jawāhir, and Kitāb al-Ṣaydana.

Complete Book (Internet Archive)

Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī : Mu‘jam al-Buldān
ياقوت الحموي : معجم البلدان

An alphabetized list of places in the Muslim world and beyond compiled by Yāqūt al-Rūmī, later al-Ḥamawī (d. 1229/626 AH). Its ease of use and quality of information make it an invaluable resource.

  • Leipzig 1866-1873 Edition: Authoritative critical edition of Yaqut's work, published as Mu‘jam al-Buldān [Jacut’s Geographisches Wörterbuch]. Ed. Ferdinand Wüstenfeld. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1866-1873. NOTE: The book scanned here has many worm holes.

Volume 1 (Internet Archive) -- (أ - ثوير)

Volume 2 (Internet Archive) -- (جابان - زينة)

Volume 3 (Internet Archive) -- (ساباط - فيّ)

Volume 4 (Internet Archive) -- (قابس - يين)

Volume 5 (Internet Archive) -- Editor's Notes

Volume 6 (Internet Archive) -- Indices

  • Tehran 1966 Reprint of Leipzig 1866 Edition. Reprinted by Maktabat al-Asadi. A better quality scan than the original printing above.

Volume 1 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 2 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 3 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 4 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 5 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 6 (Arabic Collections Online)

Abū al-Fidā : Taqwīn al-buldān
ابو الفداء : تقوين البلدان

A geographical treatise based on translated works of Ptolemy by Al-Malik al-Mu’ayyad ‘Imad al-Dīn Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Alī, known as Abū al-Fidā (d. 1331/732 AH).

  • Paris 1840 Edition. Edition of the Arabic text published as Kitāb Taqwīm al-buldān [Géographie d’Aboulféda]. Ed. J. T. Reinaud and MacGuckin de Slane. 2 vols. Paris: L’Impremerie Royale, 1840.

Link to Volumes (Hathi Trust)

  • Paris 1848 French Translation. Translation of the Arabic text into French by J. T. Renaud and Stanislaus Guyard as Géographie d'Aboulfeda. Includes a lengthy introduction to the subject of geography (vol. 1), followed by the translations of sections by J. T. Reinaud (vol. 2, pt. 1) and Stanislas Guyard (vol. 2, pt. 2, published in 1883).

            Link to Volume 1 (Hathi Trust)

            Link to Volume 2.1 (Hathi Trust)

            Link to Volume 2.2 (Hathi Trust)


Ibn Jubayr : Riḥla
ابن جبير : رحلة

A travelogue recounting the pilgrimage journey of Abū al-Ḥusayn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Jubayr (d. 1217/614 AH) from Spain to Mecca. During this trip, he visited the Mediterranean Islands of Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, and passed through modern-day Egypt (Cairo), Saudi Arabia (Jeddah, Mecca and Medina), Iraq (Kufa, Baghdad, Mosul), Turkey (Nusaybin, Dunaysir, Harran), Syria (Raqqa, Aleppo, Damascus) and Palestine (Acre).

  • London 1907 Edition. An emended version of the early edition of the Arabic text by William Wright, revised by M. J. de Goeje. Published as Riḥlat al-kātib al-adīb al-bāri‘ al-labīb Abī al-Ḥusayn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Jubayr [The Travels of Ibn Jubayr]. Ed. William Wright. London: Brill, 1907 [Second Ed].

Complete Book (Hathi Trust)

  • LayerCake: The Travels of Ibn Jubayr. A visualization of Ibn Jubayr's journey from Spain to Mecca and back, as narrated in his Rihla, using LayerCake, an interactive mapping tool under development by a team at the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT. LayerCake allows users to plot both space and time simultaneously, and in doing so to reveal fuller pictures of historical events than was possible with two-dimensional maps.

Link to Interactive Map

Ibn Baṭṭūṭa : Riḥla (Tuḥfat al-nuẓẓār)
(ابن بطوطة : رحلة (تحفة النظار

Travelogue documenting the extensive journeys of Shams al-Dīn Abū ‘Abd-Allāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd-Allāh, known as Ibn Baṭṭūṭa (d. 1368-1369/770 or 1377/779 AH). Includes information on lands both in and outside the Islamic world, and is one of a kind in the Arabic tradition.

  • Paris 1853 Edition and French Translation. This is an early but authoritative edition of the Arabic text. Published as Voyages d’Ibn Batoutah. Ed. and trans. C. Defremery and B. R. Sanguinetti. 5 vols. Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1853.

Volume 1 (Internet Archive)

Volume 2 (Internet Archive)

Volume 3 (Internet Archive)

Volume 4 (Internet Archive)

Volume 5 (Internet Archive)

Maqrīzī : Khiṭaṭ
المقريزي : خطط

A historic topography of Egypt by Taqī al-Dīn Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad ibn ‘Alī al-Maqrīzī (d. 1442/845 AH). It is particularly valuable for its information on Cairo and its monuments, to which much space is devoted. It is a unique resource on the history of an Islamic city. Full title name: al-Mawā‘iẓ wa’l-I‘tibār fī dhikr al-khiṭaṭ wa’l-āthār.


  • Cairo 1853 Edition. This is an early edition of the Arabic text that is still useful for study, but marred by typographical errors and now surpassed by the London 2002 edition. While the 1853 edition can serve as an introduction, the latter should eventually be consulted for research projects. Published as Kitāb al-mawā‘iẓ wa’l-i‘tibār bi-dhikr al-khiṭaṭ wa’l-āthār. 2 vols. Ed. Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Quṭṭa al-‘Adawī Cairo (Būlāq): Dār al-Ṭibā‘a al-Miṣriyya, 1270 [1853].

Link to Volumes (Hathi Trust)

Places and Monuments in the History of Islam