Niccolo di Conti (ca.1395-1469)

(also known as Nicolo de' Conti)

Venetian merchant. Nothing is known of his early life except that he left Venice in about 1419 and took up residence in Damascus, where he studied Arabic. From Damascus, and for the following 25 years, he embarked on a number of journeys in Asia. He first crossed the desert to Baldochia (= Baghdad) and sailed down the Tigris to Balsera (= Basra). After sailing through the Persian Gulf he touched at Colcus and Hormuz, then continued along the coast of Iran via Calacatia (where he learned Persian) to Cambay (in Gujerat). He then proceded along the west coast of India to Pacamuria and Helly, moved inland to Vijayanagar (which was until its destruction in 1555 the capital of the principal Hindu state of the Deccan) and crossed to the east coast at Maliapur, where he visited the tomb of St. Thomas (the biblical Thomas who according to certain traditions had founded a Christian community there).

In about 1421 he crossed to Pedir (north Sumatra), where he spent a year, gaining knowledge of its cannibalistic natives, camphor, pepper and gold. The account of his travels refers to this island as Taprobana, called by the natives Sciamuthera. He then continued (by a stormy passage of 16 days) to Ternassari (= Tenassarim on the Malay peninsula), sailed to the mouth of the Ganges, visited Burdwan (in Bangla Desh), then passed overland to Arakan (= Burma). He then passed to the Racha River (= Lemro River in Burma) which he ascended, crossing the mountains to the River Irrawady at Ava, and returning to Panconia (= Pegu ?), from where he sailed to Java. There he spent nine months before continuing to Vijaya in Ciampa (= Champa = north-western Vietnam).

He sailed back to Coloen (= Quilon) (c. 1440), then to Cocym (= Cochin), Calicut, Cambay, Sechutera (= Socotra, which he described as inhabited by Nestorians), Aden, Barbora (= Berbera in Somalia), Jidda and Aydhab (on the Egyptian coast), from where he travelled overland via Mt. Sinai to Cairo. He returned to Venice in 1444, where he remained as a respected merchant.

As a penance for his compulsory renunciation of Christianity during his wanderings, Pope Eugenius IV ordered him to relate his history to Poggio Bracciolini, the papal secretary. Conti's name-forms, often Latinised by Poggio to a point beyond recognition, make some aspects his route difficult to identify, but his narrative remains as the best account of the East by a 15th century traveller.

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The material on this page was created by Ray Howgego, and publication was allowed by him to Discoverers Web. This page is an excerpt from a large amount of material that Ray has written, concerning voyages of discovery before 1800. He would like to have this work published, any publisher who is interested can contact him through email.