Nicolo Conti, A Fifteen Century Traveler In Malabar

Nicolo` de' Conti, a Venetian, embarked on a remarkable journey to India and the East that lasted 25 years, from 1419 to 1444. 

Upon his return from India, Conti was compelled to convert to Islam in order to protect his family when he arrived in Mecca. When he finally returned to Italy in 1444, he sought absolution from Pope Eugenius IV. The Pope granted absolution under the condition that Conti would honestly narrate his journeys to Poggio Bracciolini, the Pope's secretary. Bracciolini recorded Conti's voyages in Latin in his 'Historia de Varietate Fortunae'.

In 1419, Conti departed Damascus, where he had resided for some time, and the first Indian city he visited was Cambay in Gujarat. Subsequently, he visited a number of other places in India such as Bizenegalia (Vijayanagar), Pelagonda [Penugonda], Peudifetania [Pulicat?], Odeschiria [Udayagiri], Cenderghiria [Chandragiri], Malepur [Mylapore], and cities along the Malabar coast - Quilon, Cochin, and Calicut - in Kerala.

"Coylang," or Quilon, from 'Gedenkweerdige Brasiliaense Zee en Lantreize ...' by Johan Nieuhof, published by Jacob van Meurs, Amsterdam, 1682

Description of Coloen [Quilon/Kollam]

The circumference of Quilon is 12 miles. This province, known as Melibaria [Malabar], is renowned for its trade of spices such as Ginger ('colobi'), Pepper, Brazilwood and Cinnamon ('crassa').

Serpents & Flying Cats: There are legless serpents [Python?], six cubits in length, which are wild yet harmless unless provoked. There is another type of harmless serpent with four feet and an oblong tail resembling that of large dogs, which are hunted for food. In this region, there are also venomous serpents with seven heads arranged along their bodies, one cubit in length and possessing wings like bats. These creatures live in trees and are capable of swift flight. They can even be fatal to humans with just a single breath.

There are also flying cats [lemur or colugo]; they have a thin membrane extending from their forelimbs to their hind feet, which they use to glide through the air. When they fly, they spread the membrane like wings. These are also hunted for food.

Description of Jackfruit & Mango: A tree named Cachi grows here in great abundance, its trunk bearing fruits that resemble pineapples, yet so large that it takes a single person great effort to lift them. The rind is green and hard. Within it, 250-300 sweet apples, resembling figs, are separated from each other by follicles. The sweet apples have a kernel that is similar to chestnut in both hardness and flavor. The kernels are also be roasted in the same manner as chestnuts. The external bark of the fruit is used to feed cattle. Occasionally, the fruit of this tree can be found under the earth in its roots; these are said to be superior in flavor and are often presented to kings and nobles. The tree itself is similar to a large fig tree with leaves intercised like a palm tree. The wood is equal to box wood and is much priced for its many uses. 

There is another fruit named Amba, which is green in color, resembling a walnut, but larger than a peach. The outer rind is quite bitter, but the flesh within is sweet like honey. They steep them in water to remove the acidity before they are ripe in the same manner we steep green Olives.

Description of Cocym [Cochin]: According to Conti, the city of Cochin is 5 miles in circumference and situated at the entrance of a river, from which it derives its name. Sailing along the river, Conti observed flickering fires on the banks and assumed they were made by fishermen. However, his companions on the ship shouted, 'Icepe, Icepe'. These were no ordinary fishermen, but rather aquatic creatures with humanoid forms that lived in the water during the day and emerged at night to collect wood and make fire by striking one stone against another. Attracted by the light, fishes would swim towards the fire, which the monsters seize and eat, only to be devoured by these aquatic monsters.

What Conti had seen was actually a primitive form of fishing!

View of Cochin on the Malabar Coast of India, Johannes Vinckboons 1662-1663

In Cochin, he saw the same fruits as in Quilon. After visiting Colanguria [Kodungallur/Cranganore], Paliuria and Meliancota he arrived at Calicut.

Description of Calicut/Kozhikode: This coastal city, covering an area of eight miles, is a major trading hub for the whole of India, with a vast abundance of pepper, lac, ginger, cinnamon and many other aromatic spices. In this district, women are permitted to take multiple husbands. The husbands contribute to the maintenance of the wife, who lives separately from them. When one visits her, he leaves a mark at the door of the house, which prevents another husband from entering. The children are allotted to the husbands at the will of the wife. The father's inheritance does not pass to the children, but rather to the grandchildren.


The Travels of Nicolo Conti, in the East, in the Early Part of the Fifteenth Century, as related by Poggio Bracciolini, in his work entitled "Historia de Varietate Fortune" translated by J. Winter Jones, In 'India in the Fifteen Century'


  1. Interesting. Try to write something on ancient and medieval indian history.