The Road to Timbuktu
To the north of the river Niger in West Africa sits the city of Timbuktu. For centuries, Europe had been captivated by stories of this mysterious city. European explorers raced to be the first to get to this almost mythical city, and many who embarked on the road to Timbuktu never made it. It was once known as the most distant place on the face of the Earth, and even today takes a great journey to get to. Tales of massive amounts of gold fueled European explorers to attempt to reach this destination, and in this way the city lived shrouded in myth. Today, gold is still mined in Timbuktu, but the site is not exactly a gold mine. Mali was once a great and wealthy empire, but the city of Timbuktu has seen better times.
The Griots were a major part of west African culture. These people were a combination of storyteller, praise singer, poet and musician. However most of all they were historians. Most notably griots told epics passed down through generations. They tell different stories of their ancestors and great rulers before them like Sundiata for example. Furthermore, griots sung the praises of wealthy patients in the crowd in verses of poetry.
Mansa Musa was grandson of Sundiata, and was a devout Muslim king. He famousy made a pilgrimage to Mecca from Timbuktu and did so because Islamic law requires that all faithful Muslims visit Mecca. On his journey he was said to take more than 500 slaves with him carrying slabs of gold. Mansa Musa was an incredibly rich king, and it is said that when Mansa Musa passed through Cairo, he gave away so much gold that the price of gold fell and the economy was affected for years. On his trip, he ordered a Mosque to be built every time he stopped on a friday.
Professor Gates, among arriving at Timbuktu immediately looked past the city at the way it looks today, and saw one of the great lost wonders of the African world. He refers to Timbuktu as “The mysterious and captivating city...