1743 French Map of Northwest Africa, depicting the areas covered in this curriculum unit.
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
Mansa Musa, an ardent Muslim, was the first emperor of Mali to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. He certainly left a powerful impression among the people he encountered in Cairo, Mecca, and Medina, opening their eyes to the dignity of the Malian rulers as well as the great wealth of their empire. When he returned home, he brought with him a Muslim architect, al-Sahili, who introduced a new style of architecture to West Africa. The mosques built at this time would become centers of scholarship as well as worship.
You've heard about Mali's famous emperor, Mansa Musa, but you want to learn more about this fascinating figure. You've traveled by time machine to Timbuktu. It's the year 1324. You are disguised as a member of the royal court. There's a great deal of commotion today, because everyone is getting ready to accompany the emperor on his pilgrimage to Mecca. You'll go along, too. This is an invaluable opportunity to learn all about the great man first hand, with the added bonus of seeing some of the cities that lie beyond the eastern horizon.
Here are some of the questions you will seek to answer:
How did Mansa Musa travel to Mecca?
What was he like? How was he received in Cairo?
What decisions did the ruler make about his own realm during and after his pilgrimage?
In what ways was Mali changed as a result of the pilgrimage?
After investigating the life and times of Mansa Musa, you'll be able to
The camels are all hitched up, the wagons are loaded, and the royal entourage is ready to set out for Mecca. Hop aboard one of the camels. This should be quite an adventure!
Think of how difficult it must have been to organize and direct such a huge caravan!
This is when Mali became known as “the Land of Gold.” In fact, it has been estimated that it would soon supply two thirds of the gold used for European coins and artifacts.
Mansa Musa's pilgrimage was immortalized in a map of Africa contained in the Catalan World Atlas of 1375.
While Mansa Musa's pilgrimage opened the eyes of Europeans and Middle Easterners to the wealth of Mali, it also convinced the ruler that he should make the cities of his realm a showplace of the Islamic world. His encounter in Mecca with Muslim architect al-Sahili would help him to do this. According to legend, Mansa Musa bribed the architect with about 200 kilograms of gold to return with him to Mali. He later commissioned him to build mosques in the port cities of Gao and Timbuktu, as well as a royal palace.
Everyone has returned from the pilgrimage. It's nice not to have to spend another day on the back of a camel! Al-Sahili, the Muslim architect, has gone to work. He's got some great ideas. The local architecture will never be the same!
Take a penknife and make a hole in the plaster on the wall. It's easy, isn't it? Imagine what a couple of weeks of torrential rain can do!
A very practical feature of the new style of mosques was the arrangement of wooden posts (known as toron or “horns”) that protruded from the outer walls. They were used to hold scaffolding when the walls were replastered each year.
The Friday Mosque at Djenne, just up the river from Timbuktu, was built slightly earlier than Djingareyber, but it has been reconstructed since then. The present-day mosque is an excellent example of West African Islamic architecture.
Location Scouting Summary: Mansa Musa's Mali
Using the information you've gathered on the pilgrimage and "back home" in Mali, write a feature article for the website of Globe Trekkers entitled: “Mansa Musa puts Mali on the Map.”
2 class periods