Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 4: Trekking to Timbuktu: Mansa Musa Takes a Trip--Teacher Version

Created November 17, 2010


The Lesson


Timbuktu French Map

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.

Guiding Questions

  • 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?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify Mansa Musa and discuss his pilgrimage
  • Explain how he related to leaders in the East
  • Describe decisions he made about his homeland
  • Discuss changes brought about in Mali as a result of his pilgrimage

Preparation Instructions

Read through the activities and bookmark appropriate websites for later reference. Additional background information can be found at Mansa Musa.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Pilgrimage

One of the obligations of every Muslim is to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. In 1324, Mansa Musa, Mali's Islamic ruler, set out on his journey - with a very large entourage.

  • Access Musa and the Mali Empire available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library. Read Pilgrimage to Mecca. Discuss with the students the emperor's magnificent entourage. Where did the emperor get all that gold? (See Lesson 2 of this curriculum unit.) How might the people of the Middle East have viewed the West African states before Mansa Musa's visit? How did he almost ruin the good impression he had made, and what does this say about his political savvy? How did this visit influence the way Europeans, Asians, and North Africans thought about the land of the Niger?
  • The route of his pilgrimage can be viewed at A Center for Trade available through African Studies WWW. The pick axes on the map indicate salt mines, while the gold bars mark gold mines. Why might Mansa Musa have taken a slightly more southern route home? (This would have been an excellent opportunity to load up his camels, no longer carrying their burdens of gold, with salt.)

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.

  • Access The Catalan map. As you view the map with your students, you might explain that Guinea (Mansa Musa is referred to as the Lord of the Negroes of Guinea) was actually the coastal region of West Africa where many of the gold mines were located. At that time, it was also a part of Mali. Have the students describe the various objects they see. In what ways is Mansa Musa presented as a European might have envisioned him? (For example, did he wear a European type of crown and sit upon a throne?).


View the following photos of mosques built in Europe and Asia in earlier centuries: the Umayyad Great Mosque, Damascus, The Mosque of Gauhar Shad, Mashad, and The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Istanbul available through Labyrinth. Then write a brief essay comparing the design and construction of these mosques with those built in West Africa.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Africa
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • History and Social Studies
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Ancient World
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Ancient World (3500 BCE-500 CE)
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Art and Culture
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)