Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 6: Trekking to Timbuktu: The Search for Timbuktu (Student Version)

Created November 19, 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.

After a rich history as a center of commerce and scholarship, the West African city of Timbuktu began a period of decline in the 16th century. In time, like the other major centers along the overland routes of West Africa, Timbuktu was forgotten. In later centuries, stories about these remote "lost cities" piqued the curiosity of many Europeans. Certain intrepid adventurers set out to rediscover them.

Many people think that Timbuktu is a mythical place—even today! Years ago, the search for the “lost city” of Timbuktu brought many adventurers to their deaths! These are the kinds of stories that attract huge television audiences! So, continuing your investigation as a scout for Globe Trekker, you set out to learn more about the search for Timbuktu.

Guiding Questions


  • What factors contributed to the decline of Timbuktu?
  • What myths and misconceptions about the city were held by Europeans?
  • What obstacles made a journey to Timbuktu very difficult?
  • Who was the first European to make it to Timbuktu in the 19th century?

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the reasons for the decline and fall of Timbuktu
  • Describe some of the mistaken views held by Europeans about the city
  • Discuss the difficulties of getting to Timbuktu
  • Describe how the first European got to Timbuktu and what he saw there


Before beginning this task, you might want to check out the background information found at: History of Timbuktu.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Stages of Timbuktu's Decline

In the 16th century Timbuktu was one of the bright lights of the Islamic world. What happened to it?

Jot these down in your notepad!

  • Now go to Mali: Geography and History. Scroll down to the next to last paragraph under History. What impact did the development of a sea trade route have upon cities like Timbuktu?

In the years following the city's decline, the legend of the city began to grow. So did a number of misconceptions.

The image of a city filled with gold ultimately attracted a number of treasure-hunters.

  • Return to Invasion to Independence. Read paragraphs 3 and 4. What were some of the hazards of traveling to Timbuktu? Now go to Timbuktu: The Legendary City of Africa. Read from paragraph 5 (beginning “The legend of Timbuktu's wealth…”) to the end of paragraph through paragraph 9 (ending with “Laing was murdered.”).

Make notes

of these “horror stories”—they'll add punch to your report to the producers of Globe Trekker!

At last, a European made it to Timbuktu—and back. But he didn't find a city of gold.

  • Return to Timbuktu: The Legendary City of Africa. Read paragraphs 10 and 11 (beginning with “French explorer…”). Why did Caillie succeed? Why is his expedition important? What contributions did Barth make to the cause? (He also wrote about his trip.)

Photo op!

  • You can see a drawing of Timbuktu by Rene Caillie as well as a map showing where he (as well as Laing and Barth) stayed in the city by accessing Timbuctoo the Mysterious.
  • Now return to Invasion to Independence. Read paragraphs 6 and 7 (beginning "Rather than finding…). Despite it's commercial decline, one aspect of Timbuktu's greatness continues to flourish. What is it?

Location Scouting Summary: From Here to Timbuktu

It's the 19th century. Make a list of five reasons why it's not a good idea to travel to Timbuktu. Then make another list of reasons why, despite these drawbacks, going there is a worthwhile goal.

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)
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Art and Culture
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Suzanne Art (AL)


Student Resources