The Mali Empire was a West African empire, which existed from 1235 to 1670. At its height, it covered parts of modern-day Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Ivory Coast.
It is most famous for its great wealth – the Emperor Mansa Musa (1280-1337) is believed to be the richest man in history. When he made hajj (an islamic religious journey to Mecca, Saudi Arabia), he travelled through the Sahara desert with 72,000 men. Each man wore Persian silk. He gave gold dust to the poor along the route. When he reached Egypt, he stopped in Cairo. There he gave away so much gold, that the price of gold collapsed, and Egypt’s economy crashed.
But there was more the Mali Empire than great wealth. It also had values that, in some ways, made it the world’s most advanced empire in its time.
When Mansa Musa came back from Egypt, he brought with him many Islamic scholars, artists, and architects. Together, they built up the great city of Timbuctu. They built mosques, libraries, and a university. There was a large book trade, and the university became the centre of learning in Africa, with 25,000 students.
The Mali Empire had many religions, and all lived in peace together. The merchants and governors were usually Muslim, and the working people practiced traditional African religions. Because the Mali Empire was so large, there were many different religions. And all people were allowed to practice their local religion.
At its height, the Mali Empire was the most prosperous part of the world. It contained lots of people, from lots of different places, and of lots of different religions; but because they respected each other, they were able to work together, they achieved great things in education, they built a rich network of trade, and they were respected by the whole world. On the Catalan Atlas (a spanish map of the world made in 1375), Mansa Musa was pictured with a golden crown and sceptre. No other ruler had their picture drawn.