WHO WAS MANSA MUSA?
Mansa Musa was king of the empire of Mali for 25 years in the early 1300s. His empire was far larger than the modern day state of Mali; it also included Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania and Gambia. What makes Mansa Musa notable, though, is his wealth. In a Spanish map dating from 1375, he is depicted as the supreme king of Africa, wearing a gold crown, seated upon a huge throne. To this day he remains a symbol of West Africa’s rich history and culture – a history that stretches back to Musa’s reign seven hundred years ago.
THE KING’S PILGRIMAGE
Mansa Musa was a well-educated and a well-travelled king; in 1324 he decided to leave his kingdom on a pilgrimage to Mecca. For weeks, he travelled with an enormous escort of camels and servants across the Saharan dunes. Eventually, Musa reached Cairo, where he is said to have thrown handfuls of gold to the city crowds. He was so generous with his money, in fact, that he caused the value of gold in Egypt to decrease dramatically in just a few months of his stay. This dramatic event was engraved in the mind of medieval Egyptians, who from then on mythologised the empire of Mali as the richest place on earth.
WHAT IS MANSA MUSA’S LEGACY?
Many historians forget that this man, an African ruler, was one of the richest men in history. It was due to his skillful administration that the empire of Mali became such a vast and wealthy state. Musa remains celebrated in West Africa, especially in Mali itself, not only because he is proof of the country’s historic wealth through trade, but also because he promoted a culture of scholarship and good education. The royal court in Mali attracted scholars and poets from all over the Islamic world, from nations as far away as Spain. Many of its monuments are still preserved in the Sahara today, among them the many mosques of Timbuktu. This city became legendary because of Mansa Musa and it is a testament to his legacy as one of the greatest leaders in African history.