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Musa, Mansa (1280-1337)
Mansa Musa, fourteenth century emperor of Mali, is the medieval African ruler most known to the world
outside Africa. His elaborate pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in 1324 introduced him to rulers
in the Middle East and in Europe. His leadership of Mali, a state which stretched across two thousand miles
from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad, ensured decades of peace and prosperity in Western Africa.
In 1312 Musa became emperor following the
death of his predecessor, Abu-Bakr II. When he
was crowned, he was given the name Mansa
meaning king. Mansa Musa was knowledgeable
in Arabic and was described as a Muslim
traditionalist. He became the first Muslim ruler
in West Africa to make the nearly four thousand
mile journey to Mecca. Preparing for the
expedition took years and involved the work of
artisans in numerous towns and cities across
Mali. In 1324 Musa began his pilgrimage with a
crew of thousands of escorts. He also brought
considerable amounts of gold, some of which
was distributed along the journey.
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Accompanied by thousands of richly dressed
servants and supporters Musa made generous
donations to the poor and to charitable organizations as well as the rulers of the lands his entourage crossed.
On his stop in Cairo the Emperor gave out so much gold that he generated a brief decline in its value. Cairo’s
gold market recovered over a decade later.
Upon his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought Arab scholars, government bureaucrats, and architects.
Among those who returned with him was the architect Ishaq El Teudjin who introduced advanced building
techniques to Mali. He designed numerous buildings for the Emperor including a new palace named
Madagou, the Gao mosque at Gao, the second largest city in Mali, and the still-standing great mosque at
Timbuktu, the largest city in the empire. That mosque was named the Djinguereber. El Teudjin’s most
famous design was the Emperor’s chamber at the Malian capital of Niani.
Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage boosted Islamic education in Mali by adding mosques, libraries, and universities.
The awareness of Musa by other Islamic leaders brought increased commerce and scholars, poets, and
artisans, making Timbuktu one of the leading cities in the Islamic world during the time when the most
advanced nations from Spain to central India were Muslim. Timbuktu was clearly the center of Islamic SubSaharan Africa.
Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca brought Mali to the attention of Europe. For the next two centuries Italian,
German, and Spanish cartographers produced maps of the world which showed Mali and which often
referenced Mansa Musa. The first of these maps appeared in Italy in 1339 with Mansa Musa’s name and
Mansa Musa died in 1337 after a twenty-five year reign. He was succeeded by his son, Maghan I.