|89 Across the Sahara 1324
Fourteenth century Africans would be astonished to discover that Mali is now one of the world's poorest countries. In its day, Mali's empire was one of the largest in the world, ruled by an emperor whose lavish adventure helped spread Islam across West Africa and literally put sub-Saharan Africa on the map in Europe and the Middle East.
Mansa Musa embarked on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 with such opulent flourish that awestruck Egyptian writers were still recounting it 200 years later. Legend has it that Musa traveled across the Sahara with about 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves. He brought 80 camels loaded with 300 pounds of gold each, which he gave away so freely in Cairo that it took years for the price of gold to recover. Architects and poets he brought back with him from Arabia built distinctive mosques, some of which survived for centuries, and helped establish Timbuktu as a center of Islamic schooling. But Musa's brazen advertisement of riches made Africa's interior a more desirable target for European exploration and conquest.
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