Musa’s em­pire


salt mines

Rock salt was also a hugely prof­itable ex­port, used in food prepa­ra­tion and preser­va­tion. Its value was at times lit­er­ally worth its weight in gold. It was mined by slaves in salt flats through­out the Sa­hara desert, most no­tably at Tag­haza.

mali’s cap­i­tal city

Niani was the cap­i­tal of the em­pire dur­ing the reign of Mansa Musa and con­tin­ued to be the cap­i­tal in the 1600s. It was the cen­tre of the gov­ern­ment and com­merce mak­ing it one of the most im­por­tant cities on the con­ti­nent. Dur­ing the reign of Mansa Musa, Niani had a pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 100,000. Lon­don at the time by con­trast only had a pop­u­la­tion in the tens of thou­sands.


Tim­buktu, al­though its name is now syn­ony­mous with a place in the mid­dle of nowhere, was once a thriv­ing hub of wealth and peo­ple in the Mali Em­pire. Its mud brick build­ings were home to a plethora of shops, uni­ver­si­ties, mosques and op­u­lent homes.

gold mines

It is thought that much of Mansa Musa’s gold came from the rich de­posits in the Ashanti re­gion of mod­ern-day Ghana. This is an area so rich with gold that it be­came known sim­ply as ‘the Gold Coast’ dur­ing Bri­tish im­pe­rial rule, and con­tin­ues to be one of the world’s largest ex­porters of gold, pro­duc­ing 100,000 kilo­grams a year.

Trade routes

Trade was the key to Mali’s wealth. Mer­chants would pack up their camels with gold, salt and other items, then em­bark on long jour­neys across the Sa­hara desert to reach cities as far away as Tripoli and Cairo – on the other side of Africa.

River Niger

Africa’s long­est river af­ter the Nile and the Congo, the 4,200-kilo­me­tre (2,600-mile) Niger flows from Tim­buktu to the At­lantic Ocean. As well as ir­ri­gat­ing fields used for farm­ing, this made it an ex­cel­lent route for trans­port­ing goods around the Malian Em­pire.

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