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.
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 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.
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.