Mali was a multiethnic and multi-religious kingdom larger than Western Europe, and containing some 400 cities and uncounted villages. Timbuktu was the gateway for Islam into Mali. There it thrived alongside shrines to Sango, the thunder God, and Legba, messenger to all the African gods. A devout Muslim, Mansa felt no need to convert all his subjects. Instead, when he retuned to Mali in about 1325, he was inspired to rebuild Timbuktu, already a mud brick metropolis of 100,000 people.
Mansa brought an architect from Muslim Spain to design his new palace, as well as the mud brick Djinguereber Mosque (above), where 2,000 people took their daily prayers. The cities’ University of Sankoré began attracting world class astronomers and mathematicians and Islamic scholars. A Mali proverb observed, “Salt comes from the north, gold from the south…but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuktu.”
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