Voyage à Tombouctou......and the amazing destiny of René Caillié

Would you join me to Tombouctou ? The words of Toumani Diabaté (see post below), praising the Mandink (Malian) musical culture still echo in me. It made me want to learn more about the former Mali empire which reached its golden age throughout the XIIIth century to the XVIth century. A thriving empire doted with three immense gold mines, it became a busy crossroads for prosperous trade exchange.
Tombouctou, the capital city was also a vibrant cultural place. At the beginning of the XVIth century, among its 100 000 people, 25 000 were students. Children were enrolled in school at the age of 7 in one of the 180 coranic schools in the city. At that time, Tombouctou showed the highest literacy level in the world. Thelogy, coranic law, grammar, mathematics, geography and medecine were taught at the University of Sankoré. Doctors from Tombouctou were reputed especially for their techniques in eye surgery and the treatment of cataract. The University also developed frequent exchanges with the universities of Fèz, Cordoba and Cairo.
Reading about Tombouctou's golden age led me to the amazing destiny of René Caillié. Born in France in 1799, he was the son of a baker-apprentice who is accused of theft the year René is born. The little boy never knew his father who died in prison, in Rochefort in 1808. A few years later, his mother died too. At the age of 16, René who has been very impressed by his reading of Robin Crusoe decided to leave France. From 1824 to 1825, he stayed in what is today Mauritania and learnt Arabic and Islamic traditions and religion. To travel safely, he dressed as a Muslim.
When he learnt that the Société de Géographie would bestow a prize of 10 000 francs to the first European who would enter the city of Tombouctou, he started the journey on his own, with barely no money, no military escort. After a 5 month stay in Ivory coast, due to illness, René resumed his journey and reached Tombouctou in 1828, which he described in his Journal d'un voyage à Tembouctou et à Jenné dans l'Afrique centrale (published in 1830). He was however quite disappointed by the aspect of the city which he found in a state of dereliction and could not longer pretend to be the mythical city it used to be. After 16 years of absence, René went back to France where he received the 10 000 francs prize and started to write about his journey. He dreamed about going back to Africa but his health would not allow him to do so and he died at home in 1838.

As I write this post, I look at the blue sky outside and the delicate pink petunias on my balcony. I like it but I now dream of seeing Tombouctou with my own eyes...

pics from here


Elizabeth said…
This is such a magical mystical place.
Yes, I would love to see it too.
In Zagora in Southern Morocco there is a sign post
TIMBUCKTOO 57 jours.
Imagine walking all that way through the desert!
dutchbaby said…
This is a fascinating and informative post. You chose beautiful photos - I fell in love with the TrekEarth site. Thank you!
Tim Irving said…
I'm been interested in visiting this country. Thanks for a great article.
David Engel said…
Hi Lala,

Very interesting. Perhaps you could write a book!
Do drop by and see me sometime.


Kim said…
What an amazing place. Almost surreal. I hope you get to venture to this destination soon and tell us all about it!

Thanks for sharing...
Anairam said…
The architecture is beautiful - and probably of the sustainable and green variety!
I never heard of the Mali Empire growing up, but it's history is taught in my local school system to our 3rd graders (along with Egyptian, Greek and Roman ancient history). It's fascinating and I enjoyed your post and photos.
Hello Lala,
I found your blog through others and I love your pictures. I'm portugueses and have a travel blog where I'm writing about my trip to Africa in 2007, for one month. You are most welcome to come and visit us.My blob:
Bye for now, hope to see you soon
SE'LAH... said…
magical. that first shot reminds me of the elders back home...walk with baskets etc. balanced on their heads.

love your space.
Indyeah said…
Beautiful pictures Lala!but then beautiful is what one has come to expect from you in each post of yours:)))

the architecture is beautiful indeed...
you know when we were kids...the general assumption in our minds was that Timbuktu was some imaginary fantastical place:D

Then we grew up and knew better but even now you will find the mention of this place in many Indian songs in diff languages:))

ppl still think it is a far far off place:))
Anonymous said…
I do hope that the dream of seeing Tombouctou will come true one day.

Very best regards,
Lynne said…
total magic!
What an amazing tale that of René's. And to think that after all those travails he still found the time to travel to Tombouctou.

Many thanks for such a timely post. Many people, including me, think or used to think that a desert is only a place of dunes and sandstorms. There's so much more magic in it.

Greetings from London.
Gillian said…
What a fantastic story. The passion and drive contained in some people's hearts astounds me.
Oh to be that inspired.
Sara said…
A fascinating post...these photos bring to mind a book I just finished reading yesterday, by Tahir Shaw, called In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams. Not the same country, I know, but similar. What a wonderful book! And so is your post about this René Caillié' his story could be one of the tales in the book I just read.
Lala, this is just the kind of true story I love. I have some of that explorer in me too, as do you. I hope someday you will visit Tombouctou. Lots of rhyming going on in that paragraph!
I've been enjoying all the posts I've missed while I've been away. Especially those lovely, tranquil weekends you spend with Moncheri and friends. And of course, in Spain there is always, always music!
Love to you,

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