Heavily laden donkeys roam the city streets of Timbuktu (source: Visoterra)
Around 1510 the famous traveler and Africa expert Leo Africanus visited Timbuktu. His description was published in 1550 and became widely known in Europe. This provided the city with a mysterious reputation. Even today Timbuktu is best known in Western culture as a metaphor for a distant place. In West Africa the city holds an image that has been compared to Europe's view on Athens.
In 1788 a group of titled Englishmen formed the African Association with the goal of finding the city. The young Scottish adventurer Mungo Park may have reached the city at the start of the 19th century, but he died in Nigeria without having the chance to report his findings.
Robert Adams, an American sailor, claimed to have visited the city in 1811 as a slave for a period of several months after his ship wrecked off the African coast. His account was published in an 1816 book, The Narrative of Robert Adams. Great doubts remain among some people about his account.
Timbuktu street (source: Anima)
In 1824, the Paris-based Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc prize to the first non-Muslim to reach the town and return with information about it. The Scotsman Gordon Laing arrived in August 1826 but was killed the following month by local Muslims who were fearful of European intervention.
In 1828 the Frenchman René Caillié, disguised as a Muslim, was the first non-Muslim to enter the city of Timbuktu. He was able to safely return and claim the prize.
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