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Justin J. Corfield

“Leo Africanus,” (1488 or 1490–c. 1554), whose proper name is al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Wizzaa al-Fasi, is best known for his book on Africa, which was published in 1550 and which gave a great insight in early modern Europe into the world view of Africans. It remained, for many years, one of the major published sources on west-central Africa, and brought the city of Timbuktu to the attention of Europeans. His work also led to great tales being told of Timbuktu, a place of wealth but more importantly of remoteness, in a similar manner to Shangri La, which represented remoteness and spirituality, and El Dorado, a place of unimaginable wealth.

Leo Africanus was born in the kingdom of Granada, but his wealthy family had to leave the city when it was conquered by the armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492 They moved to Fez ...

Article

Chouki El Hamel

Moroccan scholar, diplomat, and traveler, was born al-Hasan b. Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan al-Fasi al-Gharnati (hereafter, al-Wazzan) in Granada, Spain, to a wealthy family (some sources place the date of his birth between 1488 and 1496). In 1492, Granada fell into the hands of the Spanish Castilians, after which Iberian Muslims were forced to migrate to North Africa. In this context, the al-Wazzan family moved to Morocco and settled in the city of Fez. They were able to preserve their socioeconomic status and participated in diplomatic and commercial activities. In his book Description of Africa al Wazzan mentions that after his family settled in the region of Fez he used to accompany his father on business trips to the Rif region and the Middle Atlas mountains to collect taxes on behalf of the Wattasi sultan He also accompanied his uncle on a diplomatic mission to Timbuktu at age ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

The son of a wealthy family, Leo Africanus was born in Spain but moved to Fès, Morocco, as a child. There he was educated and later employed by his uncle as a clerk. Africanus’s first trip to the western Sudan, around 1512, was part of a diplomatic and commercial mission to the Songhai Empire led by his uncle on behalf of the rulers of Fès. During this trip Africanus traveled extensively throughout the region and visited its major trading cities, including Tombouctou, Djenné, Gao, and Sijilmasa. He recorded his observations on all of the region’s major states: the Songhai and Mali empires, the Hausa States and Bornu, as well as the Bulala state occupying the former Kanem empire. This trip provided much of the research for his later publications.

Between 1516 and 1518 Africanus made several trips to Egypt and possibly a trip to Constantinople. In 1518 during ...