20 Apr: The Truth About Timbuktu

No European had returned alive from Timbuktu until French adventurer René Caillie, who arrived in the ‘City of Gold’ on 20th April, 1828 after an arduous year-long journey. He was fêted by the Société de Géographie in Paris, who awarded him 10,000 francs in recognition of his daring voyage – and his place in the history books was assured.

But Caillie was disappointed by what he had found. “The city presented, at first view, nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth,” he wrote. “Nothing was to be seen in all directions but immense plains of quicksand of a yellowish white colour … all nature wore a dreary aspect.”

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain why a myth had grown up around the Malian city; reveal how Caillie got away with pretending to be Muslim; and dig up the Société’s impressively exhaustive list of evidence required to prove he had been there…

Further Reading:

• Who, What, Why: Why do we know Timbuktu?’ (BBC News, 2012): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17583772

• ‘Foreign Policy: Timbuktu, Lost City’ (NPR, 2012): https://www.npr.org/2012/07/11/156602241/foreign-policy-timbuktu-lost-city

• ‘Timbuktu’ (UNESCO, 2015):