Throughout North Africa and the Mediterranean world, the sand roads that connected the land and peoples have been crucial in shaping their culture and history.
From the Trans-Saharan gold trade to Portuguese journeys around the West African coast, these routes helped to shape the history of the region.
During the centuries, the trans-Saharan trade was the central means of transporting goods from the Mediterranean world to Africa.
A number of routes linked the continent, but the sand roads were the oldest and most important.
During the 12th century, traders transported gold, salt, slaves, and ivory, among other commodities.
The Islamic world, which was also the center of trade and commerce, contributed to science, law, philosophy, and agriculture.
A number of explorers from different African societies traveled on behalf of trade routes.
One such explorer was Alexander Gordon Laing, who entered Timbuktu in August 1826.
A second explorer, Charles Denham, traveled to the Sultanate of Bagirmi.
The Portuguese sent expeditions from the west coast of Africa, which created new trade routes.
The first western route connected Tripoli and Ghadamis, then continued north to Ghat and Ghadames.
The eastern trans-Saharan route was also important, and it started from Tripoli and continued to the Songhai Empire.
It later became the main slave-trading route in the Sahara. This route later evolved into the long-lived Kanem-Bornu Empire.
The eastern trans-Saharan route also provided a route for the influx of enslaved people from the Maghreb into the Sahara.
This route became more and more important during the Almohad conquests.
Timbuktu became an important trade center, especially in the area of gold.
A large palace was built by the same architect. This city also became a meeting place for scholars and religious leaders.
Timbuktu became a city with a wealth of knowledge. It was an intellectual center, where books were copied and distributed to other Africans.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu was also a center for the propagation of Islam in Africa.
This city also attracted Arab traders from North Africa. The mosques and holy places of Timbuktu played a vital role in the spread of Islam in Africa.
Located in the south of Sudan, the Darb al-Arba’in, or the Desert of the Dead is a large and abrasive desert with a plethora of oases to explore.
The desert is also home to phosphates, a key ingredient in the production of many items we buy.
The largest phosphates factory in the region is located 45km outside of Kharga.
The desert is also home to many thriving communities. The most well-known is the village of Bulaq.
While in this part of the country, you may want to consider making a pit stop at the Ain Sheikh Mazouk hot spring.
The aforementioned spring has been deemed a top tourist attraction in the region.
The site also features a tepid spring that provides water to locals and visitors alike. The aforementioned hot spring can be visited on a day trip from Kharga but is best accessed by a guided tour.
Other attractions include the Ain Besai, a cold pool near a chapel. The site also houses the most impressive rock tombs in the region.
The best part of the tour is being able to soak in the surrounding vistas.
This is a great time to stop and soak up some vitamin D in the warm summer months. It’s also a good opportunity to ogle the many petroglyphs on display.
While in the area, you should also make time for a trip to the nearby Bahariya and Farafra oases. Both are separated by a large limestone escarpment.
The road from Bahariya to Farafra is also the route used by the locals to access phosphates from the factory near Kharga.
The name of the town aptly translates to “the sand.” This oasis was once the capital of the Darfur Province of Sudan.
Located in the northwest corner of Libya, the old town of Ghadames is one of the oldest pre-Saharan cities. The city has a population of just over 6,000 people.
It has seen its fair share of turmoil. In the early 1980s, the Revolutionary government moved thousands of residents from their medieval lanes.
The city is now in a state of flux. Its economy has been dragged down by the 2011 Libyan Civil War.
This has resulted in a downturn in tourist numbers.
Despite its modest population, it has a lot to offer. In addition to the old town, there are dozens of ad-hoc villages in the area.
The most prominent is Ghadames ad-hoc, which is located a little over a mile from the old town. In the early days, the city served as a hub for trans-Saharan trade.
The city has seen its share of turbulence, but the current crop of residents is not dependent on tourists for a living.
One of the reasons is the city’s proximity to the Libyan port of Ras Lanuf, where dozens of oil tankers dock every day.
The city has custom-built 100-liter tanks, which can be filled with petrol at 10p a liter. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The city’s largest claims to fame are its impressively large obelisks, as well as the fact that it has a world-class museum.
The city has also seen a number of other notable changes over the years, including the relocation of the old town to the suburbs.
The city’s infrastructure is in rough shape, but the residents have a lot to be thankful for. Hopefully, this will translate into higher tourist numbers.
Trans-Saharan gold trade
During the early medieval era, the Trans-Saharan gold trade was a major contributor to West African development.
It linked the economies of the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan regions of West Africa. This trade had been in operation for at least five centuries.
The trade was made up of three main products: gold, kola nuts, and slaves.
Gold was largely mined in sub-Saharan West Africa and used for coinage.
It was also used for other purposes. The gold mines of West Africa were the richest in the Old World before South American gold discoveries.
The Akan of Ghana adopted the Roman ounce and solidus standard for weighing gold dust. This standard was adopted by other African kingdoms, such as the Ivory Coast.
The Arabs also became interested in the gold trade. They bought gold from Berbers living in southern Moroccan towns.
Their trade helped convert the people to Islam. The Arabs also traded salt for gold. The trans-Saharan trade helped establish several powerful states. The most powerful of these states were the Akans.
The trans-Saharan trade played a large role in the formation of Ghana.
Ghana’s rulers became rich and powerful. The gold trade allowed the rulers to fund a large army.
The rulers also had to make a complex strategy to ensure their success in the trade.
The trade also gave rise to powerful trading classes.
The trans-Saharan trade shaped the consolidation of many West African societies. The trade dominated trade from the 7th to 14th centuries. It also led to the development of powerful states in West Africa.
These states would be famous for their role in the trade.
The trans-Saharan gold trade is the subject of many debates.
Evidence from archeology and historical texts has fuelled these debates.
Portuguese journeys around the West African coast
During the 1440s and 1450s Portuguese journeys around the West African coast were undertaken in response to the desire for new markets.
The Portuguese were opposed to Islam and Muslims were seen as an enemy.
The Portuguese also had a strong desire to expand their Christian religion. The Portuguese also discovered a route that was a better route to return to the continent from the Atlantic than through the Mediterranean.
The Portuguese also found the Sargasso Sea, which is a large gyre in the Atlantic Ocean. This allowed the Portuguese to venture much farther out from their coast.
In addition, the Portuguese had unmatched knowledge of the sailing conditions halfway down the African coast.
In the fifteenth century, Portuguese explorers were involved in many journeys around the West African coast. The first voyage was undertaken by Bartolomeu Dias.
He was the first European to round the southern tip of Africa, called the Cape of Good Hope.
The Portuguese landed at Shama, on the southern “Gold Coast” of West Africa, in 1471.
Bartolomeu Dias also helped the Portuguese to build ships for their explorations. In 1488, Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope and named it the Cape of Storms.
He then settled in Guinea in West Africa.
Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator, sailed around Africa in 1498. He lost half of his crew in the attempt. His expeditions led to an elite of mariners and astronomers.
Vasco da Gama also helped establish an all-water route to the Indian Ocean.
After he reached India, he established no maritime fleets in the Indian Ocean.
The Portuguese also explored the Atlantic islands, including the Azores. The Portuguese also discovered the Madeira Islands.
The Portuguese began to send small fleets on annual expeditions.