Leo Africanus

From Academic Kids

fr:Léon l'Africain Leo Africanus was the Christianised name of Al-Hasan bin Muhammed al-Wazzan al-Fasi (Granada 1495?-1554?). A former inhabitant of Granada, his family left the city sometime after the Spanish conquest of 1492. The family settled in Fez, Morocco, where Leo studied. As a young man he accompanied his uncle on a diplomatic mission in the Maghreb, reaching as far as the city of Timbuktu. (c. 1510), then part of the Songhai Empire. While still a young man, he was captured by Christian pirates somewhere in the Mediterranean (either on the island of Djerba or Crete), and sold into the slavery. Presented to Pope Leo X, he was baptized and freed. The Pope, recognising his abilities, asked him to put together a survey of his knowledge of the continent of Africa. For many years he was the only known source of information on Sudan.

At the time he visited the city of Timbuktu, it was somewhat past its peak, but still a thriving Islamic city famous for its learning. "Timbuktu" was to become a byword in Europe as the most inaccessible of cities, but at the time Leo visited, it was the center of a busy trade carried on by Berbers in African products, gold, printed cottons and slaves, and in Islamic books. Leo is said to have died in 1554 in Tunis, having reconverted to Islam.

Most of Leo's life is a mystery, and can only be gleaned from references in his magnum opus, Description of Africa. A fictionalized account of his life, Leo Africanus, by Amin Maalouf, fills in key gaps in the story and places Leo Africanus in all of the prominent events of his time.

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