The Tomb of Askia

The city Gao is located midway along the Niger River basin in Africa. It was the capital of the Songhai Empire which dominated Western Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Gao has been an important trading point on the Niger River since ancient times.

A symbol of imperial glory, the tomb of Askia, the tomb of Askia Mohamed was built when the empire was at its peak, during Askia’s reign at the end of the 15th century.

The wooden poles which stick out of the mud exterior are used as footholds. People stand on them to maintain the tomb. The mud is reapplied every two years.  The dramatic 17m [55 foot] pyramidal structure of the Tomb of Askia was built in 1495, in the Songhai capital of Gao. It bears testimony to the power and riches of the empire that flourished in the 15th and 16th century, only three years after Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic.

The Songhai Empire was strong because of its wealth earned from trading. Gold was mined south of the Sahara Desert. It was carried along the Niger and exchanged for valuable rock salt from the desert.

Emperor Askia tried to unite his people by adopting Islam as a national religion. A large mosque was built next to his tomb. It’s said that Emperor Askia was so impressed by the tombs he saw on his journey to Mecca, that he chose a similar structure for his own tomb.

A small path leads to the interior of the tomb. No coffin was found inside. A narrow pathway leads to the top of the mound, where there is a view over the whole of Gao.

The emperor’s tomb, still is an important testimony to Gao’s history, to a period when it was a booming city in the Songhai empire.