Trading Places: All that Glitters is not Gold!

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

Historically, Morocco was one of the major hubs in North Africa for the Trans -Saharan trade route that extending south to the Ghana Empire comprising of the modern-day countries of Mauritania and Mali. A vast land of West Africa comprising of the indigenous people; Soninke. A community build of farming and expanding their skills in the design of iron tools aiding their agricultural work and military weapons. The onset of this lead to the development of towns and villages in the vast area of the Ghana empire. Ideally positioned, centrally to the trade route of the south & north of Africa, the land became an empire trading in salt and gold.

Gold and Salt Trade Routes in North Africa. The secrets gold mines of the Ghana Empire (Gold Triangles) and Salt mines of Northern Mali and Morocco (white/blue circles) are included in the present day map of North Africa (credit:

The discovery of gold in the southern region of Mali and Mauritania brought a greater autonomy in the region and the whole kingdom flourished and peaked in its glory by 10AD; the building of armies and expansion of neighbouring lands. Gold mined and extracted in the region of Wangara in the Ghana empire fulfilled the demand in North Africa and beyond. It travelled as far as China in exchange for silks & porcelain and in Italy, there was a demand for gold for the minting of coins. One of the most important facts that led to the kingdom’s wealth was its excellent location comprising all trade routes from North to South. It evolved and developed trading places; centrally localised areas where merchants could exchange their goods in safety by paying a local tax. The taxation system developed, again, only increase the prosperity of the region. Timbuktu began one of the bustling central hubs for traders and merchants.

The richness of the Ghana empire lacks one commodity that was critical for enjoying the finer things in life and survival of its community. It was salt. An important substance and it need to reserve food sources and use it for agricultural purposes. It can be argued that the demand for salt and its worth opened a new trading exchange of gold and salt. It has reported the salt travelled to the empire as far as Europe and North Africa; lands that had large reserves that were available for trading. The largest salt mines were found in North Mali; the nucleus of Taghaza and Todemmi. A vast area of salt beds, visible by the process of evaporation and then extracted. Trading caravans passed through this area to exchange local salts with livestock and food that was required by the desolate area of salt. The salt was further transported south to the Ghana empire where it was sold & exchange for gold & other commodities.

As the trade routes were established, the import & export market opened, this leads to an exchange of other goods such as slaves, military weapons, cloth, jewellery, leather, livestock and food resources. By this stage, gold & salt became the main currency of business.

Morocco is located north-west of the Africa continent: neighbouring Spain in the North (13 km separates Morocco & Spain by the strait of Gibraltar), Algeria to the west and the Ghana empire to the south of the country. Due to its locality, Morocco benefited from all trade routes and its link to Europe, Morocco became a nucleus in trading and further developing it economic domination in the region. Islam flourished in the region and by the 8th Century, the religion was introduced to the Ghana empire. By the mid-11th century, Aoudaghost in the Ghana empire fell to the Almoravids; the Berber Muslim dynasty of Morocco. This transition led to the downfall of the independent Ghana Empire leading to the rise of Mali empire and Moroccan’s influence on the domination of all trading routes of North Africa. Subsequently, Morocco structured its own country under the leadership of several dynasties, to cater and be a major player in trading & business. Exploration of its own salt mines in the High Atlas mountains and Siljimassa provided its own currency for trading and exporting it to the south of the Sahara region. In parallel, taking control of the largest salt mines in Taghaza, Morocco became a leader in trade. In order to fulfil the needs of doing business, Morocco re-constructed its infrastructure; the establishment of Marrakech as an imperial capital by 1062 AD (a crossroads accepting traders from the South and west of Morocco) and the rise of fortified villages & houses; Ksars and Kasbahs respectively. The latter provided a safe haven for weary travellers and their community, carefully guarded by the high walls structures and monitor by local military soldiers in case of enemy attack.

Kasbah Amridil, Skoura Morocco

As a country, it was strategically located; expanding its trade routes to the North of Morocco and to Europe. The intensity of its economic uprising can be highlighted in the slave trade. It has been reported that during the 10-19th Century, it was estimated that up to 7,000 slaves were transported from Mauritania/Mali to the North to Morocco & Europe to serve as domestic servants, highly skilled military soldiers and concubines. Trading beyond salt and gold.

This is a part of ‘Take me back in History’ by Love Morocco Tours. Our custom morocco tours provide an insight into the history of Morocco