Leo Africanus (1494-1554)
Born in Granada, al-Hasan ibn Mohammed al-Wazzan, otherwise known as Leo Africanus, was brought up in Fès, where he attended the famous Al-Karouyine University.
In his youth, he ventured to Timbuctoo with his diplomat uncle, the city then part of the Songhai Empire. While travelling through the Mediterranean, Africanus was taken prisoner by pirates, and brought to Rome, where he was imprisoned in the Castel Sant-Angelo, before being presented to Pope Leo X. Baptised as a Catholic, Africanus continued his travels within Italy, before writing his masterwork, Della descrittione dell Africa et delle cose notabili cheiui sono.
The book, translated into English under the title A Geographical Historie of Africa, became a seminal text of the age. His description of Timbuctoo as a bustling city of commerce, abounding with wealth, possibly led to the European obsession with the city, and the notion that it was an African El Dorado.