Travel to Gao – World Heritage Askia Tomb

Gao is a small city in Mali located in the Gao region on the Niger River. The town is one of the oldest trading centres in western Africa and today trades primarily in butter, hides, wool and livestock. The real highlight is the Tomb of Askia Muhammad, a 16th-century ruler, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

With its huge pink dunes and a wide river dotted with green vegetation, Gao offers a lovely contrast with the light brown desert and the clear blue sky. The town is also the terminus for river traffic from Mopti and Koulikoro in the south-west.

Previously known as Kawkaw, Gao was founded as a fishing village in the 7th century AD, and became the capital of the Songhai Empire in the 11th century. The town flourished under the Songhai Empire, but its importance as a trading centre was reduced when it was annexed by the rulers of the Mali Empire in 1325.

In 1591, Gao was destroyed by the Moroccan invasion during the reigh of King Moulay Ismail. The town remained small until French rule was imposed in the early 20th century, expanding the port and establishing a colonial base. The population of Gao includes many ethnicities, including the Bozo (traditionally nomadic river dwellers), cattle herders, Tuareg nomads, and Bambara peoples from western Mali.

The big attraction is the Askia Tomb, a mud-brick pyramid designed to look like the Great Pyramids of Egypt. The 14th century Gao Mosque is also worth a visit.

Other attractions include the Sahel Museum, traditional markets (with blocks of salt mined in the far north of Mali and La Boucle de Baoule National Park. La Dune Rose, or pink dune, is a giant sand dune across the river from Gao, named for its glowing pink color at sunrise and sunset.

Visit La Dune Rose by pirogue or take a pinasse on the Niger River to Timbuktu. Visit the villages along the outskirts of Gao or perhaps take a cruise on the Niger River.

  • Take a pirogue ride to the pink dune and enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Visit the Askia Tomb, a mud-brick pyramid designed to look like the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
  • See amazing prehistoric rock art in La Boucle de Baoule National Park.


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