Drab Sand and Empty Field
The first European to bring reports back from Timbuktu was René Caillié, who had dreamed of participating in African expeditions since he was a teenager. Inspired by the travel journals of the Scottish sailor Mungo Park and encouraged by the prize presented by the Société de Géographie, he decided to visit Timbuktu and be the first European to return alive to tell the tale.
In his travel journal published in 1830, Caillié describes his disappointment when he first saw the Promised City: “I had formed a totally different idea of the grandeur and wealth of Timbuctoo. The city presented, at first view, nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth. Nothing was to be seen in all directions but immense plains of quicksand of a yellowish white colour. The sky was a pale red as far as the horizon: all nature wore a dreary aspect, and the most profound silence prevailed.”