This map shows the main routes used by major European explorers in Northern and Central Africa. Compared to the vast distances...Read More >>This map shows the main routes used by major European explorers in Northern and Central Africa. Compared to the vast distances covered by some earlier explorers, such as Ibn Battuta (1304–1368/9), their progress into the African interior was very slow. During the 18th and 19th centuries European explorers ventured into parts of Africa never before visited by white people. They wanted to learn about the geography and people of Africa—as well as what raw materials could be obtained. They also wanted to find new markets for European goods. One goal that particularly fascinated European geographers and explorers was finding the source of the River Nile, which came to be known as the "Great Prize".
By the 18th century, European travellers had mapped Africa’s entire coastline in detail. However, the interior of the continent remained largely unexplored. Many Europeans believed that the River Niger led to rich trading opportunities further inland. In 1788, Englishman Sir Joseph Banks founded the African Association to encourage exploration of the so-called “Dark Continent”. Scotsman Mungo Park (1771–1806) was chosen to lead the African Association’s first expedition to West Africa. In 1795, he travelled along the River Gambia. Despite being attacked and robbed by tribesmen, he reached the River Niger in 1796.
René Caillié was inspired to travel by reading the adventure classic Robinson Crusoe as a child.
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