[O]f all the towns in the world [it] is the one that resembles Mecca the most. . . . It is a large town amid mountains and ravines and is better built than Ghana or Gao.
—Al-Bakri, ca. 1068
The ruins of Tadmekka lie in northeast Mali. The town sprawls across nearly 125 acres, with remains of stone structures that include commercial and residential compounds, caravanserais (roadside inns where caravans could rest overnight), mosques, and livestock enclosures. Surrounding this are cemeteries whose tombstones bear Arabic inscriptions; cliffs that overlook the town are carved with inscriptions that attest to the site’s occupation as early as the tenth century.
Medieval Arabic texts describe Tadmekka as a major center of the trans-Saharan caravan trade. The town was located at the desert’s southern fringe, where camel caravans arrived from and departed for the journey across the Sahara. Recent exploration of its ruins has illuminated the town’s history and its role in the early trans-Saharan world.