Born a Muslim called Hasan al-Wazzan in the 1490’s, he died a Christian called Joannes Leo Africanus in 1552. He was a 16th century historian, diplomat, author and a prolific adventurer. Along the way he travelled the breadth of the North African and the Arabian peninsula, was an ambassador for the Sultan of Fez, was captured by pirates and presented to the Pope in Rome and was even the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Othello. His most startling achievement was The Description of Africa – a geography of the continent that inspired generations of explorers and adventurers and remains the most widely published of all travel authors.
The film follows his footsteps from his birth in the Arabic quarter of Granada and across the sea to Morocco; through the hidden medina of Fez and onto the old pirate lair of Malta. In Mali, this documentary produced for the BBC traces his journey along the river Niger to Timbuktu. There we explore the famous libraries and bring to life the rich and important cultural and intellectual heritage of this site. By exploring Hasan al-Wazzan’s life and times, we bring fresh understanding to the long and complex relationships between Christianity & Islam and between the West and Africa.