Timbuktu (UNESCO/NHK)

Timbuktu (UNESCO/NHK)

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Home of the prestigious Koranic Sankore University and other madrasas, Timbuktu in Mali was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall Timbuktu's golden age. Although continuously restored, these monuments are today under threat from desertification.

Source: UNESCO TV / © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai
URL: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/119/


Mali’s Crisis: Terror Stalks the Historic Treasures of Timbuktu

Sankore mosque, built in 15th-16th centuries, Timbuktu city, Timbuktu region, Mali.

The historic city of Timbuktu, once a byword for a place lost to obscurity and myth, is now in the grip of very real political events. As a military coup unseated Mali’s democratically-elected government in late March, a separate insurrection in the country’s north took advantage of the chaos. Comprised mostly of ethnic Tuaregs — a nomadic Saharan people — the rebel MLNA (the French acronym for National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) has wrested control of much of the territory they seek for an independent state, their “Azawad.” By Sunday, the ancient cultural centers of Gao and Timbuktu were in rebel hands. On Thursday, content with their gains, they declared an “end” to military operations. From being the pipe-dream of a fringe insurgency, Azawad is now a de facto reality.

Attention falls squarely on Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site that, despite its dusty remoteness, has for years now been a favored spot on the European backpacker trail. Not many tourists are on their way now, though. According to reports, an Islamist, al-Qaeda-linked faction known as Ansar Dine spearheaded the city’s takeover, likely muscling out more secular Tuareg and rebel comrades. Since Tuesday, Shari’a law has been in effect in Timbuktu. In a show of force on Wednesday, reports the Associated Press, the Islamic rebels “drove through the town in a tank-like armored-personnel carrier, their ominous black flag flapping in the wind above the cannon.” The vast majority of Timbuktu’s few hundred Christians have already fled the city.

That sectarian panic belies the richness of Timbuktu’s past. The city of 50,000 may be impoverished and now inaccessible, but it’s home to some of the region’s greatest treasures — in particular, the three earthen-brick mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia. The first of the three dates back to the 13 th century. Fearful for their safety as the conflict rages, UNESCO issued a warning earlier in the week, urging their protection:

Timbuktu and its three great mosques reflect the golden age of an intellectual and spiritual capital in the fifteenth century. These mosques have played a vital role in spreading Islam in Africa. They carry the identity and dignity of a whole people.

Timbuktu’s roots in the desert sands go deep. According to lore, the town sprung up in the 12 th or 13 th century around a well that was guarded by a woman known as Buktu. At the crossroads of great Saharan trade routes, it rapidly became a center for the exchange salt, gold and slaves. Leo Africanus, the 16 th century Moorish traveler turned Papal diplomat, described a city brimming not only with “many wells containing sweet water,” but a town where “the inhabitants are very rich.”

In his account, the king’s treasury overflows with coins and ingots one of the ingots apparently weighs 970 pounds. At the time a key city in the Songhai Empire, Timbuktu’s rulers collect tribute from surrounding lands and towns and wage wars on those who don’t submit. The king, according to Leo, has at his call an “infinity of foot-soldiers armed with bows made of wild fennel which they use to shoot poisoned arrows.”

But even more impressive than Timbuktu’s political power was its learning. Leo wrote:

There are in Timbuktu numerous judges, teachers and priests, all properly appointed by the king. He greatly honors learning. Many hand-written books imported from Barbary [North Africa] are also sold. There is more profit made from this commerce than from all other merchandise.

Though its fortunes dwindled following defeat by a Moroccan army at the end of the 16 th century and the diversion of trade elsewhere, Timbuktu’s scholarly legacy is a source of pride to this day. The city boasts thousands of manuscripts dating back to its “Golden Age” from the 1400s till the Moroccan conquest, works that, as TIME’s Vivienne Walt wrote from Timbuktu in 2009, “shatter any lingering notion that Africa has no historic literary tradition of its own.”

But it’s a legacy that is tenuous: as Walt reported three years ago, private collectors have been secreting texts away and significant funds are needed to preserve and archive the manuscripts, some of which have literally been entombed in the desert for centuries. Termites and theft are perennial threats, but now greater dangers loom. As uncertainty grips Timbuktu, the city has become something of a microcosm for all of Mali: no one’s quite clear who is in charge and the threat of further violence swirls like a malevolent sandstorm.


Contents

Over the centuries, the spelling of Timbuktu has varied a great deal: from Tenbuch on the Catalan Atlas (1375), to traveller Antonio Malfante's Thambet, used in a letter he wrote in 1447 and also adopted by Alvise Cadamosto in his Voyages of Cadamosto, to Heinrich Barth's Timbúktu and Timbu'ktu. French spelling often appears in international reference as "Tombouctou".The German spelling 'Timbuktu,' and its variant 'Timbucktu' have passed into English and the former has become widely used in recent years. Major English-language works have employed the spelling 'Timbuctoo', and this is considered the correct English form by scholars 'Timbuctou' and 'Timbuctu' are sometimes used as well. The French continue to use the spelling 'Tombouctou', as they have for over a century variants include 'Temboctou' (used by explorer René Caillié) and 'Tombouktou', but they are seldom seen. Variant spellings exist for other places as well, such as Jenne (Djenné) and Segu (Ségou). [2] As well as its spelling, Timbuktu's toponymy is still open to discussion. [a] At least four possible origins of the name of Timbuktu have been described:

  • Songhay origin: both Leo Africanus and Heinrich Barth believed the name was derived from two Songhay words: [3] Leo Africanus writes the Kingdom of Tombuto was named after a town of the same name, founded in 1213 or 1214 by MansaSuleyman. [4] The word itself consisted of two parts: tin (wall) and butu (Wall of Butu). Africanus did not explain the meaning of this Butu. [3] Heinrich Barth wrote: "The town was probably so called, because it was built originally in a hollow or cavity in the sand-hills. Tùmbutu means hole or womb in the Songhay language: if it were a Temáshight (Tamashek) word, it would be written Timbuktu. The name is generally interpreted by Europeans as well of Buktu (also same word in Persian is bâkhtàr باختر = where the sun sets, West), but tin has nothing to do with well." [5]
  • Berber origin: Malian historian Sekene Cissoko proposes a different etymology: the Tuareg founders of the city gave it a Berber name, a word composed of two parts: tim, the feminine form of in (place of) and bouctou, a small dune. Hence, Timbuktu would mean "place covered by small dunes". [6]
  • Abd al-Sadi offers a third explanation in his 17th-century Tarikh al-Sudan: "The Tuareg made it a depot for their belongings and provisions, and it grew into a crossroads for travelers coming and going. Looking after their belongings was a slave woman of theirs called Timbuktu, which in their language means [the one having a] 'lump'. The blessed spot where she encamped was named after her." [7]
  • The French OrientalistRené Basset forwarded another theory: the name derives from the Zenaga root b-k-t, meaning "to be distant" or "hidden", and the feminine possessive particle tin. The meaning "hidden" could point to the city's location in a slight hollow. [8]

The validity of these theories depends on the identity of the original founders of the city: as recently as 2000, archaeological research has not found remains dating from the 11th/12th century within the limits of the modern city given the difficulty of excavating through metres of sand that have buried the remains over the past centuries. [9] [10] Without consensus, the etymology of Timbuktu remains unclear.

Like other important Medieval West African towns such as Djenné (Jenné-Jeno), Gao, and Dia, Iron Age settlements have been discovered near Timbuktu that predate the traditional foundation date of the town. Although the accumulation of thick layers of sand has thwarted archaeological excavations in the town itself, [11] [10] some of the surrounding landscape is deflating and exposing pottery shards on the surface. A survey of the area by Susan and Roderick McIntosh in 1984 identified several Iron Age sites along the el-Ahmar, an ancient wadi system that passes a few kilometers to the east of the modern town. [12]

An Iron Age tell complex located 9 kilometres (6 miles) southeast of the Timbuktu near the Wadi el-Ahmar was excavated between 2008 and 2010 by archaeologists from Yale University and the Mission Culturelle de Tombouctou. The results suggest that the site was first occupied during the 5th century BC, thrived throughout the second half of the 1st millennium AD and eventually collapsed sometime during the late 10th or early 11th-century AD. [13] [14]

Timbuktu was a regional trade center in medieval times, where caravans met to exchange salt from the Sahara Desert for gold, ivory, and slaves from the Sahel, which could be reached via the nearby Niger River. The population (2018 population 32,460) swelled from 10,000 in the 13th century to about 50,000 in the 16th century after the establishment of a major Islamic university (University of Timbuktu), which attracted scholars from throughout the Muslim world. In the 1600s, a combination of a purge by a monarch who accused the scholars of "disloyalty" and a decline in trade caused by increased competition from newly available trans-Atlantic sailing routes caused the city to decline. The first European to reach Timbuktu, Alexander Gordon Laing, did not arrive until 1826, and it was not until the 1890s that Timbuktu was formally incorporated into the French colony of Mali. Today, the city is still inhabited however, the city is not as geopolitically relevant as it once was.

Timbuktu is located on the southern edge of the Sahara 15 km (9 mi) north of the main channel of the River Niger. The town is surrounded by sand dunes and the streets are covered in sand. The port of Kabara is 8 km (5 mi) to the south of the town and is connected to an arm of the river by a 3 km (2 mi) canal. The canal had become heavily silted but in 2007 it was dredged as part of a Libyan financed project. [15]

The annual flood of the Niger River is a result of the heavy rainfall in the headwaters of the Niger and Bani rivers in Guinea and northern Ivory Coast. The rainfall in these areas peaks in August but the floodwater takes time to pass down the river system and through the Inner Niger Delta. At Koulikoro, 60 km (37 mi) downstream from Bamako, the flood peaks in September, [16] while in Timbuktu the flood lasts longer and usually reaches a maximum at the end of December. [17]

In the past, the area flooded by the river was more extensive and in years with high rainfall, floodwater would reach the western outskirts of Timbuktu itself. [18] A small navigable creek to the west of the town is shown on the maps published by Heinrich Barth in 1857 [19] and Félix Dubois in 1896. [20] Between 1917 and 1921, during the colonial period, the French used slave labour to dig a narrow canal linking Timbuktu with Kabara. [21] Over the following decades this became silted and filled with sand, but in 2007 as part of the dredging project, the canal was re-excavated so that now when the River Niger floods, Timbuktu is again connected to Kabara. [15] [22] The Malian government has promised to address problems with the design of the canal as it currently lacks footbridges and the steep, unstable banks make access to the water difficult. [23]

Kabara can only function as a port in December to January when the river is in full flood. When the water levels are lower, boats dock at Korioumé which is linked to Timbuktu by 18 km (11 mi) of paved road.

Climate Edit

Timbuktu features a hot desert climate (BWh) according to the Köppen Climate Classification. The weather is extremely hot and dry throughout much of the year, with most of the city’s rainfall occurring between June and September, due to the influence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The degree of diurnal temperature variation is higher in the dry season than the wet season. Average daily maximum temperatures in the hottest months of the year – April, May and June – exceed 40 °C (104 °F). Lowest temperatures occur during the mildest months of the year – December, January and February. However, average maximum temperatures do not drop below 30 °C (86 °F). These winter months are characterized by a dry, dusty trade wind blowing from the Saharan Tibesti Region southward to the Gulf of Guinea: picking up dust particles on their way, these winds limit visibility in what has been dubbed the 'Harmattan Haze'. [24] Additionally, when the dust settles in the city, sand builds up and desertification looms. [25]

Climate data for Timbuktu (1950–2000, extremes 1897–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 41.6
(106.9)
43.5
(110.3)
46.1
(115.0)
48.9
(120.0)
49.0
(120.2)
49.0
(120.2)
46.0
(114.8)
46.5
(115.7)
45.0
(113.0)
48.0
(118.4)
42.5
(108.5)
40.0
(104.0)
49.0
(120.2)
Average high °C (°F) 30.0
(86.0)
33.2
(91.8)
36.6
(97.9)
40.0
(104.0)
42.2
(108.0)
41.6
(106.9)
38.5
(101.3)
36.5
(97.7)
38.3
(100.9)
39.1
(102.4)
35.2
(95.4)
30.4
(86.7)
36.8
(98.2)
Daily mean °C (°F) 21.5
(70.7)
24.2
(75.6)
27.6
(81.7)
31.3
(88.3)
34.1
(93.4)
34.5
(94.1)
32.2
(90.0)
30.7
(87.3)
31.6
(88.9)
30.9
(87.6)
26.5
(79.7)
22.0
(71.6)
28.9
(84.0)
Average low °C (°F) 13.0
(55.4)
15.2
(59.4)
18.5
(65.3)
22.5
(72.5)
26.0
(78.8)
27.3
(81.1)
25.8
(78.4)
24.8
(76.6)
24.8
(76.6)
22.7
(72.9)
17.7
(63.9)
13.5
(56.3)
21.0
(69.8)
Record low °C (°F) 1.7
(35.1)
7.5
(45.5)
7.0
(44.6)
8.0
(46.4)
18.5
(65.3)
17.4
(63.3)
18.0
(64.4)
20.0
(68.0)
18.9
(66.0)
13.0
(55.4)
11.0
(51.8)
3.5
(38.3)
1.7
(35.1)
Average rainfall mm (inches) 0.6
(0.02)
0.1
(0.00)
0.1
(0.00)
1.0
(0.04)
4.0
(0.16)
16.4
(0.65)
53.5
(2.11)
73.6
(2.90)
29.4
(1.16)
3.8
(0.15)
0.1
(0.00)
0.2
(0.01)
182.8
(7.20)
Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm) 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.6 0.9 3.2 6.6 8.1 4.7 0.8 0.0 0.1 25.3
Mean monthly sunshine hours 263.9 249.6 269.9 254.6 275.3 234.7 248.6 255.3 248.9 273.0 274.0 258.7 3,106.5
Source 1: World Meteorological Organization, [26] NOAA (sun 1961–1990) [27]
Source 2: Meteo Climat (record highs and lows) [28]

Salt trade Edit

The wealth and very existence of Timbuktu depended on its position as the southern terminus of an important trans-Saharan trade route nowadays, the only goods that are routinely transported across the desert are slabs of rock salt brought from the Taoudenni mining centre in the central Sahara 664 km (413 mi) north of Timbuktu. Until the second half of the 20th century most of the slabs were transported by large salt caravans or azalai, one leaving Timbuktu in early November and the other in late March. [29]

The caravans of several thousand camels took three weeks each way, transporting food to the miners and returning with each camel loaded with four or five 30 kg (66 lb) slabs of salt. The salt transport was largely controlled by the desert nomads of the Arabic-speaking Berabich (or Barabish) tribe. [30] Although there are no roads, the slabs of salt are now usually transported from Taoudenni by truck. [31] From Timbuktu the salt is transported by boat to other towns in Mali.

Between the 12th and 14th centuries, Timbuktu's population grew immensely due to an influx of Bono, Tuaregs, Fulanis, and Songhais seeking trade, security, or to study. By 1300, the population increased to 10,000 and continued increasing until it reached about 50,000 in the 1500s. [32] [33]

Agriculture Edit

There is insufficient rainfall in the Timbuktu region for purely rain-fed agriculture and crops are therefore irrigated using water from the River Niger. The main agricultural crop is rice. African floating rice (Oryza glaberrima) has traditionally been grown in regions near the river that are inundated during the annual flood. Seed is sown at the beginning of the rainy season (June–July) so that when the flood water arrives plants are already 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) in height. [34]

The plants grow up to three metres (9.8 feet) in height as the water level rises. The rice is harvested by canoe in December. The procedure is very precarious and the yields are low but the method has the advantage that little capital investment is required. A successful crop depends critically on the amount and timing of the rain in the wet season and the height of the flood. To a limited extent the arrival of the flood water can be controlled by the construction of small mud dikes that become submerged as the water rises.

Although floating rice is still cultivated in the Timbuktu Cercle, most of the rice is now grown in three relatively large irrigated areas that lie to the south of the town: Daye (392 ha), Koriomé (550 ha) and Hamadja (623 ha). [35] Water is pumped from the river using ten large Archimedes' screws which were first installed in the 1990s. The irrigated areas are run as cooperatives with approximately 2,100 families cultivating small plots. [36] Nearly all the rice produced is consumed by the families themselves. The yields are still relatively low and the farmers are being encouraged to change their agricultural practices. [37]

Tourism Edit

Most tourists visit Timbuktu between November and February when the air temperature is lower. In the 1980s, accommodation for tourists was provided by Hendrina Khan Hotel [38] and two other small hotels: Hotel Bouctou and Hotel Azalaï. [39] Over the following decades the tourist numbers increased so that by 2006 there were seven small hotels and guest houses. [35] The town benefited by the revenue from the CFA 5000 tourist tax, [35] by the sale of handicrafts and by the employment for the guides.

Attacks Edit

Starting in 2008, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb began kidnapping groups of tourists in the Sahel region. [40] In January 2009, four tourists were kidnapped near the Mali–Niger border after attending a cultural festival at Anderamboukané. [41] One of these tourists was subsequently murdered. [42] As a result of this and various other incidents a number of states including France, [43] Britain [44] and the US, [45] began advising their citizens to avoid travelling far from Bamako. The number of tourists visiting Timbuktu dropped precipitously from around 6000 in 2009 to only 492 in the first four months of 2011. [39]

Because of the security concerns, the Malian government moved the 2010 Festival in the Desert from Essakane to the outskirts of Timbuktu. [46] [47] In November 2011, gunmen attacked tourists staying at a hotel in Timbuktu, killing one of them and kidnapping three others. [48] [49] This was the first terrorist incident in Timbuktu itself.

On 1 April 2012, one day after the capture of Gao, Timbuktu was captured from the Malian military by the Tuareg rebels of the MNLA and Ansar Dine. [50] Five days later, the MNLA declared the region independent of Mali as the nation of Azawad. [51] The declared political entity was not recognized by any regional nations or the international community and it collapsed three months later on 12 July. [52]

On 28 January 2013, French and Malian government troops began retaking Timbuktu from the Islamist rebels. [53] The force of 1,000 French troops with 200 Malian soldiers retook Timbuktu without a fight. The Islamist groups had already fled north a few days earlier, having set fire to the Ahmed Baba Institute, which housed many important manuscripts. The building housing the Ahmed Baba Institute was funded by South Africa, and held 30,000 manuscripts. BBC World Service radio news reported on 29 January 2013 that approximately 28,000 of the manuscripts in the Institute had been removed to safety from the premises before the attack by the Islamist groups, and that the whereabouts of about 2,000 manuscripts remained unknown. [54] It was intended to be a resource for Islamic research. [55]

On 30 March 2013, jihadist rebels infiltrated into Timbuktu nine days before a suicide bombing on a Malian army checkpoint at the international airport, killing a soldier. Fighting lasted until 1 April, when French warplanes helped Malian ground forces chase the remaining rebels out of the city center.

Tales of Timbuktu's fabulous wealth helped prompt European exploration of the west coast of Africa. Among the most famous descriptions of Timbuktu are those of Leo Africanus and Shabeni.

Leo Africanus Edit

Perhaps most famous among the accounts written about Timbuktu is that by Leo Africanus. Born El Hasan ben Muhammed el- Wazzan-ez-Zayyati in Granada in 1485, his family was among the thousands of Muslims expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel after their reconquest of Spain in 1492. They settled in Morocco, where he studied in Fes and accompanied his uncle on diplomatic missions throughout North Africa. During these travels, he visited Timbuktu. As a young man he was captured by pirates and presented as an exceptionally learned slave to Pope Leo X, who freed him, baptized him under the name "Johannis Leo de Medici", and commissioned him to write, in Italian, a detailed survey of Africa. His accounts provided most of what Europeans knew about the continent for the next several centuries. [56] Describing Timbuktu when the Songhai Empire was at its height, the English edition of his book includes the description:

The rich king of Tombuto hath many plates and sceptres of gold, some whereof weigh 1300 pounds. . He hath always 3000 horsemen . (and) a great store of doctors, judges, priests, and other learned men, that are bountifully maintained at the king's cost and charges.

According to Leo Africanus, there were abundant supplies of locally produced corn, cattle, milk and butter, though there were neither gardens nor orchards surrounding the city. [57] In another passage dedicated to describing the wealth of both the environment and the king, Africanus touches upon the rarity of one of Timbuktu's trade commodities: salt.

The inhabitants are very rich, especially the strangers who have settled in the country [..] But salt is in very short supply because it is carried here from Tegaza, some 500 miles (805 km) from Timbuktu. I happened to be in this city at a time when a load of salt sold for eighty ducats. The king has a rich treasure of coins and gold ingots.

These descriptions and passages alike caught the attention of European explorers. Africanus also described the more mundane aspects of the city, such as the "cottages built of chalk, and covered with thatch" – although these went largely unheeded. [10]

Shabeni Edit

– Shabeni in James Grey Jackson's [fr] An Account of Timbuctoo and Hausa, 1820 [58]

Roughly 250 years after Leo Africanus' visit to Timbuktu, the city had seen many rulers. The end of the 18th century saw the grip of the Moroccan rulers on the city wane, resulting in a period of unstable government by quickly changing tribes. During the rule of one of those tribes, the Hausa, a 14-year-old child named Shabeni (or Shabeeny) from Tetuan on the north coast of Morocco accompanied his father on a visit to Timbuktu. [59]

Shabeni stayed in Timbuktu for three years before moving to a major city called Housa [b] several days' journey to the southeast. Two years later, he returned to Timbuktu to live there for another seven years – one of a population that was, even centuries after its peak and excluding slaves, double the size of the 21st-century town.

By the time Shabeni was 27, he was an established merchant in his hometown of Tetuan. He made a two-year pilgrimage to Mecca and thus became a hajji, Asseed El Hage Abd Salam Shabeeny. Returning from a trading voyage to Hamburg, he was captured by a ship manned by Englishmen but sailing under a Russian flag, whose captain claimed that his Imperial mistress (Catherine the Great) was "at war with all Muselmen" (see Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792)). He and the ship he had been sailing in were brought to Ostend in Belgium in December 1789 but the British consul managed to get him and the ship released. He set off again in the same ship, but the captain, who claimed to be afraid of his ship being captured again, set him ashore in Dover. In England his story was recorded. Shabeeni gave an indication of the size of the city in the second half of the 18th century. In an earlier passage, he described an environment that was characterized by forest, as opposed to the modern arid surroundings.

Cultural events Edit

The most well-known cultural event is the Festival au Désert. [62] When the Tuareg rebellion ended in 1996 under the Konaré administration, 3,000 weapons were burned in a ceremony dubbed the Flame of Peace on 29 March 2007 – to commemorate the ceremony, a monument was built. [63] The Festival au Désert, to celebrate the peace treaty, was held every January in the desert, 75 km from the city until 2010. [62]

The week-long festival of Mawloud is held every January, and celebrates the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed—the city's "most cherished manuscripts" are read publicly, and are a central part of this celebration. [64] It was originally a Shi'ite festival from Persia and arriving in Timbuktu around 1600. The "most joyful occasion on Timbuktu's calender," it combines "rituals of Sufi Islam with celebrating Timbuktu's rich literary traditions." [65] It is a "period of feasting, singing, and dancing. It culminated with an evening gathering of thousands of people in the large sandy square in front of the Sankor é Mosque and a public reading of some of the city's most treasured manuscripts." [65]

World Heritage Site Edit

During its twelfth session, in December 1988, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) selected parts of Timbuktu's historic centre for inscription on its World Heritage list. [66] The selection was based on three criteria: [67]

  • Criterion II: Timbuktu's holy places were vital to early Islamization in Africa.
  • Criterion IV: Timbuktu's mosques show a cultural and scholarly Golden Age during the Songhai Empire.
  • Criterion V: The construction of the mosques, still mostly original, shows the use of traditional building techniques.

An earlier nomination in 1979 failed the following year as it lacked proper demarcation: [67] the Malian government included the town of Timbuktu as a whole in the wish for inclusion. [68] Close to a decade later, three mosques and 16 mausoleums or cemeteries were selected from the Old Town for World Heritage status: with this conclusion came the call for protection of the buildings' conditions, an exclusion of new construction works near the sites and measures against the encroaching sand.

Shortly afterwards, the monuments were placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger by the Malian government, as by the selection committee at the time of nomination. [66] The first period on the Danger List lasted from 1990 until 2005, when a range of measures including restoration work and the compilation of an inventory warranted "its removal from the Danger List". [69] In 2008 the WHC placed the protected area under increased scrutiny dubbed "reinforced monitoring", a measure made possible in 2007, as the impact of planned construction work was unclear. Special attention was given to the build of a cultural centre. [70]

During a session in June 2009, UNESCO decided to cease its increased monitoring program as it felt sufficient progress had been made to address the initial concerns. [71] Following the takeover of Timbuktu by MNLA and the Islamist group Ansar Dine, it was returned to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2012. [72]

Attacks by Muslim fundamentalists Edit

In May 2012, Ansar Dine destroyed a shrine in the city [73] and in June 2012, in the aftermath of the Battle of Gao and Timbuktu, other shrines, including the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, were destroyed when attacked with shovels and pickaxes by members of the same group. [72] An Ansar Dine spokesman said that all shrines in the city, including the 13 remaining World Heritage sites, would be destroyed because they consider them to be examples of idolatry, a sin in Islam. [72] [74] These acts have been described as crimes against humanity and war crimes. [75] After the destruction of the tombs, UNESCO created a special fund to safeguard Mali's World Heritage Sites, vowing to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation projects once the security situation allows. [76]

Centre of learning Edit

Timbuktu was a world centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th century, especially under the Mali Empire and Askia Mohammad I's rule. The Malian government and NGOs have been working to catalog and restore the remnants of this scholarly legacy: Timbuktu's manuscripts. [77]

Timbuktu's rapid economic growth in the 13th and 14th centuries drew many scholars from nearby Walata (today in Mauritania), [78] leading up to the city's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries that proved fertile ground for scholarship of religions, arts and sciences. To the people of Timbuktu, literacy and books were symbols of wealth, power, and blessings and the acquisition of books became a primary concern for scholars. [79] An active trade in books between Timbuktu and other parts of the Islamic world and emperor Askia Mohammed's strong support led to the writing of thousands of manuscripts. [80]

Knowledge was gathered in a manner similar to the early, informal European Medieval university model. [78] Lecturing was presented through a range of informal institutions called madrasahs. [81] Nowadays known as the University of Timbuktu, three madrasahs facilitated 25,000 students: Djinguereber, Sidi Yahya and Sankore. [82]

These institutions were explicitly religious, as opposed to the more secular curricula of modern European universities and more similar to the medieval Europe model. However, where universities in the European sense started as associations of students and teachers, West-African education was patronized by families or lineages, with the Aqit and Bunu al-Qadi al-Hajj families being two of the most prominent in Timbuktu – these families also facilitated students is set-aside rooms in their housings. [83] Although the basis of Islamic law and its teaching were brought to Timbuktu from North Africa with the spread of Islam, Western African scholarship developed: Ahmad Baba al Massufi is regarded as the city's greatest scholar. [84]

Timbuktu served in this process as a distribution centre of scholars and scholarship. Its reliance on trade meant intensive movement of scholars between the city and its extensive network of trade partners. In 1468–1469 though, many scholars left for Walata when Sunni Ali's Songhay Empire absorbed Timbuktu. [78] Then, in the 1591 Moroccan invasion of Timbuktu, scholars had to flee once more, or faced imprisonment or murder. [85]

This system of education survived until the late 19th century, while the 18th century saw the institution of itinerant Quranic school as a form of universal education, where scholars would travel throughout the region with their students, begging for food part of the day. [77] Islamic education came under pressure after the French occupation, droughts in the 70s and 80s and by Mali's civil war in the early 90s. [77]

Manuscripts and libraries Edit

Hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were collected in Timbuktu over the course of centuries: some were written in the town itself, others – including exclusive copies of the Quran for wealthy families – imported through the lively booktrade.

Hidden in cellars or buried, hid between the mosque's mud walls and safeguarded by their patrons, many of these manuscripts survived the city's decline. They now form the collection of several libraries in Timbuktu, holding up to 700,000 manuscripts: [86] In late January 2013 it was reported that rebel forces destroyed many of the manuscripts before leaving the city. [87] [88] "On Friday morning, January 25, 2013, fifteen jihadis entered the restoration and conservation rooms on the ground floor of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Sankoré. The men swept 4,202 manuscripts off lab tables and shelves, and carried them into the tiled courtyard. They doused the manuscripts in gasoline. and tossed in a lit match. The brittle pages and their dry leather covers. were consumed by the inferno." [89] However, there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection as most of the manuscripts were safely hidden away. [90] [91] [92] [93] One librarian in particular, Abdel Kader Haidara, organized to have 350,000 medieval manuscripts smuggled out of Timbuktu for safekeeping. [94] [95]

These libraries are the largest among up to 60 private or public libraries that are estimated to exist in Timbuktu today, although some comprise little more than a row of books on a shelf or a bookchest. [96] Under these circumstances, the manuscripts are vulnerable to damage and theft, as well as long term climate damage, despite Timbuktu's arid climate. Two Timbuktu Manuscripts Projects funded by independent universities have aimed to preserve them.

During the occupation by Islamic extremists the citizens of the city embarked on a drive to save the "best written accounts of African History." Interviewed by the Times the local residents claimed to have safeguarded the three hundred thousand manuscripts for generations. Many of these documents are still in the safe keeping of the local residents who are reluctant to give them overs to the government-run Ahmed Baba Institute housed in a modern digitalization building built by the South African government in 2009. The institute houses only 10% of the manuscripts [97] It was later confirmed by Jean-Michel Djian to the New Yorker that "the great majority of the manuscripts, about fifty thousand, are actually housed in the thirty-two family libraries of the 'City of 333 Saints ' ". He added, "Those are to this day protected." He also added that due to the massive efforts of one individual two hundred thousand other manuscripts were successfully transported to safety [98] This effort was organized by Abdel Kader Haidara, then director of Mamma Haidara Library, using his own funds. Haidara purchased metal footlockers in which up to 300 manuscripts could be securely stored. Nearly 2,500 of these lockers were distributed to safe houses across the city. Many were later moved to Dreazen. [99]

Although French is Mali's official language, today the large majority of Timbuktu's inhabitants speaks Koyra Chiini, a Songhay language that also functions as the lingua franca. Before the 1990–1994 Tuareg rebellion, both Hassaniya Arabic and Tamashek were represented by 10% each to an 80% dominance of the Koyra Chiini language. With Tamashek spoken by both Ikelan and ethnic Tuaregs, its use declined with the expulsion of many Tuaregs following the rebellion, increasing the dominance of Koyra Chiini. [100]

Arabic, introduced together with Islam during the 11th century, has mainly been the language of scholars and religion, comparable to Latin in Western Christianity. [101] Although Bambara is spoken by the most numerous ethnic group in Mali, the Bambara people, it is mainly confined to the south of the country. With an improving infrastructure granting Timbuktu access to larger cities in Mali's South, use of Bambara was increasing in the city at least until Azawad independence. [100]

With no railroads in Mali except for the Dakar-Niger Railway up to Koulikoro, access to Timbuktu is by road, boat or, since 1961, aircraft. [102] With high water levels in the Niger from August to December, Compagnie Malienne de Navigation (COMANAV) passenger ferries operate a leg between Koulikoro and downstream Gao on a roughly weekly basis. Also requiring high water are pinasses (large motorized pirogues), either chartered or public, that travel up and down the river. [103]

Both ferries and pinasses arrive at Korioumé, Timbuktu's port, which is linked to the city centre by an 18 km (11 mi) paved road running through Kabara. In 2007, access to Timbuktu's traditional port, Kabara, was restored by a Libyan funded project that dredged the 3 km (2 mi) silted canal connecting Kabara to an arm of the Niger River. COMANAV ferries and pinassses are now able to reach the port when the river is in full flood. [15] [104]

Timbuktu is poorly connected to the Malian road network with only dirt roads to the neighbouring towns. Although the Niger River can be crossed by ferry at Korioumé, the roads south of the river are no better. However, a new paved road is under construction between Niono and Timbuktu running to the north of the Inland Niger Delta. The 565 km (351 mi) road will pass through Nampala, Léré, Niafunké, Tonka, Diré and Goundam. [105] [106] The completed 81 km (50 mi) section between Niono and the small village of Goma Coura was financed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. [107] This new section will service the Alatona irrigation system development of the Office du Niger. [108] The 484 km (301 mi) section between Goma Coura and Timbuktu is being financed by the European Development Fund. [105]

Timbuktu Airport was served by Air Mali, hosting flights to and from Bamako, Gao and Mopti. [103] until the airline suspended operations in 2014. Presently, no airlines serve the airport. Its 6,923 ft (2,110 m) runway in a 07/25 runway orientation is both lighted and paved. [109]

From the perception of many Europeans and North Americans, Timbuktu is a place that bears with it a sense of mystery: a 2006 survey of 150 young Britons found 34% did not believe the town existed, while the other 66% considered it "a mythical place", which means 100% did not believe it was real. [110] This sense has been acknowledged in literature describing African history and African-European relations. Timbuktu is also often considered a far away place, in popular Western culture. [3] [111] [112]

The origin of this mystification lies in the excitement brought to Europe by the legendary tales, especially those by Leo Africanus: Arabic sources focused mainly on more affluent cities in the Timbuktu region, such as Gao and Walata. [10] In West Africa the city holds an image that has been compared to Europe's view on Athens. [111] As such, the picture of the city as the epitome of distance and mystery is a European one. [3]

Down-to-earth-aspects in Africanus' descriptions were largely ignored and stories of great riches served as a catalyst for travellers to visit the inaccessible city – with prominent French explorer René Caillié characterising Timbuktu as "a mass of ill-looking houses built of earth". [113] Now opened up, many travellers acknowledged the unfitting description of an "African El Dorado". [25] This development shifted the city's reputation – from being fabled because of its gold to fabled because of its location and mystery. Being used in this sense since at least 1863, English dictionaries now cite Timbuktu as a metaphor for any faraway place. [114]


Community Reviews

Let's just call it the third pole. Timbuktu was one of those places of legend that it was impossible to get to. That is until the turn of the 19th century, when French and British explorers finally set foot in the place.

Then there was the great disappointment the golden city in the middle of nowhere turned out to be made of adobe and dust. It wasn't even a city, just a largish town with the great river Niger on the one side and the great Sahara desert on the other. The caravans from the salt mines brought the valuable edible rocks to the boats waiting on the river in exchange for other goods.

The glorious city of treasure was a myth, or so it seemed to the west.

The true treasures of Timbuktu are the ancient manuscripts that the locals have preserved since the demise of the great University centuries before, and there is, of course, the river, without which, the town could not exist, and yes, the salt which is brought in trucks and not on camels, and the river irrigates vast rice paddies, which from the air looks extremely strange, a green finger reaching into the desert.

The rice feeds the local population, and the price of salt isn't what it used to be and the Toregs, the tribe indigenous to the area has lost most of their camel's drought and disease, not to mention a rebellion against what was then a dictatorial government a few decades back, The dictatorship fell but the rebellion didn't until the early '90s, when they finally gave up. They've been in decline and would drown their sorrows with music at events called "Takoubelt".

About ten years ago this became more formalized, and thus, around the turn of this century, the Festival of the Desert was born.

What it is, is a cross between 'Lollapalooza' and 'Burning Man' festivals, taking place not in Timbuktu, but in a spot on the desert about a 60 miles to the northwest called Essakane, which is truly the middle of nowhere.

The only way you can get there, if you aren't a fabulously wealthy rock star or industrialist and can travel by helicopter, is to take a 4x4 or jeep from Timbuktu, which has an airport, and just for the festival, Air Mali adds a couple of flights to their twice a week schedule to Mali's capitol of Bamako, via the nicer city of Mopti, just for the festival.

It's possible to take a boat down the Niger or you can take a bus, a trip that lasts a full day of traveling the 350 miles over mostly dirt roads, and what with the State department saying that some Toregs have decided that holding Americans for ransom is a responsible career opportunity-flying is the only option.

Generally, once you get there, you have to take a look at Timbuktu, which is actually a pretty decent town, although the souvenir salesmen will follow you wherever you go throughout your stay, There isn't much there, although the Libyan government is investing a ton of money in the place, building a huge, grand hotel right on northern edge of town, which may or may not be open by 2011.

Once you get to Essakane, the tour company will escort you to your tent, there are no hotels there, and for the next three days you will 'rough it' in a luxurious way. The cream of the Sub-saharan music scene shows up, and it doesn't really matter if you've ever heard of Salif Keita or Ousmane Kouyat or any of the other musicians, they're all really good.

I'm from Timbuktu..and I loved the site..you really got to portray what is Timbuktu. if only there could be a video..anyway how did you like your stay?


9 thoughts on &ldquo Timbuktu &rdquo

This is a great start! I like that you included a map of where the site is, but maybe you could make it a bit bigger so it is easier to see. Check out the example archaeological site page to see how we would like you to do the citations (we will go over this in class on December 1st as well).

Looking good! Note that the criteria ii, iv, and v you describe are what make this a World Heritage site, not criteria for what make it an endangered site.

Thank you, I moved the criteria to the background information.

What is the history that shaped Timbuktu? I had never realized that conflict affected Timbuktu or that the site was as large as it is.

I’m not sure about the history that shaped Timbuktu. I know it was built in the 5th century and that it was a huge center for Islamic culture, but for this website I focused more on the current issues that were affecting the sight.

Very nice webpage! I enjoyed reading it because my site is also in Mali. I found it interesting to see the similarities and differences within our sites. The convicting of the man who destroyed part of the site is quite a story. I think it is a move in the right direction for the protection of the site, and considering it a war crime will hopefully prevent future attacks from happening around the world.

I think it is important that the man is being held accountable for his actions.

It was very interesting to read your site because I also have a site in Mali. It was cool to see the similarities in architecture because the mosque at my site looks very similar to the Mosque of Djinguereber and is having the similar problem of deterioration. It is also interesting because our sites are pretty close together in Mali, but mine has not experienced destruction from conflict like yours has.

I wonder why terrorist specifically chose Timbuktu to attack over the site you studied. That would be something interesting to research.


Related: 25 Cultural and Natural Wonders in Danger

More than a hundred islets off the coast of Pohnpei form the ceremonial site of Nan Madol. Ruins of stone palaces, temples, and tombs dating from 1200 to 1500 A.D. reveal the Pacific Island culture of the Saudeleur dynasty.

In 2016, Nan Madol was listed "in danger" due to mangrove overgrowth, storm surge, and stonework collapse.

Most of Timbuktu’s priceless manuscripts are in private hands, where they’ve been hidden for long years, and some have vanished into the black market in a trade that threatens to take with it part of Timbuktu’s soul. There is hope that libraries and cultural centers can be established to preserve the precious collection and become a source of tourist revenue. Some fledgling efforts toward this end are now under way.

Religion wasn’t the city’s only industry. Timbuktu sits near the Niger River, where North African’s savannas disappear into the sands of the Sahara, and part of its romantic image is that of a camel caravan trade route. This characterization had roots in reality and in fact continues to the present in much reduced form. Salt from the desert had great value and, along with other caravan goods, enriched the city in its heyday. It was these profitable caravans, in fact, that first brought scholars to congregate at the site.

In the 16th century Moroccan invaders began to drive scholars out, and trade routes slowly shifted to the coasts. The city’s importance and prestige waned and scholars drifted elsewhere. French colonization at the close of the 19th century dealt another serious blow to the former glories of Timbuktu.

Things in Timbuktu deteriorated to the point that, though recognized as a World Heritage site only a few years before, it was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1990. But with major improvements to the preservation of the three ancient mosques Timbuktu earned its way off that list in 2005.

Timbuktu struggles to draw tourist revenue and develop tourism in a way that preserves the past—new construction near the mosques has prompted the World Heritage Committee to keep the site under close surveillance. Perched as it is on the edge of the Sahara, relentless encroachment of the desert sands is also a threat to Timbuktu.

In 2012, Timbuktu was once again placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of threats related to armed conflict.


Timbuktu quickly grew in importance by the start of the 12th century, with a thriving economy based on trading salt, gold, spices, slaves and dyes. As the wealth of the city grew, it also became a center of learning, attracting scholars and manuscripts. [2] It acquired a reputation for learning and scholarship across the Muslim world.

According to African scholar Shamil Jeppie in The Meanings of Timbuktu:

. Timbuktu is a repository of history, a living archive which anybody with a concern for African history should be acquainted with. Timbuktu may be hard to get to but it played an essential role as a centre of scholarship under the Songhay state until the invasion from the rulers of Marrakesh in 1591, and even thereafter it was revived. [3]

After Timbuktu was occupied because of the 1591 Battle of Tondibi, the university went into decline. [1] In 1593, Ahmad I al-Mansur cited "disloyalty" as the reason for arresting, and subsequently killing or exiling, many of Timbuktu's scholars, including Ahmad Baba al Massufi. [4]

The University of Timbuktu was unlike the modern university in that there was no central organization or formal course of study. Instead, there were several independent schools, each having its own principal instructor. Students chose their teachers, and instruction took place in mosque courtyards or private residences. The primary focus was on study of the Quran and Islamic subjects, but academic subjects were also taught, [1] such as "medicine and surgery, astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, philosophy, language and linguistics, geography, history, as well as art." [5] Teachers associated with the Sankore mosque and the mosque itself were especially respected for learning. [1] [2]

It boasted up to 25,000 students out of a total city population of 100,000. [6]

Noted scholars associated with the institution include: [5]

    (1523-1593), associated with the Sankore masjid (1556-1627), a student of Mohammed Bagayogo and the author of more than 40 books deported to Morocco in 1594

The ‘University of Timbuktu’ was associated with three mosques and made Timbuktu an important centre for when it came to the propagation of Islamic culture. The Djingareyber Mosque was initially built when Sultan Kankan Moussa had returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, but was reconstructed between 1570 and 1583 by Imam Al Aqib, who was the Qadi of Timbuktu. He added the southern portion of the mosque as well as the wall which surrounds the cemetery which is situated to the west of it. The Djingareyber Mosque minaret is among the most noticeable landmarks of the Timbuktu landscape with its dominating structure. The next mosque, the Sankore Mosque, followed a similar trend to the Djingareyber Mosque in the sense that it was restored by the Imam Al Aqib in the 14th century between 1578 and 1582. The sanctuary was knocked down and rebuilt to be in accordance with the dimensions of the Kaaba of Mecca. The third and final mosque, the Sidi Yahia Mosque, located to the south of the aforementioned Sankore Mosque, was erected at around 1400 by the marabout Sheikh El Moktar Hamalla. It was built with the expectation of a holy man who would emerge some forty years later as Cherif Sidi Yahia, who would then be chosen as the Imam. Much like the other two mosques, Sidi Yahia was also restored by Imam Al Aqib from 1577-1588. These mosques of Timbuktu have played a key role in the expansion of Islam in the African continent at this fairly early stage. The three mosques of Timbuktu have lived through the golden age of when Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual centre of the Askia dynasty. In addition to that, these three Mosques are also witnesses to the commercial role that Timbuktu played in the southern trans-Saharan trading route. These mosques are also prime examples of earthen architecture and of traditional maintenance techniques, something which continues to persist to the present day. [7]

Ahmad Baba Edit

Abu 'l-'Abbas Ahmad Baba bin Ahmad bin Ahmad bin 'Umar bin Muhammad Aqit al-Sinhaji, al-Timbukti was born at Araouane on 21 Dhu 'l-Hijja 963/26 October 1556. He was raised in Timbuktu where he began studying under his father Ahmad, his uncle Abu Bakr and Ahmad b. Mohammad, who was a more distant relative of his. However, his principal teacher was Muhammad b. Mahmud b. Abu Bakr al-Wangari, a well known and respected scholar at the time. He studied the main disciplines pertaining to Islamic learning of his time under Wangari, including 'arabiyya, bayan, usul, mantiq and tafsir, with his speciality being on Maliki fiqh. Little is known about Timbukti’s scholarly work in Timbuktu prior to his deportation to Morocco in 1594 with many of the other members of the Aqit family he belonged to, a family at the time known for producing scholars, since they were accused of undermining the rule and authority of the Moroccan invaders. He arrived in Marrakesh on 1 Ramadan 1002/21 May 1594, where he was either jailed or at the very least put under house arrest. This was for two years until he was released on 21 Ramadan 1004/19 May 1596. However, the Sultan had decided to keep him in Morocco. He taught at the Jami' al-Shurafa' in Marrakesh during his time in Morocco, and attracted many students and even scholars to come hear him. Although not much is known about the chronology of his works, he most definitely wrote the Nail al-ibtihaj, his major work, as well as its abridgement, Kifayat al-muhtaj, whilst he was still in Morocco. Timbukti, after being released by the Sultan Moulay Zaidan, had finally arrived back in Timbuktu on 10 Dhu 'l-Qa'da 1016/26 February 1608. The Nail al-ibtihaj bi-tatriz al-Dibaj was his greatest contribution to scholarship and was a biographical dictionary of Maliki jurisprudents, containing within it a voluminous amount of information on North African scholars and is the primary source of information for when it comes to the life and works produced by medieval West African Muslim scholars. He died on 6 Sha'ban 1036/22 April 1627. [8]

The Timbuktu manuscripts were produced in the Arabic script and were primarily written in the Arabic language but other local languages such as Fulfulde, Songhai, Soninke and Bambara were also featured. In regards to the physical appearance of these manuscripts, they were mainly found in a collection of loose leaves placed within a loose cover or even just tightened with a ribbon. Due to the lack of a sewing structure or any link between the text blocks and covers, knowing whether any bookbinding structures existed or not is a difficult task for many codicologists. What further complicates this is that covers wrapping numerous leaves may have been moved from one text block to another. A manuscript could consist of a variety of texts and documents and can be made of a varying number of leaves ranging from just a few to a few hundred. Today, the Timbuktu manuscripts are primarily preserved in private families which are where they have traditionally been kept and in the Ahmed Baba Institute, a state run entity. [9]

However, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) captured northern Mali and destroyed many of the manuscripts in an attempt to implement their jihad against any idea or practice which did not conform to their own vision of a pure Islamic society. However, AQIM had only destroyed a portion of the manuscripts [10] as most of them were taken outside of the city to the capital, Bamako, in an initiative led by Abdel Kader Haidara, [9] the son of a respected Malian scholar, Mohammed ‘Mamma’ Haidara, who in addition to being a scholar was also the owner of a family library which had a considerable amount of manuscripts. [10] Haidara did this with the help of the NGO SAVAMA-DCI (Sauvegarde et Valorisation des Manuscripts pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique), which Haidara is the Executive President of. [9] Haidara worked alongside members of the local community in an effort to remove the manuscripts from areas which were susceptible to AQIM activity. [10]


TIMBUKTU: THE ANCIENT CITY OF THE MALI KINGDOM.

Timbuktu is a word that some may be familiar with. Its not a mythological city neither can it be categorized as fiction. Timbuktu is an actual city that was famous for many things which we will discuss below. It’s definitely amazing that for as many who may think Africans only gained education, wealth and prestige at the time of colonial rule , will be pleasantly surprised I hope to find out that this isn’t the case. Without wasting much of your time , lets dive into the mystery of Timbuktu and the significance it held in its prime.

INTERESTING FACTS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TIMBUKTU

  1. Timbuktu or ‘Timbuctoo’ as it was initially spelled, is a city in The north of the ancient Mali empire. Timbuktu was founded by a tribe of Tuareg nomads supposedly in the 12th century 1100CE. These nomads settled in this area most likely because of its prime location which was near the Niger river and Sahara desert which made for a potentially flourishing trade route. Timbuktu was a great city of prestige and significance in its day. A city known for its vibrant economy and of a people who sought knowledge.

2 . Trade in Timbuktu flourished immensely because of its prime location. The city rose to become one of the most prosperous cities of its time. Gold and slaves were sold in exchange for salt ,clothes and horses from neighbouring nations who did trade with the city. Timbuktu was the most prosperous city in the Mali empire and its fame was part of what put the Mali empire on the world map at that time. Timbuktu because of its flourishing trade route became a metropolitan city. Attracting Arabs, Sudanese people, Aegean, Moroccans and Algerians.

A painting of Heinrich Bach of ancient Timbuktu.

3. Mansa Musa was the 10th ruler of the Mali kingdom. He ruled from 1312-1337 CE. Mansa Musa was a muslim and is most famously remembered for his pilgrimage to Mecca, which took place in 1324. Historical and Oral accounts have it that Mansa Musa displayed such great wealth, that it put Mali on the map as the most powerful and richest empire in west Africa. Getting inspiration from his trip to Mecca, Mansa Musa got architects from Cairo and Spain to build the grand Djinguereber mosque and his palace. He also oversaw the building of the university of Sankore during his reign. All these were built in the city of Timbuktu. Sankore University had the largest collection of books and written documents in Africa at that time, even surpassing the collection of its predeccesor Alexandria university in Egypt.

    SANKORE UNIVERSITY, Timbuktu

4. Timbuktu was an important city that helped spread Islam in Africa. This was spread by the scholars who studied at the Sankore university where many majored in Koranic studies. Many scholars resided in Timbuktu, with numerous books written and copied during that time. Thousands of works were written in Arabic. Today these writings are kept and preserved by the UNESCO world heritage site. Not only was the Koran studied at the center of learning in Timbuktu, but the university also taught its students astrology, history, geography and medicine. The city was also famous for its doctors. Its fame was spread through out Africa, Europe, Asia and the world.

BERLIN, GERMANY – JUNE 18: Restored Islamic Manuscripts on Astronomy of Timbuktu are displayed at the Praesentation of Islamic writings from Timbuktu in the Foreign Office on June 18, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images)

5. Religion was also a major activity that was part and parcel of the daily lives of the people of Timbuktu. However like most metropolitan cities, indigenous religions were still practised despite Islam being the state religion.

Djinguereber mosque, Timbuktu.

6. Marriage systems in the city at that time was similar to many other African marriage traditions. The man had to pay a bride price with witnesses present. Then the man throws a wedding feast separately for his male friends and the woman throws a feast for herself and her female friends. You could say it looks something like today’s tradition of a stag-do or a bachelorette party. Only difference was that this was the actual marriage ceremony. A man could only have one wife, but he could keep concubines. Adultery was not a grounds for divorce or seen as wrong for either partner. However, abusive language was considered a grounds for divorce. Interesting!! I cant say for certain if this law still applies today in modern day Mali and in the way they conduct their marriage.

7. Decline of the Mali empire started in the 15th century. The empire faced decline when routes of trade opened in the west coast of Africa. Another major reason for its decline was the incessant attacks on the city by other rural kingdoms and rebel Tuareg warriors. Timbuktu was occupied by the Moroccans for a period of time, then was taken over by the Fulanis, before finally being occupied by the french.

Its been a real treat learning and writing about Timbuktu. To know that as Africans our narrative is not limited to the single story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We have a rich heritage scholars , doctors , deep thinkers are not only a thing for the ancient Greeks but in Africa as well. Timbuktu still stands today in Mali and is a hub of tourism for those who are curious enough to explore this ancient city.

I hope you learned something of value from this article and a new sense of African pride has been restored or re-enforced if at all it was ever lost. More articles coming your way, till next time guys!!


A Guide to Timbuktu

At its peak, Timbuktu was one of the most important cities in the world. It was a major center for culture and trade. Today it is designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

This West African city&mdashlong synonymous with the uttermost end of Earth&mdashwas added to the World Heritage List in 1988, many centuries after its apex.

Timbuktu was a center of Islamic scholarship under several African empires, home to a 25,000-student university and other madrassas that served as wellsprings for the spread of Islam throughout Africa from the 13th to 16th centuries. Sacred Muslim texts, in bound editions, were carried great distances to Timbuktu for the use of eminent scholars from Cairo, Egypt Baghdad, Iraq and elsewhere who were in residence in the city. The great teachings of Islam, from astronomy and mathematics to medicine and law, were collected and produced here in several hundred thousand manuscripts. Many of them remain, though in precarious condition, forming a priceless written record of African history.

Now a shadow of its former glory, Timbuktu&mdashin modern-day Mali&mdashstrikes most travelers as humble and perhaps a bit run-down.

But the city&rsquos former status as an Islamic oasis is echoed in its three great mud-and-timber mosques: Djinguereber , Sankore, and Sidi Yahia, which recall Timbuktu's golden age. These 14th- and 15th-century places of worship were also the homes of Islamic scholars known as the Ambassadors of Peace.

Most of Timbuktu&rsquos priceless manuscripts are in private hands, where they&rsquove been hidden for many years, and some have vanished into the black market in a trade that threatens to take with it part of Timbuktu&rsquos soul. There is hope that libraries and cultural centers can be established to preserve the precious collection and become a source of tourist revenue. Some fledgling efforts toward this end are now underway.

Religion wasn&rsquot the city&rsquos only industry. Timbuktu sits near the Niger River, where North Africa&rsquos savannas disappear into the sands of the Sahara, and part of its romantic image is that of a camel caravan trade route. This characterization had roots in reality and in fact continues to the present in much reduced form. Salt from the desert had great value and, along with other caravan goods, enriched the city in its heyday. It was these profitable caravans, in fact, that first brought scholars to congregate at the site.

In the 16th century, Moroccan invaders began to drive scholars out, and trade routes slowly shifted to the coasts. The city&rsquos importance and prestige waned and scholars drifted elsewhere. French colonization at the close of the 19th century dealt another serious blow to the former glories of Timbuktu.

Things in Timbuktu deteriorated to the point that, though recognized as a World Heritage site only a few years before, it was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1990. But with major improvements to the preservation of the three ancient mosques Timbuktu earned its way off that list in 2005.

Timbuktu struggles to draw tourist revenue and develop tourism in a way that preserves the past&mdashnew construction near the mosques has prompted the World Heritage Committee to keep the site under close surveillance. Perched as it is on the edge of the Sahara, Timbuktu also faces the threat of encroaching desert sands.

In 2012, Timbuktu was once again placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of threats related to armed conflict.


Timbuktu, Mali

Founded in the fifth century, the city of Timbuktu (Mali) became a spiritual centre, home to a prestigious university, and an active hub for trans-Saharan trade during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its three great mosques, inscribed on the World Heritage List, and its medina represent the high points of this urban civilization. The city’s distinctive construction and maintenance techniques that use a combination of mud and stone have been passed down through generations, and represent a key source of intangible heritage. Ancient manuscripts, some of which date back to the thirteenth century, have been conserved and passed down through families and document the history of Africa across all fields of study.

In 2012, armed groups took control of the city and quickly targeted cultural heritage. Fourteen of the sixteen mausoleums containing the tombs of the saints were destroyed, as well as the Al Farouk independence monument. Museums and libraries were looted, cultural practices were banned and some of the ancient manuscripts were burnt. This brutal assault on cultural heritage severely weakened the local population’s cultural practices and social cohesion. To protect them from destruction, the manuscripts were secretly moved to Bamako (Mali), illustrating their importance for local communities.

After the liberation of the city in February 2013, a wide reconstruction and safeguarding programme was put in motion under the aegis of UNESCO, with support from the international community. The reconstruction of the 14 mausoleums, which was completed in July 2015, signaled the city’s rebirth. The original shape of the monuments was rediscovered through in-depth research work and excavations. Reconstruction guidelines regarding building dimensions, techniques and materials were established together with the owner families and the mason groups. Young people were trained by master masons to participate in the reconstruction, thus fostering the transmission of know-how. In addition, a digitization programme for the ancient manuscripts was established, together with training of professionals and manuscript owners in conservation techniques.


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