Timbuktu is an historic city in Mali which was once a centre of trade, religion and culture, although it is today thought of as inaccessible and even mythical, thanks to phrases such as “from here to Timbuktu”.
Established in the twelfth century, the city of Timbuktu quickly flourished, prospering from the trans-Saharan trade routes in items such as salt and precious metals.
By the fourteenth century, Timbuktu was not only a thriving trade hub, but an important site within the Muslim religion, attracting spiritual and intellectual figures from around the world. It was at this time that the Dyingerey Ber Mosque, which still stands today, was constructed together with other religious sites, schools and libraries. Visitors can enter Dyingerey Ber Mosque, although it is advisable to do so with an official guide.
Timbuktu was first part of the Mali Empire and then fell under the rule of Maghsharan Tuareg before being incorporated into the Songhay Empire. When this latter empire collapsed in the sixteenth century, Timbuktu’s fortunes waned too.
Today, Timbuktu is a shadow of its former self. Some sites remain, such as Dyingerey Ber Mosque (shown on the map). It is also worth seeing the over 23,000 Islamic manuscripts at the Centre de Recherches Historiques Ahmed Baba, the earliest of which date back to the twelfth century.
Timbuktu also houses a small commonwealth World War II cemetery for two British seamen, John Graham and William Soutter, who died there. This occurred when British merchant sailors were being held there. The two graves are located by a wall running along the road between Timbuktu’s centre and Kabara.
Another monument – the Flame of Peace – commemorates a more recent historical event, namely the Tuareg rebellion.