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”.
Founded in the 5th century, the economic and cultural apogee of Timbuktu came about during the 15th and 16th centuries.
From the 12th century, the city of Timbuktu quickly flourished, prospering from the trans-Saharan trade routes in items such as salt and precious metals.
By the 14th 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. The city was an important centre for the diffusion of Islamic culture with the University of Sankore, with 180 Koranic schools and 25,000 students.
It was at this time that the Dyingerey Ber Mosque, which still stands today, was constructed together with other religious sites, schools and libraries.
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 16th century, Timbuktu’s fortunes waned too.
Today, Timbuktu is a shadow of its former self. Some sites remain, such as Dyingerey Ber Mosque. Visitors can enter Dyingerey Ber Mosque, although it is advisable to do so with an official guide.
There are over 23,000 Islamic manuscripts at the Centre de Recherches Historiques Ahmed Baba, the earliest of which date back to the 12th century.
Timbuktu also houses a small commonwealth World War Two 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.
Getting to Timbuktu
Timbuktu is located at the gateway to the Sahara desert, within the confines of the fertile zone of the Sudan near to the river.
It is currently very unsafe to go to Timbuktu. It is recommended that thorough research is conducted before considering travel.