About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Timbuktu, Mali

: Intellectual and Spiritual Capital Few places in the world have an air of mystery as alluring as Timbuktu. The name of this city in the West African country of Mali is so wrapped in legend that many people think of Timbuktu as a mythical, timeless land rather than a city with a real history. In many cultures, Timbuktu is used in phrases to express great distance and to suggest something beyond a person's experience. Popular sayings such as "I'll knock you clear to Timbuktu" suggest that, for many people, Timbuktu has existed more as an idea of the remote and mysterious than as an actual place. For West Africans, however, Timbuktu was an economic and cultural capital equal in historical importance to acclaimed cities like Rome, Athens, Jerusalem, and Mecca. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Timbuktu became the center of a thriving trade in Africa. Prosperity made by the trans-Saharan trade routes brought great wealth to the city. This wealth attracted not only merchants and traders but also men of academic and religious learning. Timbuktu was founded around 1100 C.E. as a camp for its proximity to the Niger River. Caravans quickly began to haul salt from mines in the Sahara Desert to trade for gold and slaves brought along the river from the south. By 1330, Timbuktu was part of the powerful Mali Empire, which controlled the lucrative gold-salt trade routes in the region. Two centuries later, Timbuktu reached its grandeur under the Songhay Empire, becoming a haven for scholars. From the early part of the fourteenth century to the time of the Moroccan invasion in the late sixteenth century, the city of Timbuktu became an important intellectual and spiritual center of the Islamic world, attracting people from as far away as Saudi Arabia to study there. Great mosques, universities, schools, and libraries were built under the Mali and Songhay Empires, some of which still stand today. Timbuktu's golden age ended in the late sixteenth century, when a Moroccan army destroyed the Songhay Empire. Portuguese navigators ensured Timbuktu's decline by establishing reliable trade with the West African coast and undercutting the city's commercial power. Around 400 years ago, European merchant ships began trading along the West African coast, and the crossSaharan trade routes lost their importance. Having lost the source of its wealth, Timbuktu declined and became known as a lost city. Today, the very fabric of Timbuktu today is threatened by what once contributed to the city's success—the Sahara Desert. The

Photo Credits: top: C. & J. Lenars/CORBIS bottom: UNESCO

Berber middlemen had already established early trans-Saharan trade routes between West and North Africa. The caravan trade had existed long before the founding of Timbuktu.desert. This desertification has destroyed the vegetation. called Timbuktu (literally Buktu's well) became an important stop for other nomads as well as the caravans travelling along the transSaharan route. Most likely by around 400 B. it was merchants who set up markets and built fixed dwellings in the town to establish the site as a meeting place for people travelling by camel. .E. a Tuareg woman called Buktu the settled Timbuktu as a seasonal camp. driven by the dry wind of the harmattan. now brings only drifting sands. which for centuries brought wealth to the city. In response to the threat of encroachment by desert sands. Timbuktu was inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger in 1990 and UNESCO established a conservation program to safeguard the city. and many historical structures in the city. Three hundred years later the trade expanded with the growing use of camels in place of horses and donkeys. water supply.. that threaten to smother the city and its monuments. the little seasonal camp. Very soon. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP Find out about other Endangered Sites ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography From Trading Post to Commercial Empire Around 1100 C. Grazing her herds and flocks during the dry season not far from the Niger River. Although the Tuaregs founded Timbuktu.. she discovered an oasis and decided to set up a tented camp and dig a well there.C.

thousands of camels in caravans carried salt from deposits to the city where merchants would transport it down the Niger to other parts of Africa. Photo Credits: UNESCO Trade routes on the African continent transported more than just goods like salt and gold.Towards the end of the first millennium C. along with slaves and valuable goods such as kola nuts.E. salt was sometimes worth more than gold! Although the Tuaregs founded Timbuktu in the early twelfth century. By trading with North Africa. which began as a modest Tuareg trading post. these states eventually became part of the Islamic world. As the town became increasingly important to the gold and salt trades. and the first great Muslim kingdom. At the same time. the region's first great empire. From the north. scholars. the second great West African kingdom. the states of West Africa became important players in the activities of the region. In ancient Africa. it was captured from the Tuaregs and brought under the reign of the Mali Empire. since it was they who provided the gold on which so many countries depended. Without losing their own African character. Islam was introduced to West Africa by Arab merchants travelling along the Saharan caravan routes in the early ninth century and gradually influenced West Africa through the migration of Muslim merchants. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Find out about other Endangered Sites . eventually developed into a major trading center that connected North Africa with West Africa. they were nomads who kept only loose control over the city. and settlers. had organized and taken control of the long-distance trade of gold and salt. the West African kingdom of Ghana. goods—the most important being gold—came along the river from the south. Timbuktu.. in the Sudan. With the commercial trade came the exchange of religious ideas.

including the city of Timbuktu. the Mali Empire already had firm control of the trade routes to the southern lands of gold and the northern lands of salt. holding a nugget of gold in his right hand. and slaves. as a fellow Muslim. Of the 12. . the city of Timbuktu grew in wealth and prestige. scholars. In one map. Mali had become so famous by the fourteenth century that it began to draw the attention of European mapmakers. like that of many towns involved in the trans-Saharan trade route. The city's wealth. kola nuts. came to the throne. salt. and became a meeting place of the finest poets. Timbuktu became one of the major cultural centers of not only Africa but of the entire Islamic world. was based largely on the trade of gold. Under Moussa's reign. produced in 1375. During his reign. This was a huge political feat that made Moussa one of the greatest statesmen in the history of Africa. and by enclosing a large portion of the western Sudan within a single system of trade and law.000 people and 80 camels carrying more than two tons of gold to be distributed among the poor. the most legendary of the Malian kings. He arrived in Cairo at the head of a huge caravan. which included 60. the Sultan of Egypt received Moussa with great respect. and artists of Africa and the Middle East. the goldsalt trade across the Sahara came to focus ever more closely on Timbuktu. ivory. giving away so many gold gifts—and making gold so plentiful—that its value fell in Cairo and did not recover for a number of years! In Cairo. Moussa spent lavishly in Egypt. Mansa Moussa was a devout Muslim who built magnificent mosques throughout his empire in order to spread the influences of Islam. Under Moussa's patronage. When Mansa Moussa came to power.ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Mansa Moussa: Pilgrimage of Gold In 1312 Mansa Moussa. The splendor of his caravan caused a sensation and brought Mansa Moussa and the Mali Empire fame throughout the Arab world. Moussa is shown seated on a throne in the center of West Africa. 500 carried staffs of pure gold.000 servants who accompanied the caravan. Mansa Moussa expanded Mali's influence across Africa by bringing more lands under the empire's control. Mansa Moussa brought the Mali Empire to the attention of the rest of the Muslim world with his famous pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324.

Es-Saheli introduced the use of burnt brick and mud as a building material to this region. the Djingareyber Mosque. Timbuktu's residents replaster the mosque's high walls and flat roof with mud. who helped turn Timbuktu into a famous city of Islamic scholarship. Still standing today. The Djingareyber Mosque immediately became the central mosque of the city. Lenars/CORBIS Moussa had always encouraged the development of learning and the expansion of Islam.After visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina on his pilgrimage. Abu-Ishaq Ibrahim-es-Saheli. By the end of his reign. and madrasas (Islamic universities) throughout his kingdom. Even after the Mali Empire lost control over the region in the fifteenth century. C. Moussa set out to build great mosques. Timbuktu remained the major Islamic center of sub-Saharan Africa. & J. Photo Credits: (top to bottom) 1. Many Arab scholars. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Find out about other Endangered Sites ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography . In the early years of his reign.000 people. E. Sudanese scholars were setting up their own centers of learning in Timbuktu. returned with him. and it dominates Timbuktu to this day. vast libraries. Nik Wheeler/CORBIS 3. He commissioned Abu-Ishaq Ibrahim-es-Saheli to construct his royal palace and a great mosque. During Moussa's reign Timbuktu thrived as a commercial center and flourished into a hub of Islamic learning. the Djingareyber Mosque consists of nine rows of square pillars and provides prayer space for 2. including the poet and architect. at Timbuktu. Condominas/UNESCO 2. Moussa had sent Sudanese scholars to study at Moroccan universities. The Djingareyber's mud construction established a 660-year-old tradition that still persists: each year before the torrential rains fall in the summer.

He had a well-administered state. With a stable and efficient government and with the support of the Muslim scholars. another developing West African kingdom. A few months after the king's death. Askia Mohamed had created the largest and the wealthiest of all the kingdoms of the Sudan. was increasing its influence over the western Sudan. the Songhay Empire. imported from Barbary. . Although he was a Muslim. The general was a devout Muslim called Mohamed Toure. In spite of his political achievements. wrote the following of the city's intellectual life: "In Timbuktu there are numerous judges. and traders. all receiving good salaries from the king. doctors and clerics. In about 1464. Sonni Ali Ber was not a popular ruler. with the support of the people. He pays great respect to men of learning. Askia Mohamed had made Songhay a great trading empire and a center of Muslim scholarship and learning. An able and ambitious ruler. one of his generals seized the throne.The Songhay Empire: The Golden Age of Timbuktu As Timbuktu enjoyed unprecedented success under Moussa. Leo Africanus. he distrusted and mistreated Islamic scholars and did not support the intellectual life of Timbuktu. a famous traveler and writer who visited Timbuktu during the reign of Askia Mohamed. Askia Mohamed's first ambition was to establish a state and a stable government for the empire. Unlike his predecessor. and he took the title of Askia. ushering in a new era of stability that led to Timbuktu's sixteenth-century golden age. scholarship and Islam were once again revered and supported. King Sonni Ali Ber came to the Songhay throne. There is a big demand for books in manuscript. probably the most highly organized of all the African states. Askia Mohamed took full advantage of the scholars centered in Timbuktu and used them as advisors on legal and ethical matters. More profit is made from the book trade than from any line of business. becoming known as Askia Mohamed. Under his reign."1 Under Askia Mohamed's rule. religious leaders. he sent his army to capture the valuable city of Timbuktu in 1468. religion and learning once again assumed a primary place in the Songhay Empire.

Timbuctoo the Mysterious. and literature were taught. (Boston: Little. In the book. one of the first in Africa. In contrast to this. Felix. The university. we find that Arabs were not always equal to the requirements of Sankore.000 students studied a rigorous academic program. They astounded the most learned men of Islam by their erudition. 1897). p. Heinemann. Lenars/CORBIS Davidson. Basil. & J. and Cairo. Dubois. 1 2 Photo Credits: (top to bottom) 1. Kone/UNESCO 3. Timbuktu earned a place next to Cairo and other leading North African cities. Islamic law. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Find out about other Endangered Sites ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography . rhetoric. the University of Sankore was the educational capital of the western Sudan. p. 1970). Brown. M. where 25. C. Nik Wheeler/CORBIS 2. The university was housed in the Sankore Mosque built with a remarkably large pyramidal mihrab in the declining years of the Mali Empire. That these Negroes were on a level with the Arabian savants is proved by the fact that they were installed as professors in Morocco and Egypt. 93. Timbuctoo the Mysterious. 285. At this period in African history. became so famous that scholars came to it from all over the Muslim world. French author Felix Dubois describes the intellectual accomplishments of the ancient African university: "The scholars of Timbuctoo yielded in nothing. Tunis. to the saints in the sojourns in the foreign universities of Fez. (London: W.Scholars from all over the Islamic world came to the University of Sankore (as well as the city's over 180 madersas) where courses as varied as theology." 2 As a center of intellectual achievement. The Lost Cities of Africa.

In the late nineteenth century.Five Hundred Years of Instability: From Invasion to Independence The wealth and power of Songhay had been the envy of neighboring Morocco for some time. along with such other phenomenon as the growing Atlantic trade. In 1590. however. French colonizers took over the city. Many European explorers had been trying to reach the fabled city of Timbuktu since the sixteenth century. El Mansur. representing all the wealth of Africa. had begun. people said. as European powers invaded parts of Africa. Getting to Timbuktu alive was nearly an impossible feat that involved crossing the brutal Sahara twice and putting one's life in continual danger from heat. Trade routes fell under local control and deteriorated beyond recovery. By the sixteenth century. During the early nineteenth century. European rulers spread this myth to encourage explorers to fulfill Europe's economic ambitions for West Africa. The Moroccans took Timbuktu in 1591 and ruled over the city until about 1780. By 1824. beauty. the city was known mainly through a myth that beyond the vast and inhospitable Sahara stood a great city covered in gold. The spears and swords of the Songhay warriors were no match for the cannons and muskets of the Moroccan army. thirst. The Moroccan invasion destroyed the Songhay Empire. It was a place. . the powerful and ambitious sultan of Morocco. Before European explorers reached Timbuktu. and culture combined to create a great civilization. including the Tuaregs and the Bamabra who founded the Bamabra Kingdom of Ségou farther to the south. fueled by growing interest in colonizing Africa. decided that he wanted control of the West African gold trade badly enough to send his army all the way across the Sahara to attack the Songhay Empire. It contributed. which was producing two-thirds of the world's gold supply. disease. where gold was as common as sand and where wealth. and hostile desert nomads. Timbuktu had become legendary in the European imagination. Continuous Moroccan raids emptied the schools at Timbuktu of teachers and students. supervising its ultimate decline. The fact that before the nineteenth century no European had survived the journey to Timbuktu only helped secure its reputation as a legendary place of wonder and wealth. to the decline of the trade routes that had brought prosperity to the region for hundreds of years. Timbuktu passed into the hands of a variety West African groups. a race to reach Timbuktu. most of them dying along the way.

Despite the dangers. It was not until more than seventy years later that West Africans gained their emancipation from colonial control.The Geographical Society of Paris had offered a prize of 10. the once flourishing trans-Saharan trade was greatly diminished. two dozen scholastic centers still flourished in Timbuktu. Colburn & R. Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS 3. 1828 only to be disappointed by the fallen city he discovered. but immense quicksands of yellowish white colour…the most profound silence prevailed. p." he wrote. its landscape and monuments still standing in affirmation of the city's golden age and powerful cultural heritage. vol. a French wine clerk by trade. the intellectual and spiritual life of the city continued to thrive. Disguised as an Arab he arrived on April 19. Timbuktu has been part of the independent Republic of Mali. many adventurous and ambitious young men jumped at the opportunity to influence world geography and win the big reward."3 By the eighteenth century. Bentley. was the first to reach Timbuktu alive. Photo Credits: (top to bottom) 1. "The city presented. built of earth. II. UNESCO Rather than finding golden palaces and markets overflowing with treasure. Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS 2. without a trace of visible wealth. Since 1960. "I had a totally different idea of the grandeur and wealth of Timbuctoo. 3 Caillié. 1830). nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses. Caillié found a desolate town on the edge of the desert. (London: H.000 francs to the first explorer who could bring back accurate information about the fabled city. Despite Timbuktu's economic decline. 49. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Find out about other Endangered Sites ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP . at first site. Réné. due in part to a shift of the gold and slave trade to the new European trading stations established on the West African coast. When the French colonized the region over fifty years after Caillié's arrival. Nothing was to be seen in all directions. Réné Caillié. Travels through Central Africa to Timbuctoo.

In closets and chests throughout the southern Sahara. For centuries. trade contracts. Possibly the most precious legacy of Timbuktu is the surviving manuscripts from its ancient libraries. a simple building. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography . The religious monuments of Timbuktu. From its past only a few. but its great mosques and private libraries stand as testimony to the city's past glory. At the height of the city's golden age. their disintegration delayed by the dry desert air yet threatened by insects and the annual humidity of rainy seasons. named after a fifteenth-century Timbuktu scholar. legal decrees. Timbuktu boasted not only the impressive libraries of Sankore and other mosques. played an essential role in the diffusion of Islam in Africa as centers of religious practice and academic study and remain the essential elements of reference to the past. and diplomatic notes exchanged among rulers of the region. Timbuktu may still appear to be the disheveled town that Caillié reached. Scholars requested that learned travelers permit their books to be copied. for gathering these valuable manuscripts. and students hand-copied texts borrowed from their mentor's collections. including the magnificent Djingareyber and Sankore mosques.About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Threats to the Survival of Timbuktu Today. rare architectural vestiges have survived Timbuktu's troubled history. local families have been gathering and preserving religious texts. The libraries of Timbuktu grew through a process of hand-copying. Continued efforts to preserve Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts and monuments will help the city to remain a bold symbol of Africa's great spiritual and intellectual accomplishments. Since Timbuktu's inclusion on the World Heritage List in Danger in 1990. thousands of books from Timbuktu's ancient libraries are hidden. but also the wealth of private ones. studying the material as they reproduced it. the Malian government received both Arab funding and help from UNESCO to open the Ahmed Baba Center. Photo Credits: top: Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS bottom: UNESCO In 1974. UNESCO and the Malian government have worked to protect these precious monuments from the harsh desert environment. now keeps 14. The center.000 volumes reasonably secure but cannot yet afford much in the way of scientific preservation. The collection of ancient manuscripts at the University of Sankore attests to the magnificence of the institution and the achievements of scholars that studied and taught there.

Kevin. 1994. Simon&Schuster. Little. Felix.Find out about other Endangered Sites ABOUT TIMBUKTU MAPS & LINKS TIMELINE STUDY GUIDE QUIZ YOU CAN HELP About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography Bibliography Caillié. About Timbuktu | Early History | Mansa Moussa | Golden Age Invasion to Independence | Threats to Timbuktu | Bibliography . Timbuctoo the Mysterious. Jackson. 1968. Touchstone Books. Heinemann. 1830. Ancient African Kingdoms. Introduction to African Civilizations. (Trans. Brian. Martin's Press. Shinnie. St. John G. Diane White). Brown. Cassell. Addison Wesley Longman. The Lost Cities of Africa. 1996. 1897. The Quest for Timbuktu. and Across the Great Desert to Morocco Performed in the Years 1824 –1828. 1998. Basil. Shillington. Colburn and Bentley. Gardner. Citadel Press. Dubois. Africa in History. Réné. Davidson. Edward Arnold. Travels Through Central Africa to Timbuctoo. 1995. Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS West Africa Before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850. History of Africa. 1970. Margaret. 1965.