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Mali: The Importance of Timbuktu to African heritage

The importance of Timbuktu to African heritage is priceless due to its historic position in West Africa as a major knowledge hub and vibrant economic city during the 15th and 16th centuries. Timbuktu is an old city of great significance, whose name is the most recognizable in the history of Africa. To date, Timbuktu remains a popular tourist destination given the wealth of its historical archives.

The importance of Timbuktu to African heritage is priceless due to its historic position in West Africa as a major economic city during the 15th and 16th centuries. It is also considered an important city for the spread of Islam in Africa, due to the efforts of the prestigious Koranic University of Sankore.

Located at the gateway and within confines of the fertile zone of the Sudan and in an exceptionally propitious site six miles from Niger River, Timbuktu is an old city of great significance, whose name is the most recognizable in the history of Africa.

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As early as the 15th century, Timbuktu was a hub of intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre of the propagation of Islam throughout Africa. The city attracted many people from across Africa and the Arab world who were both scholars and merchants.

Tower of the great mosque of Timbuktu. The great mosque a.k.a. Djinguereber, which literally means great mosque, “ber” meaning “great”. The building is created from mud bricks.The mosque is a united nations world heritage site. Photo: Flickr/erwin

The unique combination of scholarship and business were the cornerstone that made Timbuktu a city of wealth and a booming commercial destination in the Saharan desert, where salt, gold, and books were the main commodities traded. This made the city flourish given its strategic position in the North and West of Africa.

With its population of merchants, scholars, barbers, an interaction between Arabs and Jews with the Fulani people from the surrounding countryside, Timbuktu was known throughout Africa and its fame extended to Europe and Asia and globally.

A melting pot for knowledge and commercial hub with rich African heritage

In the 15th century its population was about 250,000 at the height of its prominence making it at the time one of the world’s largest cities, where its wealth was made evident to the world with the pilgrimage of Malian Emperor Mansa Musa to Mecca in 1324.

The city was well know with great Arab immigrants including the renowned architect, Ishaq El Teudjin, who built its legendary mosque, Djinguereber, to serve as a Friday prayer temple for thousands of inhabitants. The library at Sankore University attracted scholars throughout the Muslim world, with an estimated enrollment of 25,000 students. With a huge enrollment Timbuktu had become the headquarters of Islamic intellectual development in Africa.

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By early 14th Century, Timbuktu was a veritable melting pot of knowledge and commerce to many African traders. The city welcomed everyone which contributed to its economic growth.

Architecture in Timbuktu Moroccan-style architecture. Mud-bricks. Photo Flickr_files

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said, Timbuktu contributed greatly to Islam and world civilization and its scholarship.  By 14th Century important books were written and copied in Timbuktu and thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic have been deposited in Sankore University and preserved by UNESCO world heritage list in modern Mali.

To date, Timbuktu remains a popular tourist destination given the wealth of its historical archives.

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