The destruction of the Alpha Moya mausoleum
Timbuktu, in northern Mali, is known for its rich architectural heritage and cultural treasures. Medieval earthen mausoleums, tombs of revered Islamic scholars, mosques and libraries holding historic documents are some of the city’s locations designated by the UNESCO as world heritage sites.
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However, in 2012, when the Islamic terrorists from the al-Qaeda-linked group, Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) took control of the city and other parts of northern Mali, many of its historic sites were destroyed in a matter of days because the terrorists considered them idolatrous shrines. Some of the tombs and mausoleums attacked were those of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar, Cheikh el-Kebir and Alpha Moya. Up to 14 of the city’s earthen shrines built during Timbuktu’s medieval reign as a spiritual, economic and intellectual centre fell during the rampage.
Following the momentous destruction, the Minister of Culture and Tourism in Mali, Fadima Diallo, at UNESCO’s annual meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, appealed to the United Nations to take urgent steps to safeguard her country’s heritage. UNESCO, on its part, listed Timbuktu as an endangered site.
Rebuilding Alpha Moya
UNESCO would go on to fund the reconstruction of the Alpha Moya after the terrorists were chased out of the city by a French-led international force. During the rebuilding, which began in 2014, local elders were consulted and ongoing work was compared against old photographs to ensure the new construction matched the original.
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In February 2016, a ceremony to mark the reconstruction of the site held in the Djingareyber mosque, itself a historic site. For the event, five cattle were ritually sacrificed, the entire Qur’an was read and keys to the mausoleum were formally presented to the families in charge of the building.
UNESCO representative, Lazare Eloundou, was quoted by The Guardian as saying to the audience at the ceremony that “This day celebrates the remarkable and courageous work accomplished to recover your dignity.”