- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
You would be mistaken if you thought Timbuktu was a destination that existed only in hyperbole. Timbuktu is real, and you can find it on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in Mali, often called the "Crown of West Africa." The city was an important center for Islamic thought in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although Timbuktu lost its status when conquered by Morocco and colonized by the French, its historical relevance was preserved when the entire city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Even though the city is not a popular tourist destination, it offers some interesting places to see for those who choose to visit, a few of which reflect the choices available in this exotic area.
Under the Songhai empire, the city became a great Muslim educational center, with more than 180 Quranic schools and universities. By the end of Mansa Musa’s reign (early 14th century A.D.), the Sankoré mosque, also known as the University of Sankoré, was one of the first universities ever built in the world. A contemporary of Oxford and the Sorbonne, the level of learning at Timbuktu’s Sankoré University was superior to that of all other Islamic centers in the world. The three madrasahs — Djinguereber, Sidi Yahya and Sankore — facilitated 25,000 students, making it also the largest university in the world at the time.
One of the Largest Libraries of Manuscripts in Africa Since Egypt’s Library of Alexandria
Considered one of the leading beacons of Islamic knowledge, Timbuktu drew many scholars from around the world. An active trade in books between Timbuktu and other parts of the Islamic world led to the writing of thousands of manuscripts. During the cities golden age, books became the most valuable commodity above all other trade goods. Timbuktu housed more than 700,000 manuscripts, forming a priceless written record of African history.
About 20,000 manuscripts are preserved by the Ahmed Baba Institute, built in 2009 to protect the fragile literary artifacts.
The National Ahmed Baba Center for Documentation and Research in Timbuktu
Since its opening in 1973, the National Ahmed Baba Center for Documentation and Research (sum.uio.no) in Timbuktu plays a vital role in preserving the Islamic history of the Sudano-Sahelian zone of Africa through the conservation and dissemination of historical manuscripts. The center holds seminars for visitors sponsored by the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project . Visitors can go to seminars about subjects such as Arabic calligraphy, writing in African history and manuscript conservation.
Musee Municipal de Tombouctou
The Musée Municipal de Tombouctou (no website; Mali; 011-223-820-031), Timbuktu's municipal museum, is an ethnographic museum that offers visitors the chance to view traditional items from Mali's various ethnic groups, including weapons, ornaments and musical instruments. Additionally, the museum displays examples of traditional clothing and jewelry. The museum is centered around a well which covers the water that attracted Timbuktu's founder, Bouctou, and visitors can take a guided tour narrated by museum personnel.