African History: Timbuktu in the 14th century and today

Timbuktu (English pronunciation: pron.: /ˌtɪmbʌkˈt/French: Tombouctou pronounced: [tɔ̃bukˈtu]Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu), formerly also spelled Timbuctoo and Timbuktoo, is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.

Map showing the main trans-Saharan caravan routes in around 1400.

Map showing the main trans-Saharan caravan routes in around 1400.

Starting out as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 12th century. After a shift in trading routes, Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. It became part of the Mali Empire early in the 14th century. In the first half of the 15th century the Tuareg tribes took control of the city for a short period until the expanding Songhai Empire absorbed the city in 1468. A Saadi dynasty army defeated the Songhai in 1591, and made Timbuktu, rather than Gao, their capital. […]

Timbuktu today

Despite its illustrious history, modern-day Timbuktu is an impoverished town, poor even by Third World standards. The population has grown an average 5.7% per year from 29,732 in 1998 to 54,453 in 2009. As capital of the seventh Malian region, Tombouctou Region, Timbuktu is the seat of the current governor, Colonel Mamadou Mangara, who took over from Colonel Mamadou Togola in 2008. Mangara answers, as does each of the regional governors, to the Ministry of Territorial Administration & Local Communities. […]

>> from Wikipedia, Timbuktu (as of Jan. 31, 2013)

Trailer for documentary film in 74 mins festival version or 52 mins TV version:

Never has the story of the origins and history – the decline and fall and resurrection – of this black center of learning and intellect been told in more compelling fashion than in this marvelous documentary. I am assigning it to both my undergraduate and graduate courses at Harvard, and hope that all scholars of African and African American Studies will do the same. Truth be told, all students in high school and college throughout the world should be required to see this film, and learn of the history of our intellectual forebears whose very existence Europe and the West have, until recently, systematically denied. This film is a triumph!

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (contact:

Priceless manuscripts missing in Timbuktu


JOHANNESBURG — The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Jan. 28 2013, 7:20 AM EST – Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013, 8:51 AM EST

The fabled city of Timbuktu, a place of enigma for centuries, has now given the world another mystery: What happened to thousands of priceless, ancient manuscripts that have vanished into the dusty Sahara winds?

When hundreds of French soldiers rolled into the remote desert city in northern Mali on Monday, cheered by thousands of residents who were ecstatic that the Islamist rebels had fled, one of the biggest fears was the fate of Timbuktu’s ornately crafted manuscripts, as precious to world history as the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Timbuktu has long been a legendary symbol of isolation and mystery, attracting European explorers on rumours of gold. But today its manuscripts are its real treasure. Up to 800 years old, they are proof of an ancient African and Islamic intellectual tradition, contradicting the myth of a primarily oral culture in Africa. Their moderate scientific scholarship is an implicit criticism of the narrow extremist views of the Islamist militias.

While some of the documents are religious, others are scholarly essays on medicine, astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. Many were brought to Timbuktu in camel caravans from Cairo and Baghdad in the Middle Ages when the city boasted 180 religious schools and a university with 20,000 students.


With funds from around the world, researchers have been trying to make digital copies of the precious manuscripts, but only a tiny fraction were copied before the Islamists seized control.

Read the whole article at…/priceless-manuscripts-missing-in-timbuktu/…

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