Timbuktu (/ˌtɪmbʌkˈtuː/) (Berber languages: ⵜⵏⴱⴾⵜⵓ, ⵜⵉⵏⴱⵓⴽⵜⵓ; French: Tombouctou; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu) is an ancient city in Mali, situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the Niger River. 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.
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 Moroccan army defeated the Songhai in 1591 and made Timbuktu, rather than Gao, their capital. The invaders established a new ruling class, the Arma, who after 1612 became virtually independent of Morocco. However, the golden age of the city, during which it was a major learning and cultural centre of the Mali Empire, was over, and it entered a long period of decline. Different tribes governed until the French took over in 1893, a situation that lasted until it became part of the current Republic of Mali in 1960. Presently, Timbuktu is impoverished and suffers from desertification.
In its Golden Age, the town's numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made possible an important book trade: together with the campuses of the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa. Several notable historic writers, such as Shabeni and Leo Africanus, have described Timbuktu. These stories fuelled speculation in Europe, where the city's reputation shifted from being extremely rich to being mysterious.
Tinbuktu (ⵜⵉⵏⴱⵓⴽⵜⵓ) / Tombouctou
|• Koyra Chiini:||Tumbutu|
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Location of Timbuktu within Mali
|Settled||5th century BC|
|• Mayor||Hallé Ousmane|
|Elevation||261 m (856 ft)|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||Cultural: ii, iv, v|
|Inscription||1988 (12th Session)|
Over the centuries, the spelling of Timbuktu has varied a great deal: from Tenbuch on the Catalan Atlas (1375), to traveller Antonio Malfante's Thambet, used in a letter he wrote in 1447 and also adopted by Alvise Cadamosto in his Voyages of Cadamosto, to Heinrich Barth's Timbúktu and Timbu'ktu. French spelling often appears in international reference as "Tombouctou". As well as its spelling, Timbuktu's toponymy is still open to discussion. At least four possible origins of the name of Timbuktu have been described:
The validity of these theories depends on the identity of the original founders of the city: as recently as 2000, archaeological research has not found remains dating from the 11th/12th century within the limits of the modern city given the difficulty of excavating through metres of sand that have buried the remains over the past centuries. Without consensus, the etymology of Timbuktu remains unclear.
Like other important Medieval West African towns such as Djenné (Jenné-Jeno), Gao, and Dia, Iron Age settlements have been discovered near Timbuktu that predate the traditional foundation date of the town. Although the accumulation of thick layers of sand has thwarted archaeological excavations in the town itself, some of the surrounding landscape is deflating and exposing pottery shards on the surface. A survey of the area by Susan and Roderick McIntosh in 1984 identified several Iron Age sites along the el-Ahmar, an ancient wadi system that passes a few kilometres to the east of the modern town.
An Iron Age tell complex located 9 kilometres (6 miles) southeast of the Timbuktu near the Wadi el-Ahmar was excavated between 2008 and 2010 by archaeologists from Yale University and the Mission Culturelle de Tombouctou. The results suggest that the site was first occupied during the 5th century BC, thrived throughout the second half of the 1st millennium AD and eventually collapsed sometime during the late 10th or early 11th century AD.
Timbuktu was a regional trade centre in medieval times, where caravans met to exchange salt from the Sahara Desert for gold, ivory, and slaves from the Sahel, which could be reached via the nearby Niger River. The population (2018 population 32,460) swelled from 10,000 in the 13th century to about 50,000 in the 16th century after the establishment of a major Islamic university, which attracted scholars from throughout the Muslim world. In the 1600s, a combination of a purge by a monarch who accused the scholars of "disloyalty" and a decline in trade caused by increased competition from newly available trans-Atlantic sailing routes caused the city to decline. The first European to reach Timbuktu, Alexander Gordon Laing, did not arrive until 1826, and it was not until the 1890s that Timbuktu was formally incorporated into the French colony of Mali. Today, the city is still inhabited; however, the city is not as geopolitically relevant as it once was.
Timbuktu is located on the southern edge of the Sahara 15 km (9 mi) north of the main channel of the River Niger. The town is surrounded by sand dunes and the streets are covered in sand. The port of Kabara is 8 km (5 mi) to the south of the town and is connected to an arm of the river by a 3 km (2 mi) canal. The canal had become heavily silted but in 2007 it was dredged as part of a Libyan financed project.
The annual flood of the Niger River is a result of the heavy rainfall in the headwaters of the Niger and Bani rivers in Guinea and northern Ivory Coast. The rainfall in these areas peaks in August but the flood water takes time to pass down the river system and through the Inner Niger Delta. At Koulikoro, 60 km (37 mi) downstream from Bamako, the flood peaks in September, while in Timbuktu the flood lasts longer and usually reaches a maximum at the end of December.
In the past, the area flooded by the river was more extensive and in years with high rainfall, floodwater would reach the western outskirts of Timbuktu itself. A small navigable creek to the west of the town is shown on the maps published by Heinrich Barth in 1857 and Félix Dubois in 1896. Between 1917 and 1921, during the colonial period, the French used slave labour to dig a narrow canal linking Timbuktu with Kabara. Over the following decades this became silted and filled with sand, but in 2007 as part of the dredging project, the canal was re-excavated so that now when the River Niger floods, Timbuktu is again connected to Kabara. The Malian government has promised to address problems with the design of the canal as it currently lacks footbridges and the steep, unstable banks make access to the water difficult.
Kabara can only function as a port in December to January when the river is in full flood. When the water levels are lower, boats dock at Korioumé which is linked to Timbuktu by 18 km (11 mi) of paved road.
Timbuktu features a hot desert climate according to the Köppen Climate Classification. The weather is extremely hot and dry throughout much of the year. The degree of diurnal temperature variation is higher in winter than in summer. Average daily maximum temperatures in the hottest months of the year – April, May and June – exceed 40 °C (104 °F). Lowest temperatures occur during the Northern hemisphere winter – December, January and February. However, average maximum temperatures do not drop below 30 °C (86 °F). These winter months are characterized by a dry, dusty trade wind blowing from the Saharan Tibesti Region southward to the Gulf of Guinea: picking up dust particles on their way, these winds limit visibility in what has been dubbed the 'Harmattan Haze'. Additionally, when the dust settles in the city, sand builds up and desertification looms.
The wealth and very existence of Timbuktu depended on its position as the southern terminus of an important trans-Saharan trade route; nowadays, the only goods that are routinely transported across the desert are slabs of rock salt brought from the Taoudenni mining centre in the central Sahara 664 km (413 mi) north of Timbuktu. Until the second half of the 20th century most of the slabs were transported by large salt caravans or azalai, one leaving Timbuktu in early November and the other in late March.
The caravans of several thousand camels took three weeks each way, transporting food to the miners and returning with each camel loaded with four or five 30 kg (66 lb) slabs of salt. The salt transport was largely controlled by the desert nomads of the Arabic-speaking Berabich (or Barabish) tribe. Although there are no roads, the slabs of salt are now usually transported from Taoudenni by truck. From Timbuktu the salt is transported by boat to other towns in Mali.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, Timbuktu's population grew immensely due to an influx of Tuaregs, Fulanis, and Songhais seeking trade, security, or to study. By 1300, the population increased to 10,000 and kept increasing until it reached about 50,000 in the 1500s.
There is insufficient rainfall in the Timbuktu region for purely rain-fed agriculture and crops are therefore irrigated using water from the River Niger. The main agricultural crop is rice. African floating rice (Oryza glaberrima) has traditionally been grown in regions near the river that are inundated during the annual flood. Seed is sown at the beginning of the rainy season (June–July) so that when the flood water arrives plants are already 30 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in) in height.
The plants grow up to three metres (9.8 feet) in height as the water level rises. The rice is harvested by canoe in December. The procedure is very precarious and the yields are low but the method has the advantage that little capital investment is required. A successful crop depends critically on the amount and timing of the rain in the wet season and the height of the flood. To a limited extent the arrival of the flood water can be controlled by the construction of small mud dikes that become submerged as the water rises.
Although floating rice is still cultivated in the Timbuktu Cercle, most of the rice is now grown in three relatively large irrigated areas that lie to the south of the town: Daye (392 ha), Koriomé (550 ha) and Hamadja (623 ha). Water is pumped from the river using ten large Archimedes' screws which were first installed in the 1990s. The irrigated areas are run as cooperatives with approximately 2,100 families cultivating small plots. Nearly all the rice produced is consumed by the families themselves. The yields are still relatively low and the farmers are being encouraged to change their agricultural practices.
Most tourists visit Timbuktu between November and February when the air temperature is lower. In the 1980s, accommodation for the small number of tourists was provided by two small hotels: Hotel Bouctou and Hotel Azalaï. Over the following decades the tourist numbers increased so that by 2006 there were seven small hotels and guest houses. The town benefited by the revenue from the CFA 5000 tourist tax, by the sale of handicrafts and by the employment for the guides.
Starting in 2008 the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb began kidnapping groups of tourists in the Sahel region. In January 2009, four tourists were kidnapped near the Mali–Niger border after attending a cultural festival at Anderamboukané. One of these tourists was subsequently murdered. As a result of this and various other incidents a number of states including France, Britain and the US, began advising their citizens to avoid travelling far from Bamako. The number of tourists visiting Timbuktu dropped precipitously from around 6000 in 2009 to only 492 in the first four months of 2011.
Because of the security concerns, the Malian government moved the 2010 Festival in the Desert from Essakane to the outskirts of Timbuktu. In November 2011, gunmen attacked tourists staying at a hotel in Timbuktu, killing one of them and kidnapping three others. This was the first terrorist incident in Timbuktu itself.
On 1 April 2012, one day after the capture of Gao, Timbuktu was captured from the Malian military by the Tuareg rebels of the MNLA and Ansar Dine. Five days later, the MNLA declared the region independent of Mali as the nation of Azawad. The declared political entity was not recognized by any regional nations or the international community and it collapsed three months later on 12 July.
On 28 January 2013, French and Malian government troops began retaking Timbuktu from the Islamist rebels. The force of 1,000 French troops with 200 Malian soldiers retook Timbuktu without a fight. The Islamist groups had already fled north a few days earlier, having set fire to the Ahmed Baba Institute, which housed many important manuscripts. The building housing the Ahmed Baba Institute was funded by South Africa, and held 30,000 manuscripts. BBC World Service radio news reported on 29 January 2013 that approximately 28,000 of the manuscripts in the Institute had been removed to safety from the premises before the attack by the Islamist groups, and that the whereabouts of about 2,000 manuscripts remained unknown. It was intended to be a resource for Islamic research.
On 30 March 2013, jihadist rebels infiltrated into Timbuktu nine days before a suicide bombing on a Malian army checkpoint at the international airport killing a soldier. Fighting lasted until 1 April, when French warplanes helped Malian ground forces chase the remaining rebels out of the city center.
Tales of Timbuktu's fabulous wealth helped prompt European exploration of the west coast of Africa. Among the most famous descriptions of Timbuktu are those of Leo Africanus and Shabeni.
Perhaps most famous among the accounts written about Timbuktu is that by Leo Africanus. Born El Hasan ben Muhammed el- Wazzan-ez-Zayyati in Granada in 1485, his family was among the thousands of Muslims expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after their reconquest of Spain in 1492. They settled in Morocco, where he studied in Fes and accompanied his uncle on diplomatic missions throughout North Africa. During these travels, he visited Timbuktu. As a young man he was captured by pirates and presented as an exceptionally learned slave to Pope Leo X, who freed him, baptized him under the name "Johannis Leo de Medici", and commissioned him to write, in Italian, a detailed survey of Africa. His accounts provided most of what Europeans knew about the continent for the next several centuries. Describing Timbuktu when the Songhai Empire was at its height, the English edition of his book includes the description:
The rich king of Tombuto hath many plates and sceptres of gold, some whereof weigh 1300 pounds. ... He hath always 3000 horsemen ... (and) a great store of doctors, judges, priests, and other learned men, that are bountifully maintained at the king's cost and charges.
According to Leo Africanus, there were abundant supplies of locally produced corn, cattle, milk and butter, though there were neither gardens nor orchards surrounding the city. In another passage dedicated to describing the wealth of both the environment and the king, Africanus touches upon the rarity of one of Timbuktu's trade commodities: salt.
The inhabitants are very rich, especially the strangers who have settled in the country [..] But salt is in very short supply because it is carried here from Tegaza, some 500 miles (805 km) from Timbuktu. I happened to be in this city at a time when a load of salt sold for eighty ducats. The king has a rich treasure of coins and gold ingots.
These descriptions and passages alike caught the attention of European explorers. Africanus, though, also described the more mundane aspects of the city, such as the "cottages built of chalk, and covered with thatch" – although these went largely unheeded.
Roughly 250 years after Leo Africanus' visit to Timbuktu, the city had seen many rulers. The end of the 18th century saw the grip of the Moroccan rulers on the city wane, resulting in a period of unstable government by quickly changing tribes. During the rule of one of those tribes, the Hausa, a 14-year-old child named Shabeni (or Shabeeny) from Tetuan on the north coast of Morocco accompanied his father on a visit to Timbuktu.
Shabeni stayed in Timbuktu for three years before moving to a major city called Housa several days journey to the southeast. Two years later, he returned to Timbuktu to live there for another seven years – one of a population that was even centuries after its peak and excluding slaves, double the size of the 21st-century town.
By the time Shabeni was 27, he was an established merchant in his hometown of Tetuan. He made a two-year pilgrimage to Mecca and thus became a hajji, Asseed El Hage Abd Salam Shabeeny. Returning from a trading voyage to Hamburg, he was captured by a ship manned by Englishmen but sailing under a Russian flag, whose captain claimed that his Imperial mistress (Catherine the Great) was "at war with all Muselmen" (see Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792)). He and the ship he had been sailing in were brought to Ostend in Belgium in December 1789 but the British consul managed to get him and the ship released. He set off again in the same ship, but the captain, who claimed to be afraid of his ship being captured again, set him ashore in Dover. In England his story was recorded. Shabeeni gave an indication of the size of the city in the second half of the 18th century. In an earlier passage, he described an environment that was characterized by forest, as opposed to nowadays' arid surroundings.
The most well-known cultural event is the Festival au Désert. When the Tuareg rebellion ended in 1996 under the Konaré administration, 3,000 weapons were burned in a ceremony dubbed the Flame of Peace on 29 March 2007 – to commemorate the ceremony, a monument was built. The Festival au Désert, to celebrate the peace treaty, was held every January in the desert, 75 km from the city until 2010.
During its twelfth session, in December 1988, the World Heritage Committee (WHC) selected parts of Timbuktu's historic centre for inscription on its World Heritage list. The selection was based on three criteria:
An earlier nomination in 1979 failed the following year as it lacked proper demarcation: the Malian government included the town of Timbuktu as a whole in the wish for inclusion. Close to a decade later, three mosques and 16 mausoleums or cemeteries were selected from the Old Town for World Heritage status: with this conclusion came the call for protection of the buildings' conditions, an exclusion of new construction works near the sites and measures against the encroaching sand.
Shortly afterwards, the monuments were placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger by the Malian government, as by the selection committee at the time of nomination. The first period on the Danger List lasted from 1990 until 2005, when a range of measures including restoration work and the compilation of an inventory warranted "its removal from the Danger List". In 2008 the WHC placed the protected area under increased scrutiny dubbed "reinforced monitoring", a measure made possible in 2007, as the impact of planned construction work was unclear. Special attention was given to the build of a cultural centre.
During a session in June 2009, UNESCO decided to cease its increased monitoring program as it felt sufficient progress had been made to address the initial concerns. Following the takeover of Timbuktu by MNLA and the Islamist group Ansar Dine, it was returned to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2012.
In May 2012, Ansar Dine destroyed a shrine in the city and in June 2012, in the aftermath of the Battle of Gao and Timbuktu, other shrines, including the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, were destroyed when attacked with shovels and pickaxes by members of the same group. An Ansar Dine spokesman said that all shrines in the city, including the 13 remaining World Heritage sites, would be destroyed because they consider them to be examples of idolatry, a sin in Islam. These acts have been described as crimes against humanity and war crimes. After the destruction of the tombs, UNESCO created a special fund to safeguard Mali's World Heritage Sites, vowing to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation projects once the security situation allows.
Timbuktu was a world centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th century, especially under the Mali Empire and Askia Mohammad I's rule. The Malian government and NGOs have been working to catalog and restore the remnants of this scholarly legacy: Timbuktu's manuscripts.
Timbuktu's rapid economic growth in the 13th and 14th centuries drew many scholars from nearby Walata (today in Mauretania), leading up to the city's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries that proved fertile ground for scholarship of religions, arts and sciences. To the people of Timbuktu, literacy and books were symbols of wealth, power, and blessings and the acquisition of books became a primary concern for scholars. An active trade in books between Timbuktu and other parts of the Islamic world and emperor Askia Mohammed's strong support led to the writing of thousands of manuscripts.
Knowledge was gathered in a manner similar to the early, informal European Medieval university model. Lecturing was presented through a range of informal institutions called madrasahs. Nowadays known as the University of Timbuktu, three madrasahs facilitated 25,000 students: Djinguereber, Sidi Yahya and Sankore.
These institutions were explicitly religious, as opposed to the more secular curricula of modern European universities and more similar to the medieval Europe model. However, where universities in the European sense started as associations of students and teachers, West-African education was patronized by families or lineages, with the Aqit and Bunu al-Qadi al-Hajj families being two of the most prominent in Timbuktu – these families also facilitated students is set-aside rooms in their housings. Although the basis of Islamic law and its teaching were brought to Timbuktu from North Africa with the spread of Islam, Western African scholarship developed: Ahmad Baba al Massufi is regarded as the city's greatest scholar.
Timbuktu served in this process as a distribution centre of scholars and scholarship. Its reliance on trade meant intensive movement of scholars between the city and its extensive network of trade partners. In 1468–1469 though, many scholars left for Walata when Sunni Ali's Songhay Empire absorbed Timbuktu and again in 1591 with the Moroccan occupation.
This system of education survived until the late 19th century, while the 18th century saw the institution of itinerant Quranic school as a form of universal education, where scholars would travel throughout the region with their students, begging for food part of the day. Islamic education came under pressure after the French occupation, droughts in the 70s and 80s and by Mali's civil war in the early 90s.
Hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were collected in Timbuktu over the course of centuries: some were written in the town itself, others – including exclusive copies of the Qur'an for wealthy families – imported through the lively booktrade.
Hidden in cellars or buried, hid between the mosque's mud walls and safeguarded by their patrons, many of these manuscripts survived the city's decline. They now form the collection of several libraries in Timbuktu, holding up to 700,000 manuscripts: In late January 2013 it was reported that rebel forces destroyed many of the manuscripts before leaving the city. However, there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection as most of the manuscripts were safely hidden away. One librarian in particular, Abdel Kader Haidara, organized to have 350,000 medieval manuscripts smuggled out of Timbuktu for safekeeping.
These libraries are the largest among up to 60 private or public libraries that are estimated to exist in Timbuktu today, although some comprise little more than a row of books on a shelf or a bookchest. Under these circumstances, the manuscripts are vulnerable to damage and theft, as well as long term climate damage, despite Timbuktu's arid climate. Two Timbuktu Manuscripts Projects funded by independent universities have aimed to preserve them.
During the occupation by Islamic extremists the citizens of the city embarked on a drive to save the "best written accounts of African History." Interviewed by the Times the local residents claimed to have safeguarded the three hundred thousand manuscripts for generations. Many of these documents are still in the safe keeping of the local residents who are reluctant to give them overs to the government-run Ahmed Baba Institute housed in a modern digitalization building built by the South African government in 2009. The institute houses only 10% of the manuscripts It was later confirmed by Jean-Michel Djian to the New Yorker that "the great majority of the manuscripts, about fifty thousand, are actually housed in the thirty-two family libraries of the 'City of 333 Saints'". He added, "Those are to this day protected." He also added that due to the massive efforts of one individual two hundred thousand other manuscripts were successfully transported to safety
Although French is Mali's official language, today the large majority of Timbuktu's inhabitants speaks Koyra Chiini, a Songhay language that also functions as the lingua franca. Before the 1990–1994 Tuareg rebellion, both Hassaniya Arabic and Tamashek were represented by 10% each to an 80% dominance of the Koyra Chiini language. With Tamashek spoken by both Ikelan and ethnic Tuaregs, its use declined with the expulsion of many Tuaregs following the rebellion, increasing the dominance of Koyra Chiini.
Arabic, introduced together with Islam during the 11th century, has mainly been the language of scholars and religion, comparable to Latin in Western Christianity. Although Bambara is spoken by the most numerous ethnic group in Mali, the Bambara people, it is mainly confined to the south of the country. With an improving infrastructure granting Timbuktu access to larger cities in Mali's South, use of Bambara was increasing in the city at least until Azawad independence.
With no railroads in Mali except for the Dakar-Niger Railway up to Koulikoro, access to Timbuktu is by road, boat or, since 1961, aircraft. With high water levels in the Niger from August to December, Compagnie Malienne de Navigation (COMANAV) passenger ferries operate a leg between Koulikoro and downstream Gao on a roughly weekly basis. Also requiring high water are pinasses (large motorized pirogues), either chartered or public, that travel up and down the river.
Both ferries and pinasses arrive at Korioumé, Timbuktu's port, which is linked to the city centre by an 18 km (11 mi) paved road running through Kabara. In 2007, access to Timbuktu's traditional port, Kabara, was restored by a Libyan funded project that dredged the 3 km (2 mi) silted canal connecting Kabara to an arm of the Niger River. COMANAV ferries and pinassses are now able to reach the port when the river is in full flood.
Timbuktu is poorly connected to the Malian road network with only dirt roads to the neighbouring towns. Although the Niger River can be crossed by ferry at Korioumé, the roads south of the river are no better. However, a new paved road is under construction between Niono and Timbuktu running to the north of the Inland Niger Delta. The 565 km (351 mi) road will pass through Nampala, Léré, Niafunké, Tonka, Diré and Goundam. The completed 81 km (50 mi) section between Niono and the small village of Goma Coura was financed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. This new section will service the Alatona irrigation system development of the Office du Niger. The 484 km (301 mi) section between Goma Coura and Timbuktu is being financed by the European Development Fund.
Timbuktu Airport is served by both Air Mali and Mali Air Express, hosting flights to and from Bamako, Gao and Mopti. Its 6,923 ft (2,110 m) runway in a 07/25 runway orientation is both lighted and paved.
In the imagination of Europeans and North Americans, Timbuktu is a place that bears with it a sense of mystery: a 2006 survey of 150 young Britons found 34% did not believe the town existed, while the other 66% considered it "a mythical place". This sense has been acknowledged in literature describing African history and African-European relations. Timbuktu is also often considered a far away place, in popular western culture.
The origin of this mystification lies in the excitement brought to Europe by the legendary tales, especially those by Leo Africanus: Arabic sources focused mainly on more affluent cities in the Timbuktu region, such as Gao and Walata. In West Africa the city holds an image that has been compared to Europe's view on Athens. As such, the picture of the city as the epitome of distance and mystery is a European one.
Down-to-earth-aspects in Africanus' descriptions were largely ignored and stories of great riches served as a catalyst for travellers to visit the inaccessible city – with prominent French explorer René Caillié characterising Timbuktu as "a mass of ill-looking houses built of earth". Now opened up, many travellers acknowledged the unfitting description of an "African El Dorado". This development shifted the city's reputation – from being fabled because of its gold to fabled because of its location and mystery: Being used in this sense since at least 1863, English dictionaries now cite Timbuktu as a metaphor for any faraway place.
In "Scales of Gold" (1991), the fourth book in Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo series, key characters go to Africa in 1464–1467 searching for gold. They find in Timbuktu intellectual and spiritual wealth that transforms them.
In the original 1932 recording of the popular seaside song "The Sun Has Got His Hat On", the second verse contains the lines: "[The Sun's] been tanning niggers out in Timbuktu / Now he's coming back to do the same to you!" Due to the controversial nature of the racial epithet "nigger", controversy has arisen when this song has been played and various replacements, including "negroes" and "roasting peanuts" have been offered.
Similar uses of the city are found in movies, where it is used to indicate a place a person or good cannot be traced – in a Dutch Donald Duck comic subseries situated in Timbuktu, Donald Duck uses the city as a safe haven, and in the 1970 Disney animated feature The Aristocats, Edgar, the butler villain of the story, threatens Thomas O'Malley, Duchess, Marie, Toulouse, and Berlioz with being sent to Timbuktu only for Thomas O'Malley's friends to rescue them and send Edgar there instead. It is mistakenly noted to be in French Equatorial Africa, instead of French West Africa.
Ali Farka Touré inverted the stereotype: "For some people, when you say 'Timbuktu' it is like the end of the world, but that is not true. I am from Timbuktu, and I can tell you that we are right at the heart of the world."
Azawad (Tuareg: ⴰⵣⴰⵓⴷ, Azawad; Arabic: أزواد, ʾĀzawād) is the name given to northern Mali by Berber Touareg rebels, as well as a former short-lived unrecognised state. Its independence was declared unilaterally by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in 2012, after a Tuareg rebellion drove the Malian Army from the region. It rejoined Mali in February 2013, after less than a year of unrecognized independence.
Azawad, as claimed by the MNLA, comprises the Malian regions of Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, as well as a part of Mopti region, encompassing about 60 percent of Mali's total land area. Azawad borders Burkina Faso to the south, Mauritania to the west and northwest, Algeria to the north and northeast, and Niger to the east and southeast, with undisputed Mali to its southwest. It straddles a portion of the Sahara and the Sahelian zone. Gao is its largest city and served as the temporary capital, while Timbuktu is the second-largest city, and was intended to be the capital by the independence forces.On 6 April 2012, in a statement posted to its website, the MNLA declared "irrevocably" the independence of Azawad from Mali. In Gao on the same day, Bilal Ag Acherif, the secretary-general of the movement, signed the Azawadi Declaration of Independence, which also declared the MNLA as the interim administrators of Azawad until a "national authority" could be formed. The proclamation was never recognised by any foreign entity, and the MNLA's claim to have de facto control of the Azawad region was disputed by both the Malian government and Islamist insurgent groups in the Sahara. At this time, a rift was developing with the Islamists. The Economic Community of West African States, which refused to recognise Azawad and called the declaration of its independence "null and void", warned it could send troops into the disputed region in support of the Malian claim.Tuareg military leader Moussa Ag Achara Toumane affiliated with the MSA (French: "Movement pour le Salut de l'Azawad"; English: "Movement for the Salvation of Azawad") was interviewed by the French language news outlet "TV5MONDE," during its "Le journal Afrique" or "African Journal" segment, about hostile events that occurred between the MNLA and other separatist groups against jihadi extremists in 2012. He claimed that jihadi groups, and the Ansar Dine in particular, had been in the region of Azawad for 10 years before the circumstances which led to the Azawadi Declaration of Independence. Locals had heard of their extremist views (in respect to shari'a law) then subsequently distanced themselves from the jihadis. Ag Toumane further asserted that the death of Col. Mu'ammar el Gaddafi destabilised the political landscape for sahelians from Mali and Niger to such a degree that it was described as "disastrous." The Tuareg rebels allegedly went into a "survival mode" for 5 years after his death which were fraught with socio-political and socio-economic crises. Disorganised and unaware of moderate militias, some joined jihadi groups but left when acquainted with better options; they aimed to join movements that were "good" in nature and organised for humanitarian causes for the betterment of Azawad. When asked about the speculated alliance between the MNLA and the Ansar Dine, Ag Toumane said he "personally did not know of the alliance" and referred back to the distance Azawadi locals kept from them.On 14 February 2013, the MNLA renounced its claim of independence for Azawad and asked the Malian government to start negotiations on its future status. The MNLA ended the ceasefire in September of the same year after government forces reportedly opened fire on unarmed protesters.Battle of Gao
The Battle of Gao was fought between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Islamist Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), along with its ally Ansar Dine, that took place in Gao between 26–28 June 2012. followed the next day, with more fighting. By the 28th June 2012, Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, the three biggest cities in the disputed secessionist region of Azawad within what is recognised as Malian territory, were under the control of Ansar Dine and its Islamist allies.
Two days later, parts of the World Heritage Site of Timbuktu had started to be destroyed, amid condemnation by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Mali and France. This was followed by criticism within the region and internationally with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
suggesting it could send an armed intervention force into the country and the International Criminal Court (ICC) following Mali's lead in terming the acts as "war crimes." While MNLA also criticised the Islamists for holding civilians and destroying the structures, Ansar Dine said that the destruction was due to violation of sharia and in reaction to UNESCO's labeling of the sites of Timbuktu and in Gao as "in danger."Battle of Timbuktu
The Battle of Timbuktu occurred in Timbuktu, Mali, in March 2013, between Islamist groups and Mali government forces supported by France.
On the night of 20–21 March, a group of Islamist militants tried to infiltrate the airport. A car with armed men also tried to break into the city; however, French and Malian forces pushed them back.Between Time and Timbuktu
Between Time and Timbuktu is a television film directed by Fred Barzyk and based on a number of works by Kurt Vonnegut. Produced by National Educational Television and WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, it was telecast March 13, 1972 as a NET Playhouse special. The television script was also published in 1972, illustrated with photographs by Jill Krementz and stills from the television production.
The script was primarily written by David Odell, with contributions from Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, and the film's director. Vonnegut himself served as an "advisor and contributor to the script."Kabara, Mali
Kabara is a small town in Mali on the Niger River, the port for Timbuktu.
It is 8 km (5 mi) to the south of Timbuktu and is connected to an arm of the Niger River by a 3 km (2 mi) canal.
The town has at times in the past been linked to Timbuktu by an extension of the canal.
However, silting and lower water levels in recent years have made the extension canal unusable and the Kabara port usable only during the high water seasons.Musa I of Mali
Musa I (c. 1280 – c. 1337) or Mansa Musa was the tenth Mansa, which translates to "sultan", "conqueror", or "emperor", of the wealthy West African Islamic Mali Empire. At the time of Musa's rise to the throne, the Malian Empire consisted of territory formerly belonging to the Ghana Empire in present-day southern Mauritania and in Melle (Mali) and the immediate surrounding areas. Musa held many titles, including "Emir of Melle", "Lord of the Mines of Wangara", "Conqueror of Ghanata", and at least a dozen others. Mansa Musa conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding districts containing villages and estates. During his reign, Mali may have been the largest producer of gold in the world; it was at a point of exceptional demand for the commodity. One of the richest people in history, he is known to have been enormously wealthy; reported as being inconceivably rich by contemporaries, Time magazine reported: "There's really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth." In March 2019 the BBC described him as "the richest man of all time".Northern Mali conflict
The Northern Mali Conflict, Mali Civil War, or Mali War refers to armed conflicts that started from January 2012 between the northern and southern parts of Mali in Africa. On 16 January 2012, several insurgent groups began fighting a campaign against the Malian government for independence or greater autonomy for northern Mali, an area of northern Mali they called Azawad. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make this area of Mali an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, had taken control of the region by April 2012.
On 22 March 2012, President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup d'état over his handling of the crisis, a month before a presidential election was to have taken place. Mutinous soldiers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR), took control and suspended the constitution of Mali. As a consequence of the instability following the coup, Mali's three largest northern cities—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—were overrun by the rebels on three consecutive days. On 5 April 2012, after the capture of Douentza, the MNLA said that it had accomplished its goals and called off its offensive. The following day, it proclaimed the independence of northern Mali from the rest of the country, renaming it Azawad.The MNLA were initially backed by the Islamist group Ansar Dine. After the Malian military was driven from northern Mali, Ansar Dine and a number of smaller Islamist groups began imposing strict Sharia law. The MNLA and Islamists struggled to reconcile their conflicting visions for an intended new state. Afterwards, the MNLA began fighting against Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups, including Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA/MUJAO), a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. By 17 July 2012, the MNLA had lost control of most of northern Mali's cities to the Islamists.The government of Mali asked for foreign military help to re-take the north. On 11 January 2013, the French military began operations against the Islamists. Forces from other African Union states were deployed shortly after. By 8 February, the Islamist-held territory had been re-taken by the Malian military, with help from the international coalition. Tuareg separatists have continued to fight the Islamists as well, although the MNLA has also been accused of carrying out attacks against the Malian military.A peace deal between the government and Tuareg rebels was signed on 18 June 2013, however on 26 September 2013 the rebels pulled out of the peace agreement and claimed that the government had not respected its commitments to the truce. Fighting is still ongoing even though French forces are scheduled for withdrawal. A ceasefire agreement was signed on 19 February 2015 in Algiers, Algeria, but sporadic terrorist attacks still occur.This conflict officially ended with the signing of a peace accord in the capital on 15 April 2015.Second Battle of Timbuktu
The Battle of Timbuktu was a phase of the Northern Mali conflict, taking place in late March 2013, in which two Islamist attacks targeted the Malian army in Timbuktu. With help from the French, both attacks were prevented from capturing any significant sites in the city.Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire (also transliterated as Songhay) was a state that dominated the western Sahel in the 15th and 16th century. At its peak, it was one of the largest states in African history. The state is known by its historiographical name, derived from its leading ethnic group and ruling elite, the Songhai. Sonni Ali established Gao as the capital of the empire, although a Songhai state had existed in and around Gao since the 11th century. Other important cities in the empire were Timbuktu and Djenné, conquered in 1468 and 1475 respectively, where urban-centered trade flourished. Initially, the empire was ruled by the Sonni dynasty (c. 1464–1493), but it was later replaced by the Askia dynasty (1493–1591).
During the second half of the 13th century, Gao and the surrounding region had grown into an important trading center and attracted the interest of the expanding Mali Empire. Mali conquered Gao towards the end of the 13th century. Gao would remain under Malian hegemony until the late 14th century. As the Mali Empire started to disintegrate, the Songhai reasserted control of Gao. Songhai rulers subsequently took advantage of the weakened Mali Empire to expand Songhai rule.
Under the rule of Sonni Ali, the Songhai surpassed the Malian Empire in area, wealth, and power, absorbing vast areas of the Mali Empire and reached its greatest extent. His son and successor, Sonni Bāru (1492–1493), was a less successful ruler of the empire, and as such was overthrown by Muhammad Ture (1493–1528; called Askia), one of his father's generals, who instituted political and economic reforms throughout the empire.
A series of plots and coups by Askia's successors forced the empire into a period of decline and instability. Askia's relatives attempted to govern the empire, but political chaos and several civil wars within the empire ensured the empire's continued decline, particularly during the brutal rule of Askia Ishaq I (1539–1549). The empire experienced a period of stability and a string of military successes during the reign of Askia Daoud (1549–1582/1583). Ahmad al-Mansur, the Moroccan sultan at the time, demanded tax revenues from the empire's salt mines.
Askia Daoud responded by sending a large quantity of gold as gift in an attempt to appease the sultan. Askia Ishaq II (1588–1591) ascended to power in a long dynastic struggle following the death of Askia Daoud. He would be the last ruler of the empire. In 1590, al-Mansur took advantage of the recent civil strife in the empire and sent an army under the command of Judar Pasha to conquer the Songhai and to gain control of the Trans-Saharan trade routes. After the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Tondibi (1591), the Songhai Empire collapsed. The Dendi Kingdom succeeded the empire as the continuation of Songhai culture and society.Songhay languages
The Songhay or Songhai languages ([soŋaj] or [soŋoj]) are a group of closely related languages/dialects centred on the middle stretches of the Niger River in the West African countries of Mali, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. In particular, they are spoken in the cities of Timbuktu and Gao. They have been widely used as a lingua franca in that region ever since the era of the Songhai Empire. In Mali, the government has officially adopted the dialect of Gao (east of Timbuktu) as the dialect to be used as a medium of primary education.Some Songhay languages have little to no mutual intelligibility between each other. For example, Koyraboro Senni, spoken in Gao, is unintelligible to speakers of Zarma in Niger, according to Ethnologue. However, Songhay, Zarma and Dendi have high mutual intelligibility within Niger.For linguists, a major point of interest in the Songhay languages has been the difficulty of determining their genetic affiliation; they are commonly taken to be Nilo-Saharan, as defined by Greenberg in 1963, but this classification remains controversial. Linguist Gerrit Dimmendaal (2008) believes that for now it is best considered an independent language family. Roger Blench argues that the Songhay and Saharan languages form a Songhay-Saharan branch with each other within the wider Nilo-Saharan linguistic phylum.Historically, the name Songhay was neither an ethnic nor a linguistic designation, but a name for the ruling caste of the Songhai Empire. Under the influence of French language usage, speakers in Mali have increasingly been adopting it as an ethnic self-designation; however, other Songhay-speaking groups identify themselves with other ethnic terms, such as Zarma (Djerma) or Isawaghen.
A few precolonial poems and letters composed in Songhay and written in the Arabic script exist in Timbuktu. However, Songhay is currently written in the Latin script.Tamasheq language
Tamasheq is a variety of the Tuareg languages. It is spoken by the Tuareg people, principally in the Timbuktu area. There are two divergent dialects: Timbuktu (Tombouctou, Tanaslamt) and Tadghaq (Kidal), in Mali.
Tamasheq as spoken in northeastern Burkina Faso is similar.The name Tamasheq is sometimes applied to the Tuareg languages in general.The Narrative of Robert Adams
First published in 1816, The Narrative of Robert Adams is the story of the adventures of Robert Adams, a twenty-five-year-old American sailor who claimed to be enslaved in North Africa for three years, from 1810 to 1814, after surviving a shipwreck. He was said to have finally been ransomed by the British Consul, where he eventually made his way to London. It was there that, as a random beggar on the streets, he was "discovered" by the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, where he narrated the full details of his adventure.Adams claimed to have visited Timbuktu during his enslavement, which would have made him the first Westerner to reach the city. Upon his stated liberation, and return to Europe, Adams' story was published in two heavily edited and divergent accounts, most notably The Narrative of Robert Adams.
Because his story was sanctioned by some of the most distinguished men in England, including members of government, who had a noted financial interest in Africa, his narrative(s) gained credibility despite "its most
glaring absurdities."Often cited as an example of white slavery, today Adams' story is widely known to have been fabricated, lending to the dismissal of his story within general history discussions and recordings.Timbuktu!
Timbuktu! is a musical, with lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright, set to music by Borodin, Forrest and Wright. The book is by Luther Davis. It is a resetting of Forrest and Wright's musical Kismet. The musical is set in 1361, in Timbuktu, in the Ancient Empire of Mali, West Africa.Timbuktu (1959 film)
Timbuktu is a 1959 American black-and-white adventure film directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Victor Mature and Yvonne de Carlo. It is set in Timbuktu (Africa), but was filmed in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Kanab, Utah.Timbuktu (2014 film)
Timbuktu is a 2014 French-Mauritanian drama film directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. It was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. At Cannes, it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards, and has been nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 69th British Academy Film Awards. It won Best Film at the 11th Africa Movie Academy Awards. The film was named the twelfth "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far" in 2017 by The New York Times.The film looks at the brief occupation of Timbuktu, Mali by Ansar Dine. Parts of the film were influenced by a 2012 public stoning of an unmarried couple in Aguelhok. It was shot in Oualata, a town in south-east Mauritania.Timbuktu (crater)
Timbuktu is an old crater on Mars, located in the Margaritifer Sinus quadrangle (MC-19) region at 5.7° S and 37.6° W. It measures approximately 66 kilometers in diameter and was named after the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali, Africa.Timbuktu (musician)
Jason Michael Bosak Diakité (born 11 January 1975 in Lund), known under the stage name Timbuktu, is a Swedish rapper and reggae artist. In the mid-1990s, he started as part of the rap group Excel before going solo as Timbuktu. He has won several Grammis awards, the highest music awards in Sweden, including Lyricist of the Year and best Hip-hop Record of the Year.Timbuktu Cercle
Timbuktu Cercle is an administrative subdivision of the Tombouctou Region of Mali. It is the largest cercle by area in the whole of Mali. The capital lies at the city of Timbuktu. The cercle is divided into Rural and Urban Communes, and below this, quarters/villages. In the 2009 census the cercle had a population of 124,546.Tombouctou Region
Tombouctou Region is one of the administrative regions of Mali. It is the largest of Mali's eight regions and includes a large section of the Sahara Desert. For administrative purposes, the region is subdivided into five cercles.
The region is part of northern Mali that was separated and declared independent by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) during the Tuareg rebellion of 2012. In the course of the conflict, the MNLA lost control of the territory to Islamist militias.
Tombouctou region is world-famous for its capital, the ancient city Timbuktu (French: Tombouctou), synonymous to 19th-century Europeans as an elusive, hard-to-reach destination. The city gained world fame in 1390 when its ruler, Mansa Musa, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, stopping with his entourage in Egypt and dispensing enough gold to devalue the Egyptian currency. This started the legend of a city in the interior of Africa, where roads were said to be paved with gold and buildings topped with roofs of gold.
|Climate data for Timbuktu (1950–2000, extremes 1897–present)|
|Record high °C (°F)||41.6
|Average high °C (°F)||30.0
|Average low °C (°F)||13.0
|Record low °C (°F)||1.7
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||0.6
|Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm)||0.1||0.1||0.1||0.6||0.9||3.2||6.6||8.1||4.7||0.8||0.0||0.1||25.3|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||263.9||249.6||269.9||254.6||275.3||234.7||248.6||255.3||248.9||273.0||274.0||258.7||3,106.5|
|Source #1: World Meteorological Organization, NOAA (sun 1961–1990)|
|Source #2: Meteo Climat (record highs and lows)|
|Tributaries (list) and |
|Dams and bridges|