Tombouctou: Mali’s treasures at risk
The famous mosque at Sankore, part of Timbuktu‘s medieval university. The mosque’s sanctuary was proportioned to match the Kaaba at Mecca, which had been measured with a rope during a pilgrimage. Photo Getty Images.
The University of Timbuktu was a medieval University in Mali, West Africa which comprised three schools; namely the Masajid of Djinguereber, the Masajid of Sidi Yahya, and the Masajid of Sankore.
During its zenith, the university at Timbuktu had an average attendance of around 25,000 students within a city of around 100,000 people. There were four levels within the University curriculum, that included the “Circle of Knowledge“, the “Superior Degree“, the “Secondary Degree“, and the “Primary Degree“.
Teachings mostly consisted of Quranic principles; however, literature covering topics of science, mathematics, and medicine are also observed, among other disciplines.
Sankore_Portes de la Mosquée de Sidi Yehia. Photo KaTeznik, January 2005.
Timbuktu, known as the “city of 333 saints” for the Sufi imams, sheiks and scholars buried there, was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.
But there are fears this carefully preserved legacy could be under threat from groups of armed rebels who have overrun the ancient city this month, in the vacuum left by retreating Malian government forces.
Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, has called on the groups to respect and protect the city’s heritage.
“Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, must be safeguarded,” she said.
Cour de la mosquée de Djingareiber. Photo KaTeznik, January 2005.
“Timbuktu in the 14th to the 16th century was an important university city where many manuscripts referring to knowledge of astronomy, economy, religion, mathematics, physics, and medicine were produced,” said Lazare Eloundou, chief of the Africa unit for UNESCO’s World Heritage Center.
For generations, local families have protected the fragile manuscripts, some of which date from the 13th century, from invaders. Fearing that those responsible for the current unrest could loot or destroy the treasures, librarians and curators are making efforts to hide the texts or smuggle them out of the city to safety.
While there have been reports that offices of local libraries have been looted by the gunmen, no significant losses of the documents have yet been reported, according to Eloundou.
Timbuktu: Mali’s treasure at risk from armed uprising
- Timbuktu, Ancient Islamic City, Under Attack (abcnews.go.com)
- Timbuktu, ancient Islamic city, under attack (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Timbuktu, ancient Islamic city in Mali, under attack (washingtontimes.com)
- UNESCO Director-General appeals for concerted action to prevent loss or destruction of Timbuktu’s documentary heritage (yubanet.com)
- Extremists Threaten Timbuktu Patrimony (eurasiareview.com)
- Fabled Timbuktu in Peril From Malian Coup (theroot.com)
- Rebels threaten Timbuktu’s ancient treasures (abc.net.au)
- Islamists ban booze, uncovered women in N. Mali (timesleader.com)