A team of experts from UNESCO and Mali has found damage to Timbuktu’s cultural heritage more extensive than first estimated. The team travelled to the fabled city this week to carry out a thorough assessment of the situation, following the systematic attacks by the rebel forces that occupied the region until early this year. The mission was the first step towards the reconstruction and safeguarding of this heritage, much of which is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
“The destruction caused to Timbuktu’s heritage is even more alarming than we thought,” said Lazare Eloundou Assomo of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, who led the mission. “We discovered that 14 of Timbuktu’s mausoleums, including those that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, were totally destroyed, along with two others at the Djingareyber Mosque. The emblematic El Farouk monument at the entrance to the city was razed. We estimate that 4,203 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba research centre were lost, and that another 300,000 were exfiltrated - mainly to Bamako – and are in urgent need of conservation.”
The mission, led by UNESCO with the support of the United Nations Mission to Mali (MINUSMA), included experts from the following institutions: ICOMOS, ICCROM, AWHF, CRAterre, ICOM, IFLA, Ecole du Patrimoine Africain (EPA), the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the French Government and the European Union.
From 28 May to 3 June the Malian team carried out extensive investigations in the city and consultations with the local community; then on 6 June, the international team members travelled to Timbuktu. The findings of both groups were discussed at a meeting held in Bamako, the capital, on the morning of 7 May.
The purpose was to gather as much information as possible on the state of the city’s cultural heritage; what will be required to repair, rebuild and protect it; and how this should be carried out. The results will be used to finalize an Action Plan for Mali. This plan was prepared at a high level meeting organized at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters last 18 February. A national workshop will convene tomorrow to determine immediate next steps.
“Whilst in Timbuktu, we met with local administrative and military authorities, religious leaders and those responsible for the safe keeping of cultural heritage, to get a better understanding of what happened – not just to the sites, museums and manuscript collections, but also to the living heritage of the region: the cultural and religious practices that define the peoples of the region,” said Mr. Eloundou Assomo.
“We visited all of the damaged or destroyed sites, guided by the principle religious authorities,” he continued. “We paid special attention to the mausoleums at the Cemetery of the Three Saints and the Alpha Moya cemetery. We visited the Ahmed Baba Institute and several private libraries to evaluate the condition of the manuscript collections, and assessed the state of conservation of the three mosques. We also had lengthy exchanges with the communities of Timbuktu and heard their views on the best ways to reconstruct the mausoleums, safeguard the manuscripts, give new life to intangible heritage and weave this action into a broader movement for sustainable peace and reconciliation.”
On Wednesday 5 June, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova reiterated the Organization’s commitment to help Mali reconstruct and safeguard its cultural heritage.
At the ceremony to award French President Francois Hollande the UNESCO-Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize for taking action in January to end the control of insurgents in Northern Mali and bring peace and stability to the region, Ms. Bokova said that the rehabilitation of Mali’s heritage “is not just a question of repairing the damage, but also a question of values.
“UNESCO saved the temples of Egypt and rebuilt the Mostar Bridge,” the Director-General said. “UNESCO will rebuild the mausoleums of Mali.”
World Heritage sites in Mali : http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ml/
Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mali : http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00011&country=00134&multinational=3&display1=inscriptionID
Sue Williams, UNESCO Media relations
Tel: +33 90)1 4568 1706, +33 (0)6 15 92 93 62