Founded in the fifth century, the city of Timbuktu (Mali) became a spiritual centre, home to a prestigious university, and an active hub for trans-Saharan trade during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its three great mosques, inscribed on the World Heritage List, and its medina represent the high points of this urban civilization. The city’s distinctive construction and maintenance techniques that use a combination of mud and stone have been passed down through generations, and represent a key source of intangible heritage. Ancient manuscripts, some of which date back to the thirteenth century, have been conserved and passed down through families and document the history of Africa across all fields of study.
In 2012, armed groups took control of the city and quickly targeted cultural heritage. Fourteen of the sixteen mausoleums containing the tombs of the saints were destroyed, as well as the Al Farouk independence monument. Museums and libraries were looted, cultural practices were banned and some of the ancient manuscripts were burnt. This brutal assault on cultural heritage severely weakened the local population’s cultural practices and social cohesion. To protect them from destruction, the manuscripts were secretly moved to Bamako (Mali), illustrating their importance for local communities.
After the liberation of the city in February 2013, a wide reconstruction and safeguarding programme was put in motion under the aegis of UNESCO, with support from the international community. The reconstruction of the 14 mausoleums, which was completed in July 2015, signaled the city’s rebirth. The original shape of the monuments was rediscovered through in-depth research work and excavations. Reconstruction guidelines regarding building dimensions, techniques and materials were established together with the owner families and the mason groups. Young people were trained by master masons to participate in the reconstruction, thus fostering the transmission of know-how. In addition, a digitization programme for the ancient manuscripts was established, together with training of professionals and manuscript owners in conservation techniques.
Source: Arterial Network, report for Study Area 1