10 Facts About Timbuktu You Probably Didn’t Know

Timbuktu is a city located in Mali and can be found on the edge of the Sahara Desert. It’s a relatively small city but has a long and interesting history that many people are unaware of.

10 Facts About Timbuktu You Probably Didn't Know

During its long history, it has been a bustling center of religion, trade, and culture that gained the attention of many people throughout the world.

However, for many people, Timbuktu is a mysterious city that they know little about.

That’s why we’ve created this article with 10 facts about Timbuktu that you probably didn’t know. Whether you’re looking to visit this beautiful city or just learn more about it, we have a fact for you.

1. It Was Founded In The 11th Century

Although parts of Timbuktu can be traced back to the 5th century, the city as it is known today can really trace its roots back to the 11th century.

This is when Tuareg nomads settled in the area and began to use Timbuktu as a place for trading a variety of goods such as salt, ivory, and gold. Due to this trading, the city rapidly grew in the centuries that followed.

2. It’s Known As The City Of 333 Saints

Timbuktu has the interesting nickname of ‘City of 333 Saints.’ It gained this name because 333 saints have been laid to rest within the boundaries of the city.

All of these saints were Islamic scholars who are still revered for their wisdom and generosity. Some Muslims still make the journey to Timbuktu to pay their respects to these saints.

3. There Are Several World Heritage Sites

There are so many historic sites in Timbuktu! In particular, the three great mosques of Timbuktu and their grounds have been classed as areas of outstanding universal value. UNESCO is also helping to preserve these sites as they are constantly under threat due to desertification.

4. Timbuktu Has Three Of The Oldest Mosques In All Of Africa

We mentioned them briefly in the previous fact, but we should take the time to talk about these mosques in more detail.

The three mosques are Djingareyber, Sankore, and Sidi Yahia, and they all date back to the 14th century. These are some of the oldest mosques you will find in Western Africa.

5. The City Has Been Ruled By Several Different Leaders

Throughout its history, Timbuktu has been ruled by several different groups and leaders. After being founded by Tuareg nomads in the 11th century, the city was brought into the Mali Empire around the turn of the 14th century.

The Tuaregs were able to get the city back in 1433 but only held it until 1468 when it was captured by the Songhai ruler Sonni ʿAlī. 

In 1591, Morocco captured the city and held it for three centuries until it was claimed by the French in 1894 and incorporated into Mali.

6. It Has One Of The Oldest Universities In The World

The University of Sankoré is one of the oldest universities in the world. Also known as Sankoré Madrasa or Sankore Masjid, its roots can be dated back to 988AD and the establishment of the Sankoré Mosque.

It has long been an important school for Islamic learning and became a madrasa (Islamic school or university) in the 14th century.

The university still functions today, however, several of the traditional buildings have suffered due to floods and a lack of careful restoration work over the years. Work is ongoing to preserve the buildings for future generations.

7. It Has One Of The Largest Libraries In The World

Throughout its history, Timbuktu has been a meeting place for scholars from around the world. This made a great center for learning and led to an active trade in books and manuscripts in the city.

During the height of Timbuktu, books were revered as valuable commodities. It’s estimated that at one point, Timbuktu was home to over 700,000 different manuscripts.

Currently, around 20,000 manuscripts are held and preserved by the Ahmed Baba Institute. There are still thought to be thousands of manuscripts privately held by families in the city as well as these are passed down from generation to generation.

8. It Attracted Europeans Searching For Gold

As Timbuktu grew during its golden years, stories of its riches started to reach Europe. Many Europeans that were hunting for precious metals such as gold came to Western Africa and Timbuktu in particular, looking for riches.

However, by the time most Europeans did come to Timbuktu, the city had experienced its decline. There was no gold to find and instead, Europeans were left with a city that was very difficult to travel to with little reward.

9. Both Droughts And Floods Threaten The City

Due to Timbuktu’s location near the Sahara Desert, the city is always at risk of droughts. It doesn’t see many days of rainfall and many of the streets are lined with sand.

When it does rain, however, it can rain heavily and the city is not equipped with a good drainage system. The combination of poor drainage and hard, dried ground from a lack of rain, can often lead to flooding.

10. Tourism Has Grown But May Not Be Safe

Timbuktu is not a very easy or safe city to visit. It doesn’t have much of a tourism industry, but the small industry it has has grown. In the 1980s, the city only had two hotels but by the mid-2000s, this number had grown to seven.

However, many governments warn their citizens against traveling to Timbuktu after a series of kidnappings targeted tourists.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we introduced 10 facts about Timbuktu that you probably didn’t know.

These facts show that Timbuktu has a long and interesting history that makes it a very unique place to visit. If you’re planning to visit Africa, why not add a stop to Mali and Timbuktu to your itinerary?

We hope that you enjoyed this article and learned some interesting facts about Timbuktu!

Alex Kallen
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