Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Timbuktu is much more than a mirage or a myth. I knew that, but I had no idea where the proverbial exotic locale is situated, so this morning I have taken a trek and here's what I have learned... The town of almost 32,000 people is located in Mali, West Africa, about 15km north of the Niger River. The area is subject to desertification, but has been taken off the list of threatened World Heritage Sites. The residents are impoverished, but tourism supports an international airport.

With its three famous mosques, Timbuktu was a spiritual capital for the spread of Islam in Africa, but was also a center for scholarship and had one of the world's first universities. Important manuscripts were being copied there by the 14th c. and at one time, the area had 120 libraries. Today, 60 to 80 libraries - lying along the "African Ink Road" - are preserving some of the 100,000 manuscripts held by private families, and the Mali government, UNESCO, and Timbuktu's University of Sankore have undertaken projects to restore and digitize an estimated 700,000 more in the region.

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