Timbuktu (/ˌtɪmbʌkˈtuː/), also spelt Tinbuktu, Timbuctoo and
Timbuktoo (Berber languages: ⵜⵉⵏⴱⵓⴽⵜⵓ; French:
Tombouctou; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu), is an ancient city in Mali,
situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the
Niger River. The town is
the capital of the
Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative
regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.
Starting out as a seasonal settlement,
Timbuktu became a permanent
settlement early in the 12th century. After a shift in trading routes,
Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. It
became part of the
Mali Empire early in the 14th century. In the first
half of the 15th century, the Tuareg tribes took control of the city
for a short period until the expanding
Songhai Empire absorbed the
city in 1468. A Moroccan army defeated the Songhai in 1591 and made
Timbuktu, rather than Gao, their capital. The invaders established a
new ruling class, the Arma, who after 1612 became virtually
independent of Morocco. However, the golden age of the city, during
which it was a major learning and cultural centre of the
was over, and it entered a long period of decline. Different tribes
governed until the French took over in 1893, a situation that lasted
until it became part of the current Republic of
Mali in 1960.
Timbuktu is impoverished and suffers from desertification.
In its Golden Age, the town's numerous Islamic scholars and extensive
trading network made possible an important book trade: together with
the campuses of the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university, this
Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa. Several notable
historic writers, such as Shabeni and Leo Africanus, have described
Timbuktu. These stories fuelled speculation in Europe, where the
city's reputation shifted from being extremely rich to being
6.1 Salt trade
7 Legendary tales
7.1 Leo Africanus
8 Arts and culture
8.1 Cultural events
8.2 World Heritage Site
8.2.1 Attacks by Muslim Fundamentalists
9.1 Centre of learning
9.2 Manuscripts and libraries
12 In popular culture
13 Twin towns – sister cities
14 See also
17 Further reading
18 External links
Timbuktu looking west,
René Caillié (1830)
View of Timbuktu,
Heinrich Barth (1858)
Over the centuries, the spelling of
Timbuktu has varied a great deal:
from Tenbuch on the
Catalan Atlas (1375), to traveller Antonio
Malfante's Thambet, used in a letter he wrote in 1447 and also adopted
Alvise Cadamosto in his Voyages of Cadamosto, to Heinrich Barth's
Timbúktu and Timbu'ktu. French spelling often appears in
international reference as "Tombouctou." As well as its spelling,
Timbuktu's toponymy is still open to discussion. At least four
possible origins of the name of
Timbuktu have been described:
Songhay origin: both
Leo Africanus and
Heinrich Barth believed the
name was derived from two Songhay words:
Leo Africanus writes the
Kingdom of Tombuto was named after a town of the same name, founded in
1213 or 1214 by Mansa Suleyman. The word itself consisted of two
parts: tin (wall) and butu (Wall of Butu). Africanus did not explain
the meaning of this Butu.
Heinrich Barth wrote: "The town was
probably so called, because it was built originally in a hollow or
cavity in the sand-hills. Tùmbutu means hole or womb in the Songhay
language: if it were a Temáshight (Tamashek) word, it would be
written Tinbuktu. The name is generally interpreted by Europeans as
well of Buktu (also same word in Persian is bâkhtàr باختر =
where the sun sets, West), but tin has nothing to do with well."
Berber origin: Malian historian Sekene Cissoko proposes a different
etymology: the Tuareg founders of the city gave it a Berber name, a
word composed of two parts: tim, the feminine form of In (place of)
and "bouctou", a small dune. Hence,
Timbuktu would mean "place covered
by small dunes".
Abd al-Sadi offers a third explanation in his 17th-century Tarikh
al-Sudan: "The Tuareg made it a depot for their belongings and
provisions, and it grew into a crossroads for travellers coming and
going. Looking after their belongings was a slave woman of theirs
called Tinbuktu, which in their language means [the one having a]
'lump'. The blessed spot where she encamped was named after her."
The French Orientalist
René Basset forwarded another theory: the name
derives from the Zenaga root b-k-t, meaning "to be distant" or
"hidden", and the feminine possessive particle tin. The meaning
"hidden" could point to the city's location in a slight hollow.
The validity of these theories depends on the identity of the original
founders of the city: as recently as 2000, archaeological research has
not found remains dating from the 11th/12th century within the limits
of the modern city given the difficulty of excavating through metres
of sand that have buried the remains over the past centuries.
Without consensus, the etymology of
Timbuktu remains unclear.
Like other important Medieval West African towns such as Djenné
(Jenné-Jeno), Gao, and Dia,
Iron Age settlements have been discovered
Timbuktu that predate the traditional foundation date of the
town. Although the accumulation of thick layers of sand has thwarted
archaeological excavations in the town itself, some of the
surrounding landscape is deflating and exposing pottery shards on the
surface. A survey of the area by Susan and Roderick McIntosh in 1984
Iron Age sites along the el-Ahmar, an ancient wadi
system that passes a few kilometres to the east of the modern
Iron Age tell complex located 9 kilometres (6 miles) southeast of
Timbuktu near the Wadi el-Ahmar was excavated between 2008 and
2010 by archaeologists from
Yale University and the Mission Culturelle
de Tombouctou. The results suggest that the site was first occupied
during the 5th century BC, thrived throughout the second half of the
1st millennium AD and eventually collapsed sometime during the late
10th or early 11th century AD.
Main article: History of Timbuktu
This section should include a better summary of History of Timbuktu.
See:Summary style for information on how to properly
incorporate it into this article's main text. (July 2017)
Timbuktu was a regional trade centre in medieval times, where caravans
met to exchange salt from the
Sahara Desert for gold, ivory, and
slaves from the Sahel, which could be reached via the nearby Niger
River. The population swelled from 10,000 in the 13th century to about
50,000 in the 16th century after the establishment of a major Islamic
university, which attracted scholars from throughout the Muslim world.
In the 1600s, a combination of a purge by a monarch who accused the
scholars of "disloyalty" and a decline in trade caused by increased
competition from newly available trans-Atlantic sailing routes caused
the city to decline. The first European to reach Timbuktu, Alexander
Gordon Laing, did not arrive until 1826, and it was not until the
Timbuktu was formally incorporated into the French colony
of Mali. Today, the city is still inhabited, but it plays little role
on the world stage.
Timbuktu is located on the southern edge of the
Sahara 15 km
(9 mi) north of the main channel of the River Niger. The town is
surrounded by sand dunes and the streets are covered in sand. The port
of Kabara is 8 km (5 mi) to the south of the town and is
connected to an arm of the river by a 3 km (2 mi) canal. The
canal had become heavily silted but in 2007 it was dredged as part of
a Libyan financed project.
The annual flood of the
Niger River is a result of the heavy rainfall
in the headwaters of the
Niger and Bani rivers in
Guinea and northern
Ivory Coast. The rainfall in these areas peaks in August but the flood
water takes time to pass down the river system and through the Inner
Niger Delta. At Koulikoro, 60 km (37 mi) downstream from
Bamako, the flood peaks in September, while in
Timbuktu the flood
lasts longer and usually reaches a maximum at the end of December.
In the past, the area flooded by the river was more extensive and in
years with high rainfall, floodwater would reach the western outskirts
Timbuktu itself. A small navigable creek to the west of the
town is shown on the maps published by
Heinrich Barth in 1857 and
Félix Dubois in 1896. Between 1917 and 1921, during the colonial
period, the French used slave labour to dig a narrow canal linking
Timbuktu with Kabara. Over the following decades this became
silted and filled with sand, but in 2007 as part of the dredging
project, the canal was re-excavated so that now when the River Niger
Timbuktu is again connected to Kabara. The Malian
government has promised to address problems with the design of the
canal as it currently lacks footbridges and the steep, unstable banks
make access to the water difficult.
Kabara can only function as a port in December to January when the
river is in full flood. When the water levels are lower, boats dock at
Korioumé which is linked to
Timbuktu by 18 km (11 mi) of
Timbuktu features a hot desert climate according to the Köppen
Climate Classification. The weather is hot and dry throughout much of
the year. Average daily maximum temperatures in the hottest months of
the year – April, May and June – exceed 40 °C
(104 °F). Lowest temperatures occur during the Northern
hemisphere winter – December, January and February. However, average
maximum temperatures do not drop below 30 °C (86 °F).
These winter months are characterized by a dry, dusty trade wind
blowing from the Saharan
Tibesti Region southward to the Gulf of
Guinea: picking up dust particles on their way, these winds limit
visibility in what has been dubbed the '
Additionally, when the dust settles in the city, sand builds up and
Climate data for
Timbuktu (1950–2000, extremes 1897–present)
Record high °C (°F)
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Record low °C (°F)
Average rainfall mm (inches)
Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm)
Mean monthly sunshine hours
Source #1: World Meteorological Organization, NOAA (sun
Source #2: Meteo Climat (record highs and lows)
Azalai salt caravan, mid-December 1985.
The wealth and very existence of
Timbuktu depended on its position as
the southern terminus of an important trans-Saharan trade route;
nowadays, the only goods that are routinely transported across the
desert are slabs of rock salt brought from the
Taoudenni mining centre
in the central
Sahara 664 km (413 mi) north of Timbuktu.
Until the second half of the 20th century most of the slabs were
transported by large salt caravans or azalai, one leaving
early November and the other in late March.
The caravans of several thousand camels took three weeks each way,
transporting food to the miners and returning with each camel loaded
with four or five 30 kg (66 lb) slabs of salt. The salt
transport was largely controlled by the desert nomads of the
Arabic-speaking Berabich (or Barabish) tribe. Although there are
no roads, the slabs of salt are now usually transported from Taoudenni
by truck. From
Timbuktu the salt is transported by boat to other
towns in Mali.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, Timbuktu's population grew
immensely due to an influx of Tuaregs, Fulanis, and Songhais seeking
trade, security, or to study. By 1300, the population increased to
10,000 and kept increasing until it reached about 50,000 in the
There is insufficient rainfall in the
Timbuktu region for purely
rain-fed agriculture and crops are therefore irrigated using water
from the River Niger. The main agricultural crop is rice. African
floating rice (Oryza glaberrima) has traditionally been grown in
regions near the river that are inundated during the annual flood.
Seed is sown at the beginning of the rainy season (June–July) so
that when the flood water arrives plants are already 30 to 40 cm
(12 to 16 in) in height.
The plants grow up to three metres (9.8 feet) in height as the water
level rises. The rice is harvested by canoe in December. The procedure
is very precarious and the yields are low but the method has the
advantage that little capital investment is required. A successful
crop depends critically on the amount and timing of the rain in the
wet season and the height of the flood. To a limited extent the
arrival of the flood water can be controlled by the construction of
small mud dikes that become submerged as the water rises.
Although floating rice is still cultivated in the
most of the rice is now grown in three relatively large irrigated
areas that lie to the south of the town: Daye (392 ha), Koriomé
(550 ha) and Hamadja (623 ha). Water is pumped from the
river using ten large Archimedes' screws which were first installed in
the 1990s. The irrigated areas are run as cooperatives with
approximately 2,100 families cultivating small plots. Nearly all
the rice produced is consumed by the families themselves. The yields
are still relatively low and the farmers are being encouraged to
change their agricultural practices.
Most tourists visit
Timbuktu between November and February when the
air temperature is lower. In the 1980s, accommodation for the small
number of tourists was provided by two small hotels: Hotel Bouctou and
Hotel Azalaï. Over the following decades the tourist numbers
increased so that by 2006 there were seven small hotels and guest
houses. The town benefited by the revenue from the CFA 5000
tourist tax, by the sale of handicrafts and by the employment for
Starting in 2008 the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb
began kidnapping groups of tourists in the Sahel region. In
January 2009, four tourists were kidnapped near the Mali-
after attending a cultural festival at Anderamboukané. One of
these tourists was subsequently murdered. As a result of this and
various other incidents a number of states including France,
Britain and the US, began advising their citizens to avoid
travelling far from Bamako. The number of tourists visiting Timbuktu
dropped precipitously from around 6000 in 2009 to only 492 in the
first four months of 2011.
Because of the security concerns, the Malian government moved the 2010
Festival in the Desert from
Essakane to the outskirts of
Timbuktu. In November 2011 gunmen attacked tourists staying at
a hotel in Timbuktu, killing one of them and kidnapping three
others. This was the first terrorist incident in Timbuktu
On 1 April 2012, one day after the capture of Gao,
captured from the Malian military by the Tuareg rebels of the MNLA and
Ansar Dine. Five days later, the MNLA declared the region
Mali as the nation of Azawad. The declared
political entity was not recognized by any local nations or the
international community and it collapsed three months later on 12
On 28 January 2013, French and Malian government troops began retaking
Timbuktu from the Islamist rebels. The force of 1,000 French
troops with 200 Malian soldiers retook
Timbuktu without a fight. The
Islamist groups had already fled north a few days earlier, having set
fire to the Ahmed Baba Institute, which housed many important
manuscripts. The building housing the
Ahmed Baba Institute
Ahmed Baba Institute was funded
by South Africa, and held 30,000 manuscripts. BBC World Service radio
news reported on 29 January 2013 that approximately 28,000 of the
manuscripts in the Institute had been removed to safety from the
premises before the attack by the Islamist groups, and that the
whereabouts of about 2,000 manuscripts remained unknown. It was
intended to be a resource for Islamic research.
On 30 March 2013, jihadist rebels infiltrated into
Timbuktu nine days
before a suicide bombing on a Malian army checkpoint at the
international airport killing a soldier. Fighting lasted until 1
April, when French warplanes helped Malian ground forces chase the
remaining rebels out of the city center.
Tales of Timbuktu's fabulous wealth helped prompt European exploration
of the west coast of Africa. Among the most famous descriptions of
Timbuktu are those of
Leo Africanus and Shabeni.
The rich king of Tombuto hath many plates and sceptres of gold, some
whereof weigh 1300 pounds. ... He hath always 3000 horsemen ... (and)
a great store of doctors, judges, priests, and other learned men, that
are bountifully maintained at the king's cost and charges.
Leo Africanus, Descrittione dell' Africa
The inhabitants are very rich, especially the strangers who have
settled in the country [..] But salt is in very short supply because
it is carried here from Tegaza, some 500 miles (805 km) from
Timbuktu. I happened to be in this city at a time when a load of salt
sold for eighty ducats. The king has a rich treasure of coins and gold
Leo Africanus, Descrittione dell' Africa in Paul Brians' Reading About
the World, Volume 2
Perhaps most famous among the accounts written about
Timbuktu is that
by Leo Africanus. Born El Hasan ben Muhammed el- Wazzan-ez-Zayyati in
Granada in 1485, his family was among the thousands of Muslims
expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after their reconquest
of Spain in 1492. They settled in Morocco, where he studied in
accompanied his uncle on diplomatic missions throughout North Africa.
During these travels, he visited Timbuktu. As a young man he was
captured by pirates and presented as an exceptionally learned slave to
Pope Leo X, who freed him, baptized him under the name "Johannis Leo
de Medici", and commissioned him to write, in Italian, a detailed
survey of Africa. His accounts provided most of what Europeans knew
about the continent for the next several centuries. Describing
Timbuktu when the Songhai empire was at its height, the English
edition of his book includes the description:
According to Leo Africanus, there were abundant supplies of locally
produced corn, cattle, milk and butter, though there were neither
gardens nor orchards surrounding the city. In another passage
dedicated to describing the wealth of both the environment and the
king, Africanus touches upon the rarity of some of Timbuktu's trade
commodities: salt. These descriptions and passages alike caught the
attention of European explorers. Africanus, though, also described the
more mundane aspects of the city, such as the "cottages built of
chalk, and covered with thatch" – although these went largely
The natives of the town of Timbuctoo may be computed at 40,000,
exclusive of slaves and foreigners [..] The natives are all blacks:
almost every stranger marries a female of the town, who are so
beautiful that travellers often fall in love with them at first sight.
– Shabeni in James Grey Jackson's An Account of Timbuctoo and Hausa,
Roughly 250 years after Leo Africanus' visit to Timbuktu, the city had
seen many rulers. The end of the 18th century saw the grip of the
Moroccan rulers on the city wane, resulting in a period of unstable
government by quickly changing tribes. During the rule of one of those
tribes, the Hausa, a 14-year-old child from
Tétouan accompanied his
father on a visit to Timbuktu. Growing up a merchant, he was captured
and eventually brought to England.
Shabeni, or Asseed El Hage Abd Salam Shabeeny stayed in
three years before moving to Housa. Two years later, he returned to
Timbuktu to live there for another seven years – one of a population
that was even centuries after its peak and excluding slaves, double
the size of the 21st-century town.
By the time Shabeni was 27, he was an established merchant in his
hometown. Returning from a trade mission to Hamburg, his English ship
was captured and brought to
Ostend by a ship under Russian colours in
December 1789. He was subsequently set free by the British consulate,
but his ship set him ashore in
Dover for fear of being captured again.
Here, his story was recorded. Shabeeni gave an indication of the size
of the city in the second half of the 18th century. In an earlier
passage, he described an environment that was characterized by forest,
as opposed to nowadays' arid surroundings.
Arts and culture
Reconstruction of the Ben Essayouti Library, Timbuktu
The most well-known cultural event is the Festival au Désert.
When the Tuareg rebellion ended in 1996 under the Konaré
administration, 3,000 weapons were burned in a ceremony dubbed the
Flame of Peace on 29 March 2007 – to commemorate the ceremony, a
monument was built. The Festival au Désert, to celebrate the
peace treaty, is held near the city in January.
World Heritage Site
During its twelfth session, in December 1988, the World Heritage
Committee (WHC) selected parts of Timbuktu's historic centre for
inscription on its World Heritage list. The selection was based on
Criterion II: Timbuktu's holy places were vital to early Islamization
Criterion IV: Timbuktu's mosques show a cultural and scholarly Golden
Age during the Songhay Empire.
Criterion V: The construction of the mosques, still mostly original,
shows the use of traditional building techniques.
An earlier nomination in 1979 failed the following year as it lacked
proper demarcation: the Malian government included the town of
Timbuktu as a whole in the wish for inclusion. Close to a decade
later, three mosques and 16 mausoleums or cemeteries were selected
from the Old Town for World Heritage status: with this conclusion came
the call for protection of the buildings' conditions, an exclusion of
new construction works near the sites and measures against the
Shortly afterwards, the monuments were placed on the List of World
Heritage in Danger by the Malian government, as suggested by the
selection committee at the time of nomination. The first period on
the Danger List lasted from 1990 until 2005, when a range of measures
including restoration work and the compilation of an inventory
warranted "its removal from the Danger List". In 2008 the WHC
placed the protected area under increased scrutiny dubbed "reinforced
monitoring", a measure made possible in 2007, as the impact of planned
construction work was unclear.
Special attention was given to the
build of a cultural centre.
During a session in June 2009,
UNESCO decided to cease its increased
monitoring program as it felt sufficient progress had been made to
address the initial concerns. Following the takeover of Timbuktu
by MNLA and the Islamist group Ansar Dine, it was returned to the List
of World Heritage in Danger in 2012.
Attacks by Muslim Fundamentalists
Further information: Islamist destruction of
Timbuktu heritage sites
In May 2012,
Ansar Dine destroyed a shrine in the city and in June
2012, in the aftermath of the Battle of
Gao and Timbuktu, other
shrines, including the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, were destroyed when
attacked with shovels and pickaxes by members of the same group.
Ansar Dine spokesman said that all shrines in the city, including
the 13 remaining World Heritage sites, would be destroyed because they
consider them to be examples of idolatry, a sin in Islam.
These acts have been described as crimes against humanity and war
crimes. After the destruction of the tombs,
UNESCO created a
special fund to safeguard Mali's World Heritage Sites, vowing to carry
out reconstruction and rehabilitation projects once the security
"If the University of Sankore [...] had survived the ravages of
foreign invasions, the academic and cultural history of Africa might
have been different from what it is today."
Kwame Nkrumah at the
University of Ghana
University of Ghana inauguration, 1961
Centre of learning
Timbuktu Manuscripts showing both mathematics and a heritage of
astronomy in medieval Islam.
Timbuktu was a world centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the
17th century, especially under the
Mali Empire and Askia Mohammad I's
rule. The Malian government and NGOs have been working to catalog and
restore the remnants of this scholarly legacy: Timbuktu's
Timbuktu's rapid economic growth in the 13th and 14th centuries drew
many scholars from nearby
Walata (today in Mauretania), leading up
to the city's golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries that proved
fertile ground for scholarship of religions, arts and sciences. To the
people of Timbuktu, literacy and books were symbols of wealth, power,
and blessings and the acquisition of books became a primary concern
for scholars. An active trade in books between
Timbuktu and other
parts of the Islamic world and emperor Askia Mohammed's strong support
led to the writing of thousands of manuscripts.
Knowledge was gathered in a manner similar to the early, informal
Medieval university model. Lecturing was presented
through a range of informal institutions called madrasahs.
Nowadays known as the University of Timbuktu, three madrasahs
facilitated 25,000 students: Djinguereber, Sidi Yahya and Sankore.
These institutions were explicitly religious, as opposed to the more
secular curricula of modern European universities and more similar to
the medieval Europe model. However, where universities in the European
sense started as associations of students and teachers, West-African
education was patronized by families or lineages, with the Aqit and
Bunu al-Qadi al-Hajj families being two of the most prominent in
Timbuktu – these families also facilitated students is set-aside
rooms in their housings. Although the basis of Islamic law and its
teaching were brought to
Timbuktu from North Africa with the spread of
Islam, Western African scholarship developed:
Ahmad Baba al Massufi
Ahmad Baba al Massufi is
regarded as the city's greatest scholar.
Timbuktu served in this process as a distribution centre of scholars
and scholarship. Its reliance on trade meant intensive movement of
scholars between the city and its extensive network of trade partners.
In 1468–1469 though, many scholars left for
Walata when Sunni Ali's
Songhay Empire absorbed
Timbuktu and again in 1591 with the Moroccan
This system of education survived until the late 19th century, while
the 18th century saw the institution of itinerant Quranic school as a
form of universal education, where scholars would travel throughout
the region with their students, begging for food part of the day.
Islamic education came under pressure after the French occupation,
droughts in the 70s and 80s and by Mali's civil war in the early
Manuscripts and libraries
Moorish marabout of the Kuntua tribe, an ethnic
Kounta clan, from
which the Al Kounti manuscript collection derives its name. Dated
Hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were collected in
the course of centuries: some were written in the town itself, others
– including exclusive copies of the
Qur'an for wealthy families –
imported through the lively booktrade.
Hidden in cellars or buried, hid between the mosque's mud walls and
safeguarded by their patrons, many of these manuscripts survived the
city's decline. They now form the collection of several libraries in
Timbuktu, holding up to 700,000 manuscripts: In late January 2013
it was reported that rebel forces destroyed many of the manuscripts
before leaving the city. However, there was no malicious
destruction of any library or collection as most of the manuscripts
were safely hidden away. One librarian in particular,
Abdel Kader Haidara, organized to have 350,000 medieval manuscripts
smuggled out of
Timbuktu for safekeeping. 
Ahmed Baba Institute
Mamma Haidara Library
Mohamed Tahar Library
Al Kounti Collections
Manuscripts of the Ahmed Baba Centre
These libraries are the largest among up to 60 private or public
libraries that are estimated to exist in
Timbuktu today, although some
comprise little more than a row of books on a shelf or a
bookchest. Under these circumstances, the manuscripts are
vulnerable to damage and theft, as well as long term climate damage,
despite Timbuktu's arid climate. Two
Timbuktu Manuscripts Projects
funded by independent universities have aimed to preserve them.
Although French is Mali's official language, today the large majority
of Timbuktu's inhabitants speaks Koyra Chiini, a
Songhay language that
also functions as the lingua franca. Before the 1990–1994 Tuareg
Hassaniya Arabic and
Tamashek were represented by 10%
each to an 80% dominance of the
Koyra Chiini language. With Tamashek
spoken by both
Ikelan and ethnic Tuaregs, its use declined with the
expulsion of many Tuaregs following the rebellion, increasing the
dominance of Koyra Chiini.
Arabic, introduced together with Islam during the 11th century, has
mainly been the language of scholars and religion, comparable to Latin
in Western Christianity. Although Bambara is spoken by the most
numerous ethnic group in Mali, the Bambara people, it is mainly
confined to the south of the country. With an improving infrastructure
Timbuktu access to larger cities in Mali's South, use of
Bambara was increasing in the city at least until Azawad
With no railroads in
Mali except for the Dakar-
Niger Railway up to
Koulikoro, access to
Timbuktu is by road, boat or, since 1961,
aircraft. With high water levels in the
Niger from August to
December, Compagnie Malienne de Navigation (COMANAV) passenger ferries
operate a leg between
Koulikoro and downstream
Gao on a roughly weekly
basis. Also requiring high water are pinasses (large motorized
pirogues), either chartered or public, that travel up and down the
Both ferries and pinasses arrive at Korioumé, Timbuktu's port, which
is linked to the city centre by an 18 km (11 mi) paved road
running through Kabara. In 2007, access to Timbuktu's traditional
port, Kabara, was restored by a Libyan funded project that dredged the
3 km (2 mi) silted canal connecting Kabara to an arm of the
Niger River. COMANAV ferries and pinassses are now able to reach the
port when the river is in full flood.
Timbuktu is poorly connected to the Malian road network with only dirt
roads to the neighbouring towns. Although the
Niger River can be
crossed by ferry at Korioumé, the roads south of the river are no
better. However, a new paved road is under construction between Niono
Timbuktu running to the north of the Inland
Niger Delta. The
565 km (351 mi) road will pass through Nampala, Léré,
Diré and Goundam. The completed 81 km
(50 mi) section between
Niono and the small village of Goma Coura
was financed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. This new
section will service the Alatona irrigation system development of the
Office du Niger. The 484 km (301 mi) section between
Goma Coura and
Timbuktu is being financed by the European Development
Timbuktu Airport is served by both Air
Mali Air Express,
hosting flights to and from Bamako,
Gao and Mopti. Its
6,923 ft (2,110 m) runway in a 07/25 runway orientation is both
lighted and paved.
In popular culture
In the imagination of Europeans and North Americans,
Timbuktu is a
place that bears with it a sense of mystery: a 2006 survey of 150
young Britons found 34% did not believe the town existed, while the
other 66% considered it "a mythical place". This sense has been
acknowledged in literature describing African history and
Timbuktu is also often considered a far
away place, in popular western culture. 
The origin of this mystification lies in the excitement brought to
Europe by the legendary tales, especially those by Leo Africanus:
Arabic sources focused mainly on more affluent cities in the Timbuktu
region, such as
Gao and Walata. In West Africa the city holds an
image that has been compared to Europe's view on Athens. As such,
the picture of the city as the epitome of distance and mystery is a
Down-to-earth-aspects in Africanus' descriptions were largely ignored
and stories of great riches served as a catalyst for travellers to
visit the inaccessible city – with prominent French explorer René
Timbuktu as "a mass of ill-looking houses
built of earth". Now opened up, many travellers acknowledged the
unfitting description of an "African El Dorado". This development
shifted the city's reputation – from being fabled because of its
gold to fabled because of its location and mystery: Being used in this
sense since at least 1863, English dictionaries now cite
Timbuktu as a
metaphor for any faraway place. Long part of colloquial language,
Timbuktu also found its way into literature: in Tom Robbins' novel
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas,
Timbuktu provides a central theme. One
lead character, Larry Diamond, is vocally fascinated with the
In the original 1932 recording of the popular seaside song The Sun Has
Got His Hat On, the second verse contains the lines: "[The Sun's] been
tanning niggers out in
Timbuktu / Now he's coming back to do the same
to you!" Due to the controversial nature of the racial epithet
"nigger", controversy has arisen when this song has been played
and various replacements, including "negroes" and "roasting
peanuts" have been offered.
In the stage play Oliver!, a 1960 musical, when the title character
sings to Bet, "I'd do anything for you, dear", one of her responses is
"Go to Timbuktu?" "And back again", Oliver responds.
Dr. Seuss book Hop on Pop, he says "My brothers read a little
bit. Little words like If and it. My father can read big words, too.
Like CONSTANTINOPLE and Timbuktu".
Similar uses of the city are found in movies, where it is used to
indicate a place a person or good cannot be traced – in a Dutch
Donald Duck comic subseries situated in Timbuktu,
Donald Duck uses the
city as a safe haven, and in the 1970 Disney animated feature The
Aristocats, Edgar, the villain of the story, threatens the cats with
being sent to
Timbuktu only for their friends to rescue them and send
Edgar there instead. It is mistakenly noted to be in French Equatorial
Africa, instead of French West Africa.
Timbuktu provided the main
setting for the 1959 film Timbuktu, which was set in the city in 1940
although it was filmed in Kanab, Utah, and for
Timbuktu in 2014.
Ali Farka Touré
Ali Farka Touré inverted the stereotype: "For some people, when you
say 'Timbuktu' it is like the end of the world, but that is not true.
I am from Timbuktu, and I can tell you that we are right at the heart
of the world."
Timbuktu! was a 1978 Broadway musical based on the 1953 Kismet, which
re-imagined the original, transposing it from an "Arabian Nights"
setting to eleventh-century Mali.
In Stanley Kubrick's The Shining,
Jack Torrance names the ghostly
bartender Lloyd "the best damn bartender from
Timbuktu to Portland,
Portland, Oregon for that matter."
The song Three Minute Boy from progressive rock band Marillion's 1998
album Radiation includes the line, "They played him on the radio /
From Tokyo to Timbuktu."
In the video game Uncharted Waters: New Horizons
Timbuktu is visitable
by a relatively long voyage up the
Niger River. Its mythical
reputation from history is represented by a very low price for gold
bars, which can be taken back to Europe and sold for a large profit.
It is also the location of the most powerful melee weapon in the game.
Timbuktu is a 2014 French-Mauritanian drama film directed by
Abderrahmane Sissako. In the movie, some self-described jihadists with
some high-caliber weaponry, are presuming to rule a small village and
its surrounding grazing land and waters near the place of the film’s
Twin towns – sister cities
Timbuktu is a sister city to the following cities:
Hay-on-Wye, Wales, United Kingdom
Tempe, Arizona, United States
List of cities in Mali
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Trans-Saharan and Trans-Mediterranean Trade Routes, SI University
Honor Theses .
Trimingham, John Spencer (1962), A History of Islam in West Africa,
Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-285038-5 .
Antonson, Rick (2013), To
Timbuktu for a Haircut,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Timbuktu.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Timbuktu.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Timbuktu
"Timbuktu". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). 1911.
Jeppie, Ahamil "A
Timbuktu book collector between the Mediterranean
and Sahel", Video of a presentation given at the conference The
southern shores of the Mediterranean and beyond: 1800 – to the
present held at the University of Minnesota in April 2013.
 – contains information on the archaeological projects targeting
Iron Age occupation of Timbuktu
Ancient West Africa's Megacities – contains video footage of
Iron Age occupation
Islamic Manuscripts from Mali, Library of Congress – fuller
presentation of the same manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara
Timbuktu materials in the Aluka digital library
Timbuktu manuscripts: Africa's written history unveiled, The UNESCO
Courier, 2007-5, pp. 7–9
Ancient chroniclers of West Africa's past; journeys of discovery
through the 'country of the black people', The
UNESCO Courier, October
Timbuktu on Global Heritage Network – early warning and threat
monitoring system for endangered cultural heritage sites
Presentation showing images of Timbuktu
ArchNet.org. "Timbuctu". Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: MIT School of
Architecture and Planning.
Source of the Niger
Tributaries (list) and
Dams and bridges
King Fahd Bridge
Niger Bridge (Onitsha)
Niger Basin Authority
National Park of Upper Niger
W National Park
Kainji National Park
Communes and towns of Tombouctou Region
Bourem Sidi Amar
Bourem Sidi Amar (Bourem Sidi Amar)
Issa Bery (Toucabangou)
Tilemsi (Kel Malha)
Raz El Ma
Raz El Ma (Raz El Ma)
Tin Aicha (Tin Aicha)
Bambara Maoudé (Bambara Maoudé)
Haribomo (Daka Fifo)
Banikane Narhawa (Banikane)