Our history is what defines us. The traditions and customs of societies that came before us influence who and where we are. These actions and the events that took place in our past are key parts of our identity.
Timbuktu is one of Africa’s most fascinating ancient cities. Located on the Sahara’s southern Malian border, it is a site rich in cultural history. A trading settlement since the 11th century, Timbuktu flourished as a powerhouse of commerce, intellect and spirituality during the Mali Empire. Impressive mosques and mausoleums dominated its landscape, while merchants from throughout the region came to trade gold, ivory, cloth and cattle. The city was the empire’s capital for Islamic learning. Thousands of Koranic scholars attended Timbuktu’s ancient University of Sankore, where religious manuscripts were created, taught and kept. The city was a cultural crossroad of outstanding value to all those it connected.
Today Timbuktu still dominates the southern Saharan landscape, but the features so celebrated by its inhabitants are now being lost. Since the end of Mali’s civil war in 2012, the Islamist group now in control is attempting to erase the city’s cultural history. The ancient shrines, kingly burials and libraries that were the gems of this legendary city are being destroyed one by one. These destructive actions threaten to remove the memory of past populations and strip away the historic identity of those who connect with Timbuktu today.
The removal of these artefacts is tragic and sadly irreversible, but their absence cannot remove the everlasting appreciation for Africa’s outstanding cultural legacy, or the pride in what remains. The removal of the city’s artefacts will not stop the importance of Timbuktu’s history from continuing on in the identity of those who value it today.