Timbuktu is an ancient city in Mali, situated 20 km north of the Niger River. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. Home of the prestigious Koranic Sankore University and other madrasas, Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. The three great mosques of Timbuktu, restored by the Qadi Al Aqib in the 16th century, bear witness to the golden age of the intellectual and spiritual capital at the end of the Askia dynasty. Timbuktu is one of the cities of Africa whose name is the most heavily charged with history. In 1988, Timbuktu listed in UNESCO World Heritage list.
Best Time to Visit
Most tourists visit Timbuktu between November and February when the air temperature is lower.
Top Places to Visit Timbuktu
1. Dyingerey Ber Mosque
Timbuktu has three of the oldest mosques in West Africa. While not as visually stunning as some in Mali, they’re still extremely impressive and represent classic and well-preserved examples of the Sudanese style of architecture which prevails throughout much of the Sahel. The oldest, dating from the early 14th century, is Dyingerey Ber Mosque. You can go into this mosque, west of Place de l’Indépendance, but sometimes only with a guide. The interior is a forest of 100 sturdy pillars, and there are a series of interconnecting rooms with holes in the wall at ground level – in the days before microphones, worshippers who could not hear the imam could look through into the main prayer hall to see when to pray. There’s a separate women’s section, from close to which stairs lead up onto the roof (ask permission before climbing up) for good views over the town and out towards the desert.
2. Sidi Yahiya Mosque
Sidi Yahiya Mosque, north of Place de l’Indépendance, is named after one of the city’s saints (it’s said that 333 saints have lived in Timbuktu) and was constructed in 1400. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter, and from the outside it’s the least interesting of Timbuktu’s main mosques.
3. Sankore Mosque
Built in the 14th century, the Sankore Mosque was, like the Djingareyber Mosque, restored by the Imam Al Aqib between 1578 and 1582. He had the sanctuary demolished and rebuilt according to the dimensions of the Kaaba of the Mecca.
4. Museum in Timbuktu
An amazing collection of ancient manuscripts and books are kept at the Centre de Recherches Historiques Ahmed Baba. Home to (at last count) 23,000 Islamic religious, historical and scientific texts from all over the world. The oldest manuscripts date from the 12th century, but there are countless other priceless works, including some of the few written histories of Africa’s great empires, and works of scholarship carried to Timbuktu from Granada after Muslims were expelled from al-Andalus in 1492. Documented family histories (often over 400 years old) of Timbuktu’s most famous clans are also held here.
5. Ethnological Museum
The Ethnological Museum occupies a hugely significant site near Sidi Yahiya Mosque, containing the well of Bouctou, where Timbuktu was founded. There’s also a variety of exhibits including clothing, musical instruments, jewellery and jems, as well as interesting colonial photographs and pictures of the ancient rock carvings at Tin-Techoun.