The city of Timbuktu is at the southern tip of the Sahara Desert. The city has many houses made with adobe.
Timbuktu was founded during the 11th century and thrived on trade across the Sahara.
In the 16th century an estimated 100,000 people lived in the city.
Caravans still cross the desert and come to the city several times a year. The caravans often carry rock salt extracted from the northern Sahara. Timbuktu was an important Sahara trading point where salt from the north was exchanged for gold from the south. The empire of Mali levied a trading tax on salt and gold that made it very rich.
The Mali empire prospered.
Timbuktu was believed to be a city of gold. The legend began when Kankan Musa, the emperor during Mali’s heyday, spent huge amounts of gold as he travelled to many cities on his way to Mecca.
Many explorers travelled to Timbuktu to find their fortune only to discover the town only traded in gold and it was not found naturally there.
In the mid 15th century, the Songhai Empire captured the town. Askia was the last emperor of the Songhai Empire and built many mosques and schools in Timbuktu. The city became known as a major center for religious and academic learning in Africa.
Sankore mosque is one of the important sites in Timbuktu. Next to the mosque is a university. A local historian looks after a collection of more than 10,000 books from the Askia period. Askia was the first emperor who brought books to the empire. Some were written in the 10th century. The covered subjects from mathematics to law, from history to astronomy.
The Songhai empire was conquered by Morocco in the 16th century. However, Askia’s descendants managed to keep these important books safe, sometimes having to hide them underground.
Once a year people gather at Sankore mosque to celebrate Mawlid, the birthday of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. The lively festival recreates the atmosphere when Timbuktu was at the height of its glory.