Saturday, May 5, 2012

Timbuktu's treasures threatened by conflict

Few of world’s ancient cities have the mystique to match Timbuktu. During its golden age in medieval times, Timbuktu was a thriving desert trading capital, as well as an intellectual and spiritual centre, from which Islam spread throughout Africa. Since then, the city has fallen into serious decline, suffering from poverty and desertification. Now it faces another threat: war and conflict. A present danger Since Tuareg-led rebels took over control of Timbuktu on April 1st, Malian scholars, librarians and ordinary people have all helped hide priceless ancient manuscripts to prevent them from being damaged or looted. Preparations have been made to try to smuggle items out for safekeeping, either to Mali’s capital city, Bamako, or to neighbouring countries like Niger. After stealing vehicles from the newly constructed Ahmed Baba Institute — the Malian state library that houses more than 20,000 ancient scholarly manuscripts — armed rebels ransacked the Institute’s old building in another part of town, looting computers and other equipment. However, they did not enter any of the rooms and vaults where the priceless artefacts are stored. A huge collection of manuscripts Experts say that there at least 24 significant private manuscript collections, totalling anywhere from 150,000 to 750,000 individual items, in and around Timbuktu. Dating back as far as the 13th century CE, the documents have been guarded from invaders by generations of Malian families. Today, the texts represent a compendium of learning on everything from law, sciences and medicine to history and politics. Martin van Vliet, a researcher at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, Netherlands, told CNN that while Timbuktu is no longer a city of vital economic or military importance, it stands out as an important prize for the rebels due to its symbolic significance. “The group that controls Timbuktu controls the symbolic capital of the entire region,” he said, “because it’s that well-known across the world. If you control that city, it will be known.” Respecting a country’s patrimony Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, has called on rebel groups to respect and protect the city’s vital heritage. “Timbuktu’s outstanding earthen architectural wonders that are the great mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, must be safeguarded,” she said. “Along with the site’s 16 cemeteries and mausoleums, they are essential to the preservation of the identity of the people of Mali and of our universal heritage.” A new group has been created by the GHN Community to monitor and raise awareness of threats to Timbuktu and you are encouraged to join and discuss solutions for this important ancient city’s long-term preservation. Treasures Of Timbuktu (Journeyman Films) There are pictures and another video on the Past Horizons website. Take time to visit. _________________ References: Past Horizons. 2012. "Timbuktu's treasures threatened by conflict". Past Horizons. Posted: April 21, 2012. Available online:

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