Mud buildings in Timbuktu

Travel to Timbuktu – Famous Trans-Saharan Trading Centre

The ancient Malian town of Timbuktu is located at the northern most point of the Niger River. Established by the nomadic Tuareg in the 10th century Timbuktu’s various markets and dwellings were set up by merchants from Djenne, who established the site as a meeting place for people traveling by camel.

Formerly a major centre along the Saharan trade route, and during the Middle Ages a great seat of Islamic learning, this intriguing and ancient town is steeped in history and is a must-see on any visit to Mali. Timbuktu offers travellers architectural attractions including exquisitely beautiful mosques and tombs dating to the medieval era. Timbuktu was declared in 1998 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Timbuktu grew to great wealth because of its key role in trans-Saharan trade in gold, ivory, slaves, salt and other goods by the Tuareg, Mandé and Fulani merchants, transferring goods from caravans coming from the Islamic north to boats on the Niger. Timbuktu became a key city in several successive empires, respectively the Ghana and the Mali Empires from 1324, and the Songhai Empire from 1468.

Timbuktu reached its peak in the early 16th century, but began its descent after explorers and slavers from Portugal and other European countries landed in West Africa, providing an alternative to the slave market of Timbuktu and the trade route through the world’s largest desert. The decline was hastened when it was invaded by Morisco mercenaries armed with European-style guns in the service of the Moroccan sultan in 1591.

Travellers to Timbuktu can visit the three great mosques: the 15th century Quranic Sankore University and Mosque, the pyramid shaped Djinguereber Mosque, which was built in 1327, and the Sidi Yahya Mosque, built in 1441 by Mohamed Naddah.

The Ethnographic Museum exhibits various antique artifacts and a collection of black and white photographs of the colonial era. The Well of Bouctou, from which the city derives its name, is of interest. The Flame of Peace is a monument commemorating the end of the Tuareg uprising in the mid 1990s. Also see the communal bread ovens and the local market where souvenir hunters can find a wide range of craft items.

Camel riding and desert camping are popular activities from Timbuktu.

  • Explore the old town’s veritable maze of narrow streets and alleys that feature traditional mud-brick architecture and distinctive sights such as the communal bread ovens.
  • Visit the Djingareiber Mosque, the most antiquated and only one accessible by travellers.
  • Enjoy a camel ride in the desert surrounding Timbuktu.


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