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Timbuktu

Date: 04 July 2020 Tags: Historical Places

Issue

Coronavirus has reached far corners of the Earth including faraway Timbuktu in the Western African country of Mali.

 

Background

The city, located 1,000 km from the capital Bamako, has already seen more than 500 cases, and, at least, nine deaths, making it one of the worst affected places in the country.

 

Details

  • Located about 20 km away from the river Niger, on the southern tip of the Sahara desert, there is nothing but thousands of miles of barren desert to its north. In its heyday, the city was both a great centre of learning and a prosperous trading outpost, dealing primarily in salt, gold, cotton, and ivory.

  • Since medieval times, the remoteness of Timbuktu, in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, has inspired many literary works that describe it a place of splendors and richness.

  • Historical accounts suggest that there have been settlements in Timbuktu since the early 12th century, when it was a local Tuareg outpost. But it soon established itself as an important pit stop for camel caravans on the Saharan trade routes.

  • Timbuktu came to signify a kind of El Dorado to the outside world, a place brimming with treasures, that revealed itself only to those who were lucky enough to reach its realm.

  • The city would reach its pinnacle under the Songhai empire, one of Africa’s most influential ruling states in the 15th and 16th century.

  • King Musa is also credited with paving the way for establishing Timbuktu as a seat of intellectual resonance. During his time in Mecca, Musa is believed to have invited religious scholars to Timbuktu to bring to fruition his plan for a new centre of Islamic scholarship.

  • Over the next several decades, it became a dynamic centre of learning and discourse, producing about 70,000 manuscripts on a wide range of topics, including Sufism, Arabic grammar, Islamic jurisprudence, philology, lexicography, astronomy, and arithmetic. 

  • Timbuktu today is a distant cry from what it used to be in its golden age. Still relatively inaccessible, it has been plagued by poverty, corruption, war and terrorism, following its years as a French colony.

  • The Sahara desert has been fast breaching its boundaries, the silting of the Niger River impacting its water supply.

  • From 2008, acts of terrorism had impacted its fledgling tourism industry, prompting several nations to issue advisories against visiting the place.

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