AFRICANGLOBE – Three years after Timbuktu, one of Africa’s greatest centres of civilization, was vandalized by Muslim savages, the heritage city is regaining its pride one structure at a time. Malian masons have just finished rebuilding eight of the fourteen mausoleums which were destroyed by Arab and Tuareg invaders when they took over the desert city in 2012, and work at the remaining six is almost done.
Timbuktu has been a major city since the 13th century, starting out as a seasonal settlement, it grew into a flourishing commercial hub and later became a center of Islamic learning. At its prime, it had several iconic Islamic scholars, around 200 schools, a university, and thousands of students from across the Muslim world. “This was the golden age of Africa,” writes the Timbuktu Heritage organization. “Books were not only written in Timbuktu, but they were also imported and copied there. There was an advanced local book copying industry in the city. The universities and private libraries contained unparalleled scholarly works. The famous scholar of Timbuktu Ahmad Baba who was among those deported to Morocco said that his library of 1600 books had been plundered, and his library, according to him, was one of the smaller in the city.”
When the terrorists who took over the town in 2012, they sought to erase this history by destroying Timbuktu’s historic mausoleums—shrines of the city’s founding fathers, who had been venerated as saints, and setting fire to the Ahmed Baba Institute which houses thousands of ancient Islamic scholarly manuscripts.
While the terrorists were eventually driven off by French and Malian forces, the damage to the city’s heritage had already been done. Seeking to repair the damage, the Malian government appealed to the UNESCO which, with the help of France, Norway and the European Union, hired local craftsmen to rebuild the mausoleums. “Your work is a lesson in tolerance, dialogue and peace,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova is quoted by Reuters as telling the Masons during a visit with members of the Malian government and local leaders to the world heritage site on Saturday.
“This reconstruction is about much more than walls,” said Malian culture minister Ramatoulaye N’Diaye Diallo. “It’s about morally rearming the Timbuktu communities and the Malian people.” The importance of re-arming Timbuktu’s heritage resonates across Africa which has often suffered the suppression of its own historical legacy to the world.