Let’s visit Timbuktu. It’s a city in the African country of Mali on the southern edge of the Sahara desert.Timbuktu is most known today for its use in the English language to indicate a far away place. One of Oxford dictionary’s usage of Timbuktu is “reference to a remote or extremely distant place”. If you’ve seen the movie “Parent Trap”, you might remember a line there which says “The first change I make is to send that two-faced little brat off to a boarding school in Timbuktu”!
Timbuktu is believed to have been founded by the Tuareg people in the 12th century. From the 14th to the 16th century, Timbuktu was one of the world’s leading centers of both trade and academics – a lot of gold, salt, and books passed through it. Word of this town spread to Europe, and many European explorers went out with the intent of discovering Timbuktu, but none returned. This is most likely why Timbuktu earned the reputation of being a far away mythical place. It was not until 1828 that the first European explorer made it there and back. Today, the city is not as successful as it once was, and is also threatened by the great Sahara desert taking it over.
Timbuktu is one of the towns that was taken over by rebel groups last year. Rebels destroyed some of Timbuktu’s ancient sites. Sidi Yahya, a mosque that was built about 600 years ago, was damaged. A “sacred door” in the mosque was broken down. According to legend, opening this door will bring bad luck. Tombs of ancient saints were also smashed. One of the goals of the French and Malian troops is to drive the rebels out of Timbuktu.
Image Credits: UNESCO for a mosque’s image from Timbuktu