Timbuktu, Mali

Complete article at New York Times.

Some more relevant and informational links below

Timbuktu Hopes Ancient Texts Spark a Revival

The geography that has doomed Timbuktu to obscurity in the popular imagination for half a millennium was once the reason for its greatness. It was founded as a trading post by nomads in the 11th century and later became part of the vast Mali Empire, then ultimately came under the control of the Songhai Empire.

For centuries it flourished because it sat between the great superhighways of the era — the Sahara, with its caravan routes carrying salt, cloth, spices and other riches from the north, and the Niger River, which carried gold and slaves from the rest of West Africa.

Traders brought books and manuscripts from across the Mediterranean and Middle East, and books were bought and sold in Timbuktu — in Arabic and local languages like Songhai and Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg people.

Timbuktu was home to the University of Sankore, which at its height had 25,000 scholars. An army of scribes, gifted in calligraphy, earned their living copying the manuscripts brought by travelers. Prominent families added those copies to their own libraries. As a result, Timbuktu became a repository of an extensive and eclectic collection of manuscripts.

“Astronomy, botany, pharmacology, geometry, geography, chemistry, biology,” said Ali Imam Ben Essayouti, the descendant of a family of imams that keeps a vast library in one of the city’s mosques. “There is Islamic law, family law, women’s rights, human rights, laws regarding livestock, children’s rights. All subjects under the sun, they are represented here.”

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