Looking from the outside in - people, place and practice

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The new Timbuktu

I have always thought of Timbuktu as a very mysterious place.  Never have I actually taken the time to learn about it or look at some photographs of this beautiful place. That's why I found these images taken by Brent Stirton so interesting. They were taken in 2009 and 2010, while he spent a month in total documenting life in Timbuktu, Mali for National Geographic magazine.

He says:  “This is a modern essay on a legendary city, historically one of the wealthiest in Africa and for centuries strictly forbidden to non-Muslims. Strategically situated at the northern apex of the Niger River and the southern shore of the Sahara Desert, for hundreds of years Timbuktu dominated the trade for gold, ivory, and slaves from the African interior as well as spices, cloth, and books brought by caravan from the Mediterranean coast. It was a city of considerable scholarly endeavor. In the tenth century Timbuktu contained one of the greatest universities in the world. It was home to hundreds of learned tutors, who maintained extensive libraries of manuscripts concerning history, science, religion, literature and the study of the Koran. . As its wealth grew, the city erected grand mosques, attracting scholars who, in turn, formed academies and imported books from throughout the Islamic world. As a result, fragments of the Arabian Nights, Moorish love poetry, and Koranic commentaries from Mecca mingled with narratives of court intrigues and military adventures of mighty African kingdoms. Today’s Timbuktu is a very different place...the people of Timbuktu are once again piecing together the history that once filled vast libraries in the city’s heyday. There is also a darker side to modern Timbuktu. She is a city on the frontlines of a new war on terror, with Al Qaeda in the Magrib (AQIM,) operating freely in the desert wastelands to its north. A struggling tourism industry and an ill-attended annual music festival are testament to the ripples of fundamentalist attacks throughout the North Africa region."

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