Mind Open: The meaning of Timbuktu and its relevance today

I believe that embarking on a personal development journey is about doing the work to be more mindful. It entails being more conscious of our environment and our place in it. Activism, speaking up on prejudice, promoting a different narrative, rediscovering a different part of history are all part of the process.

Doing that internal work implies being more aware of our reality and then bring that awareness to our relationships and environment. Therefore, with this idea in mind, I have decided to launch a new series on the blog called Mind Open. Throughout this series, I will briefly focus on concepts, events, places, people, basically anything that strikes critical thinking and share how that knowledge enabled me to be more aware and inspired to take action and/or be more vocal. The idea is to focus on history as a basis to expand our knowledge on certain topics and share resources to deepen that knowledge.

The first post focus on Timbuktu, Timbuktu is misrepresented in common language and popular culture as the remotest place on earth, or a legend.

What about Timbuktu?

Timbuktu is a very real, and important historical site. Timbuktu is a multicultural African legacy located in Mali. It has the reputation of being the city of spirituality, of knowledge, of trade and hospitality.


A unique geographical location. Timbuktu is a crossroad, it is where Saharan Africa meets sub-Saharan Africa, the desert meets the river Niger, north Mali meets south Mali. It is due to this privileged position that the city owes much of its historical dynamism.

A commercial centre and a prosperous city. It was a major trading post for goods. The trade in salt, books, and gold, led to the city’s economic rise as well as the creation of an important cultural exchange.

The manuscripts. For historians, much of the city’s real historical value lies in its collections of around 700,000 manuscripts written in Arabic. They are a representation of the impact and influence of the schools and universities in West Africa.

An intellectual centre. Timbuktu’s famous madrasas, including Koranic Sankore University, had some 25,000 students at their peak and attracted scholars particularly throughout the Muslim world.

tim4Why does Timbuktu matter?

Timbuktu matters because its history alone challenges many assumptions in our society regarding – West Africa:

  • It is not solely orality, it is also literacy. The manuscripts illustrate the depth of knowledge of students and scholars.
  • The important role of science and scholarship prior colonisation and prior European languages.
  • The multiculturality and cosmopolitanism, the Tuaregs, the Songhai, the Berbers, the Fulani, the Mandinkas, the Arabs all converged to Timbuktu.

Ressources to learn more:

Check out this short video part of a documentary. On the manuscripts here.
You can learn more about Timbuktu’s status as a World Heritage site here.

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