"Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu": The Destruction of Mali's Cultural Heritage

Over centuries Timbuktu was a spiritual and intellectual capital. The city served as a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa. Timbuktu is a UNESCO World Heritage site with centuries-old shrines to Islamic saints. in 2012, radical Islamists destroyed this cultural treasure.


  1. "Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu, Allah doesn't like it. We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area": This statement of Abou Dardar, a leader of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, is reported in the international media on December 23rd. The tourist official Sane Chirfi is quoted with the confirmation four mausoleums had been razed on that day. Other reports name five or three shrines to having been destroyed with pickaxes.
  2. Islamists began earlier this year to pull down shrines that they consider idolatrous. In the end of June 2012, UNESCO declared Timbuktu an endangered heritage site. A few days later the media reported at least seven of the 16 mausoleums to be destroyed.
  3. Euronews with a video on the Islamist extremists of December 23rd. Most media outlets regard the new destructions to be a direct reaction to UN plans to send military forces to regain control of the region. Northern Mali is said to be the biggest territory now held by Al Qaeda and its allies.
  4. Mali's Islamist backlash over UN military approval
  5. Journalist Othman Agh Mohamed who lives in Timbuktu met with members of Ansar Dine on December 23rd. Emir Abou al-Oualid, the chief of the Islamic police of the Ansar Dine movement, told him "that these actions were not in response to the UN’s green-lighting of military action and that they would have destroyed these mausoleums a long time ago had they known of their existence."
  6. The German news magazine Tagesschau with a video of December 24th about the destructions in Timbuktu:
  7. In several German media outlets a resident of Timbuktu is quoted who says the destroyed mausoleums would belong to what is UNESCO World Heritage; according to this eyewitness they are located in the medina, the historic center of Timbuktu. Journalist Othman Agh Mohamed writes, they are "in the Cheik Bekkaï neighborhood and near the main market". Another eywitness said: "J'ai vu les islamistes descendre d'une voiture près de la grande mosquée de Tombouctou. Derrière une maison, ils ont détruit un mausolée en criant 'Allah est grand! Allah est grand!'"
  8. "Les vandales de Dieu": The French "Journal de 20 heures" of France 2,
  9. Tombouctou Déstruction des mausolées par Ansar Ad dine Ançar Eddine360p H 264 AAC
  10. Saving Timbuktu’s manuscripts

  11. One of Timbuktu’s greatest cultural treasures are its ancient scholarly Arabic and African manuscripts. Written over the past eight centuries many of the texts are religious documents, but others deal of medicine, astronomy, literature, mathematics etc. Since summer 2012 also these 130,000 up to 700,000 manuscripts are under threat.

    In Timbuktu the former government of Mali had instituted the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research. It holds nearly 40,000 manuscripts. But the Ansar Dine seized the institute, looting its computers and using its new building as a sleeping quarters. So researchers are currently smuggling thousands of valuable digitalized images and documents hidden on external hard drives through military checkpoints near Timbuktu.

    Even if they succeed only a small percentage of the original manuscripts will be saved as digital copies. What happens with the originals? "When we lose them, we have no other copy. It’s forever," says Mohamed Diagayete, a scholar of Timbuktu.
  12. Boubacar Sadeck, one of the last copyists of Timbuktu is trying to save the manuscripts by copying them:
  13. In Djenné, situated South of the area currently controlled by the Ansar Dine, researchers are digitizing thousands of the city's historic manuscripts for saving them. This project, supported by The British Library's Endangered Archives Programme with the amount of 68.000 Euro for 24 months started in 2011.
  14. Mali : Le numérique au secours des manuscrits anciens
  15. The Tombouctou Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town is dedicated to research various aspects of writing and reading the handwritten works of Timbuktu and beyond. For whatever reason there is no comment on the recent development in Mali on their website: