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3D Animation of the Djenne Mosque and Djinguereber Mosque (Timbuktu) in Mail


Timbuktu lies at the northern end of the inland Niger delta, between the Sahara desert and the Niger river which is just over 10 kilometres away. This strategic location was crucial to the town’s development as a trading centre, linking the riverine trade from Jenné in the south and the trans-Saharan camel caravans to the north. It became a centre of Islamic scholarship, thriving on trade in gold and ivory from the south, and luxury goods including books from the north.

During the 14th century AD, the town prospered and the Djinguereber and Sankoré mosques were constructed during the reign of Kankan Moussa, the ruler of Mali. An Andalusian architect, Abu Ishaq as-Saheli, was imported to design and oversee the building of the mosques. The Empire of Mali collapsed in 1433, and in 1468 Timbuktu was incorporated into the Songhay Empire. It flourished through the 16th century AD, during the reign of the Songhay Askia Dynasty. In the early 1500s, Leo Africanus visited Timbuktu and recorded that the city was very wealthy. Evidently books and manuscripts imported from North Africa were the most profitable commodity. The libraries containing these manuscripts still exist and are a most treasured heritage. In the 1570s the Djinguereber and Sankoré mosques were rebuilt and enlarged, and the University of Sankoré had thousands of students.

In 1591 a Moroccan army displaced the Songhay and many leading Muslim scholars were exiled from Timbuktu. It is not clear how the city fared after the Moroccans withdrew, leaving only a small garrison behind. In the ensuing centuries several Europeans endeavoured to reach the fabled Timbuktu, but perished in the attempt. In 1828 the European explorer René Caillié reached Timbuktu, and to his disappointment found a diminished and dusty town. The trans-Saharan gold trade had collapsed, with most of the gold mined further south being exported from Ghana’s coastal ports.

Djinguereber mosque
This mosque was built in 1327 and renovated and enlarged in the 1570s. It was an important scholarly centre in the Mali Empire, and now represents an important example of Sudanic architecture.

Further reading:
Connah, G. 2001. African civilizations, 1st edn 1987. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 4. The West African savanna: 108-143.)
MacEachern, S. 2005. Two thousand years of West African history. In Stahl, A. B. ed. African archaeology - a critical introduction: 441-466. Oxford: Blackwell.


These texts are based primarily on informations on the Aluka website (aluka.org)