Mali #8: Timbuktu 2/2

We started the drive over some dunes to get back to the road to Timbuktu. En route to the museums, libraries, and buildings on our walking tour of Timbuktu, we first stopped at the city tourist office to get our passports stamped. (Apparently there is a club in New York City that requires a stamp of Timbuktu to get in, but we could not find anything on the Internet to support that guidebook assertion.) Dust swirled around the streets and corners. Tourists and local residents dotted the streets, the latter occasionally obviously annoyed with our heightened presence in the town. Most stared with curiosity and kindness.

"Well" of "Bouctou" meaning "Large Navel"

"Well" of "Bouctou" meaning "Large Navel"

As we wound through the corridors of ancient streets, winds of history whispered around the corners. Unimpressive in stature, yes, the city still had a presence unique to itself despite all the warning we received in person and from the guidebooks that Timbuktu could be let down for many tourists. Our first stop brought us to Djinguereber, West Africa’s oldest existing mosque built. Built by Moussa, he paid for its construction with 200kg of gold according to our guide. It can hold 1,500 people, and unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter.

We continued on to the Bibliotheque de manuscripts al-iman Essayouti. This library nestled in an abode building across from the Djinguererber mosque houses so many scripts/scrolls. One scroll displayed in a glass case depicted Ramadan, Tabasky, and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Mohammed bel-Sharif, 15th century). Many manuscripts were found 6m buried for protection during old wars. If the father of one of the stashes had not left the location, so many of the manuscripts would have disappeared forever. Indeed, more are still uncovered. One of my favorite manuscripts functioned as a star map (14th century). Other manuscripts depicted issues surrounding law, inheritance, call to prayer.

Celestial map

Celestial map

We left the library and started learning a bit about architectural symbolism in Timbuktu. Some door and window style find there origins in Morocco. “Jealousy windows” functioned to deter men from eyeing married women as the jealousy window would be used after marriage.

Jealousy window

Jealousy window

At this point, you may be wondering what Timbuktu (Toumbouctou) actually means. “Tom” means “well” and “Bouctou” refers to the woman’s name (meaning “large navel” who found the well here a long time ago. History likely became legend, legend became myth, and so the story goes.

We continued on passing the house of 19th century explorer Gordon Laing before we arrived at the Musee Tombouctou Municipal. The supposed Tom of Bouctou was in the courtyard as well as representations of how milk and water were stored. A small museum held some artifacts of the local cultures over the ages, such as the heavy bangles placed around the feet of some women to prevent them from wandering away, we were told. Yikes.

We left and briefly walked into the former home of Heinrich Barth, another explorer. I bought a small beautiful, colorful illuminated manuscript with the  opening quote in Mali #7  written in Arabic from a talented artist. We walked a little more, passing the door outside one of the mosques that legend says will harken the end of the world if opened.

Door harboring the end of the world

Door harboring the end of the world

We left it shut. But we returned back to the car and opened that door, a door that when shut would next be opened in Essakane at the Festival au desert. The excitement continued to mount…

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2 Responses to “Mali #8: Timbuktu 2/2”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Glad to see you’re writing again…….am waiting with bated breath to see how the journey ends!!

  2. Phil D. Basket Says:

    Given that non-Muslims are barred from entering the mosques, what else is there to do in Timbuktu? For a Western tourist, it sounds like a 1 night stay would be plenty of time. What did you eat, and where? Did you bring bottled water with you? Did you stay in a “hotel”? What about the flies? Did you use mosquito nettings? I’m guessing that Timbuktu is like a living ghost town. The tourist stays one night, snaps a few pics, then leave. I’ve never been to Africa, so I have lots of questions. I appreciate your insights.

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