The Mystry of Timbu ktu


Mystry or Reality

No name makes people think of ancient Africa better than Timbuktu. For more than four hundred years, this great trading city was the greatest trading place in sub-Saharan Africa.   Cities exist for a reason, and Timbuktu was no exception. Timbuktu was located on a bend in the Niger River. Traders mined salt in the desert. In ancientAfrica, salt was sometimes worth more than gold. Miners would carry the salt to the city where merchants would transport it on the river to faraway places.

Timbuktu developed as a trading city, but the wealth of the city attracted others. In time, Timbuktu became well known as a religious and educational site. Mansa Musa built a great mosque, or Islamic temple in Timbuktu.  Timbuktu began to decline in influence when the Portuguese showed that it was easier to sail around the coast of African than travel through the desert. The city was destroyed by the war between Morocco and Songhai.  Today it remains a shadow of its former self, a mud built town of 20,000 people on the edge of the Sahara. 

Timbuktu, Timbuctoo or Timbouctou?

About 1100 AD, a group of nomads called Tuaregs, who grazed their herds during the dry season on the banks of the Niger River, dis-covered an oasis a short distance away from the river and decided to establish a permanent camp of tents there. While they were away tending their herds, they left the settlement in the care of a woman. One version of the story says she was a slave girl, named Buktu and that Tim means "place of." Another version says her name was Tomboutou, meaning "the mother with the large navel," while still another tale says her name was Boutou and that Tom means "belonging to." Whatever the circumstances, the name of the settlement came from a woman and nomad tents were replaced by straw huts, which eventually were replaced by more permanent houses.

Who found Timbuktu ?

Although it was the Tuaregs who founded Timbuktu, it was the Muslims merchants who solidly established it. El Sadi writes this description of early Timbuktu: "Travelers paused there. The population increased by the power and will of God, and the people began to build themselves fixed dwellings. Caravans coming from the north and east on their way to the Mali kingdom delayed at the camp to renew their stores. A market soon formed; a high enclosure of matting was substituted for the barrier of dead thorns, and it became a meeting place for people traveling by canoe or camel."

Why is Timbukto such a famous city?

Back in the days, salt was one of the most precious commodities on Earth, right up there with gold called GOLD-SALT TRADE. And it turns out that the African city of Timbuctoo (now located in the country of Mali) had plenty of both. That made it the center of West African commerce for several centuries, and built the city's reputation for wealth. Much later, after devastating wars and alternate trade routes had reduced Timbuktu's wealth to rubble, the name was still used in Europe to conjure up images of distant riches. Hence, the saying "to Timbuktu and back" and similar utterances.


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