Since word of the alleged “city of gold” reached Europe in the mid-1500s, “Timbuktu” has become slang for a destination so extremely remote it’s practically unreachable—or perhaps even imaginary.
Among the fabled settlement’s most famed icons is the Djingareyber Mosque, a holy structure and learning center that was built in 1327 and is still in operation today as one of the three mosques that make up the University of Timbuktu.
The Djingareyber Mosque, which was built almost entirely out of mud, straw, and wood, has weathered a long succession of wars, conflicts, and political upheavals over the course of the last eight centuries. The most recent of these occurred in 2012 when militant Islamists captured the city and began terrorizing the local population.
After seizing control of Timbuktu, militants quickly instituted their own draconian version of Sharia law, stoning women for failing to wear proper Islamic attire and cutting off the hands of musicians who were caught violating the totalitarian ban on all forms of music. Soon, their attention turned toward Timbuktu’s historic cultural artifacts, including its ancient Muslim shrines, which they declared forbidden by Islam. The militants destroyed the tombs of seven Muslim saints with hoes and pickaxes, two of which were at Djingareyber.
The Islamists were pushed out of Timbuktu in early 2013 by French soldiers sent to liberate the city. Despite their defeat, Timbuktu remains a dangerous place to visit and, while Djingareyber and the adjacent museum that houses some of the mosque’s most cherished Islamic manuscripts, are technically open to visitors, reaching the city via commercial means has become practically impossible.
Know Before You Go
Timbuktu's once thriving and lucrative tourism industry has gone all but extinct as a result of ongoing security threats in northern Mali, rendering this famed destination off-limits for the time being.