Locals to rebuild revered mausoleums in Timbuktu

The Art Newspaper | Emily Sharpe:


Unesco and Malian government to help fund reconstruction of saints’ tombs destroyed during 2012 military coup.

Work begins at the site of one of the damaged mausoleums in Timbuktu. Photo: © UNESCO/Sokona Tounkara

Two historic mausoleums in Timbuktu destroyed in 2012 by extremists are being reconstructed by locals. The project to rebuild these important examples of earthen architecture in Mali was announced today by Unesco. The work is being funded Unesco and the Malian government, with contributions from the Kingdom of Bahrain and Croatia among others.

The tombs of Sheik Baber Baba Idjè and Sheik Mahamane Al Fullani are among the 16 shrines of Islamic saints at the World Heritage Site. The city also boasts three historic mosque complexes, and the imam of the local Djingareyber Mosque is overseeing the reconstruction work.

Timbuktu, known as the “City of 333 Saints”, was a hotspot for attacks on Mali’s cultural heritage during the crisis that gripped the country after a military coup in March 2012. Its centuries-old mausoleums, which are revered by locals, were attacked by hardline Islamists who attempted to impose Sharia law in the region. Members of Ansar Dine, a militant Islamic group with reported links to al-Qaeda, destroyed several tombs in the city including that of the Muslim scholar Sidi Mahmoud Ben Ama. Timbuktu’s rich collection of manuscripts, held in libraries as well as private collections, was also targeted.

Later that year, rebels raided the state-run Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research and burned manuscripts. Fortunately, only a small percentage of the institute’s collection was destroyed thanks to the efforts of dedicated staff who evacuated the bulk of the collection.

Meanwhile, Unesco announced last month that the 15th-century Tomb of Askia in Goa, northeast Mali, is in dire need of repair. “Urgent measures are required to safeguard the tomb before the next rainy season in June,” says Lazare Eloundou Assomo, the director of the organisation’s office in the Malian capital of Bamako. Eloundou Assomo and a team of experts travelled to Gao in February to assess the damage to the city’s cultural heritage; it was Unesco’s first trip to the city post-occupation. The team also found that the archaeological site of Gao Saneye had been plundered. Unesco is working on a needs assessment of the city’s heritage so work can be prioritised.


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