Timbuktu is a West African city located in Mali, which is approximately 20km (12 miles) north of the River Niger, which skirts the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Originally established as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu flourished as a result of local trade (salt, gold, ivory and slavery) and would later become the center of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th century. The University of Timbuktu was possibly the world’s first university, with some people dating its establishment date as far back as the 12th century.
It was composed of three learning centers: Djinguereber, Sidi Yahya and Sankore. Medieval tales of extreme wealth urged European explorers to research this region.
For this reason, the word “Timbuktu” is often associated to a mysterious and/or extremely far away place, even nowadays. In spite of its rich history and cultural significance, Timbuktu is now part of a largely impoverished country, even by Third World standards.
Nevertheless, it continues to attract a small number of tourists each year, specially between November and February when ambient day-time temperatures are more hospitable. Visitors to the area might attend the Festival au Désert which is a cultural event celebrating the end of the Tuareg rebellion in 1996. The place is listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. It has been on and off the list of Sites in danger, firstly because of its need of restoration works, and nowadays due to rebel attacks in the region.