Timbuktu, Mali

General Information

Regional secretariat



Registration Year


Historical function

Trade and culture.

Location and site

In the heart of the desert, in what is called the “Bend of the Niger,” (“Boucle du Niger”), Tombouctou (Timbuktu) is located 7 km. away from the Niger River. At the intersection of the river route and the Sahel trails, it constitutes the terminus of a long route from Cairo and Tripoli that passes through Ghadames.

Urban morphology

The present-day plan of Tombouctou dates to the 19th century, although the city was much larger in the 16th century. A wall 5 km. in length encloses the five quarters of its urban area. In this commercial city, considerable space is devoted to markets and public facilities. The sinuous streets of sand, which vary in width, open up at its two mosques, which are the city’s two poles.

The truncated pyramid-shaped minaret of the Djinguereber mosque constitutes a landmark that is visible well beyond the limits of the city. Erected in 1325 under the Mandingo Dynasty, the mosque is massive but its form is somewhat lightened by its arcades. Two other mosques, one of which (the Sankore Mosque) has been transformed into a university, add to this basic element in the landscape, which also includes low dwellings built of “banco.”

Registration criteria

The mosques and the holy places of Tombouctou played an essential role in the diffusion of Islam in Africa during its peak period. (II) The three large mosques of Tombouctou, restored by Cadi Al Aquila in the 16th century, bear witness to the golden age of this capital at the end of the Askia Dynasty. (IV) The mosques of Tombouctou, which are constructed of “banco,” testify to traditional techniques of construction and have become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible changes. (V)

Historical reference

  • Tombouctou, which was to become a place for stopovers and trade for the merchants of Upper Sudan, was founded by the Tuaregs in 1100 A.D.
  • In the 13th century, with the emergence of the Malian Empire, whose economy focused on the Niger River, the importance of Tombouctou increased dramatically. As it linked itself with Djenné for the trade of salt, grain and gold, its commercial role doubled as a military function. While it welcomed foreign merchants who had escaped from other towns on the border of the Sahara desert, it also attracted Islamic intellectuals. All of these immigrants contributed to the development of the city and the definition of its new neighbourhoods, including the Ghadamese quarter.
  • In the 14th century, a fortification wall and a mosque were erected. Tombouctou, at that time under the Mandingo Dynasty, became an important centre of culture. The basic layout of its urban landscape was established at this time.
  • After a slower period in the 15th century, Tombouctou reached its peak under the reign of the Askias (1493-1591). Its influence increased. By this time, the city was densely constructed.



M. Hallé Ousmane

Maire de la ville de Tombouctou
Commune urbaine de Tombouctou

B.P. 06
Tombouctou, République de Mali

+223 21 92 12 12
[email protected]

M. Abderrahmane Ben Essayouti

Secrétaire administratif

Commune de Tombouctou
Tombouctou, Mali