A Photo Essay by photojournalist Brent Stirton.
This is a modern essay on a legendary city, historically one of the wealthiest in Africa and for centuries strictly forbidden to non-Muslims. Strategically situated at the northern apex of the Niger River and the southern shore of the Sahara Desert, for hundreds of years Timbuktu dominated the trade for gold, ivory, and slaves from the African interior as well as spices, cloth, and books brought by caravan from the Mediterranean coast. It was a city of considerable scholarly endeavor. In the tenth century Timbuktu contained one of the greatest universities in the world. It was home to hundreds of learned tutors, who maintained extensive libraries of manuscripts concerning history, science, religion, literature and the study of the Koran. As its wealth grew, the city erected grand mosques, attracting scholars who, in turn, formed academies and imported books from throughout the Islamic world. As a result, fragments of the Arabian Nights, Moorish love poetry, and Koranic commentaries from Mecca mingled with narratives of court intrigues and military adventures of mighty African kingdoms.