Timbuktu is called the city of 333 saints. It is a unique cultural centre of North West Africa that was founded in the 11th century on the trade route between the East African and the West African Coast. Last spring Islamic radicals who seized power in Mali’s north started to destroy ancient shrines. One thousand- year old cathedrals, mausoleums, and the tombs of Islamic saints were razed to the ground. The extremists looted and set fire to one of the libraries where unique manuscripts were kept.
“Mali is our pain”, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said.
"The monuments in Mali – in Timbuktu and Gao - listed as World Heritage, including the mausoleums and mosques one thousand years old, where more than 300,000 manuscripts are kept, were razed to the ground. These manuscripts contained detailed information about Islamic science, civilization, medicine, astronomy, and philosophy and remained intact for ages. Everything was destroyed by the extremists who occupied that part of Mali."
According to Irina Bokova, she went to Mali when the situation was not calm there, to express her support and solidarity with the people of Mali and the residents of Timbuktu. During her short visit she met with the local imams and also with the director of the Ahmed Baba Library, where some historical manuscripts are kept. I wanted to see with my own eyes what was destroyed there to assess the damage done, Irina Bokova said.
"Of course, we could not see everything. Security is not to the mark there. 2,000 or 3,000 manuscripts were burnt at the Ahmed Baba Library as a result of the barbaric fire. It is hard to say at the moment how many manuscripts were completely destroyed. We saw destroyed mausoleums - to be more exact, only stones."
Irina Bokova says that the main thing for UNESCO now is to send a team of experts there to assess the damage done. It is necessary to restore what can be restored and to give as much certainty to the Malian people as possible. They must feel that the respect for their history and civilization has been restored. It is very important, the UNESCO Director General stressed.