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Where is Timbuktu?

Updated on July 3, 2012

Timbuktu - A Legendary City

Many people believe that Timbuktu is a mythical place, slang for the end of the earth. However, Timbuktu (also spelled Tombouctou) is a real city in Mali. It was the legendary center of trade in West Africa for at least two centuries and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Where Did Timbuktu Get Its Name?

According to the Timbuktu Educational Foundation, Timbuktu is derived from "Tin Abutut," a phrase in the Tuareg language that means "the lady with the big navel." During the dry season, the Tuareg nomads returned to the Niger river where their animals could graze. But when they stayed by the river, they got sick from mosquitoes and stagnant water, so they eventually camped a few miles away and dug a well for water, rather than relying on the river.

During the rainy season, the Tuaregs would leave their heavy goods with an old lady named Tin Abutut (or Tin Obutut), who stayed at the well. Over time, the name Tin Abutut became Timbuktu and become associated with the location.

A Brief History of Timbuktu's Golden Age

Timbuktu was founded by the Tuareg people in the 11th century because of its proximity to the Niger River. Located where the Niger flows into the southern edge of the desert, Timbuktu was a natural meeting point for people throughout the region. It soon became the center of the trans-Saharan trade routes, the place where gold, salt and slaves were traded.

It also became a hub for education. By the 12th century, Timbuktu had become the center of Islamic learning in the region, with three universities and 180 Quranic schools.

Its golden age as a hub of commerce and intellect continued even after Timbuktu was captured by the Emperor of Mali, Mansa Mussa, in 1325. The city was an important part of the Mali Empire for over 100 years. Then, in 1464, Soni Ali Ber, ruler of the Songhai Empire, conquered the city. It remained under Songhai rule until the late sixteenth century when a Moroccan army defeated the Songhai Empire and brought an end to Timbuktu's golden era.

Books About Mali - Learn more about the country where Timbuktu is located

More Sites About Timbuktu

Learn more about the legendary city

The following sites have good information on Timbuktu's history and development.

History Channel - Timbuktu

UNESCO World Heritage - Timbuktu

Timbuktu Educational Foundation

Mali Information

Background information from the CIA World Factbook

Here's what the CIA World Factbook has to say about Mali, the country where Timbuktu is located:

The Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960 as the Mali Federation. When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, what formerly made up the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali. Rule by dictatorship was brought to a close in 1991 by a coup that ushered in democratic government. President Alpha Konare won Mali's first democratic presidential election in 1992 and was reelected in 1997. In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, Konare stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toure.

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    • indigomoth profile image


      6 years ago from New Zealand

      I've actually been to Timbuktu! I volunteered in Mali for a couple of years and travelled up there when a friend came to visit. Amazing place (although not the fabulous city that people expect)... it's a terrible shame rebels are destroying a lot of the historical sites at the moment.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi!! Just come to see your nice lens. I did my travel lens too. It's about my hotel in hua hin Thailand. Hua Hin is a charming town of clean white sandy beach. If you come to Thailand, please visit us.

    • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

      Tiddledeewinks LM 

      10 years ago

      Unusual idea for a lens. I wouldn't have thought of it myself!

    • anthropos lm profile image

      Lamar Ross 

      10 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for joining ”Anything and Everything Travel” Group. We look forward to seeing your other travel related lenses in our group. Keep up the good work. For a categorized list of my travel lenses and other lenses see my Lensography..

    • billco1 profile image


      10 years ago

      Very informative. So its not just an imaginary place?

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Thanks for joining Travelmania my group. I don,t know how you find the time for Squidoo, I have trouble with 3 cats some toads and two tanks of tropical fish! % stars for your lens.


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