Reconstructing and Restoring Timbuktu's Mosques and Mausoleums

Discover how UNESCO and the masons of Timbuktu restored monuments of ancestral heritage after their destruction

Timbuktu 33 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

A view of the city of Timbuktu

Timbuktu, known for its earthen architecture, is one of the jewels of Malian cultural heritage. Nevertheless, in 2012, the city underwent a period of occupation when many of its historic buildings – such as its three mosques, the Djingareyber, Sidi Yahia, and Sankoré, which had been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1988 – were damaged.

In order to safeguard this universally valuable heritage, UNESCO has therefore decided to support the Malian government and the local population in order to rebuild this ancestral heritage.

Timbuktu 34 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

The Djingareyber Mosque

The Djingareyber Mosque is located to the west of the ancient city. Returning from his pilgrimage to Mecca, the Sultan of Mali, Elhadj Kankou Moussa brought with him the Andalusian architect Abu Eshaq Es-Saheli al-Touwaidjin and asked him to erect a mosque similar to those seen in Cairo.

It is said that in exchange he offered him 12,000 mithqals that is to say about 200 kg of gold. The mosque was built in 1325, it consists of 3 inner courtyards, 2 minarets, and 25 rows. It is the largest mosque in Timbuktu.

Timbuktu 35 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

However, following the occupation in 2012, the mosque suffered from a lack of maintenance. It is customary every year for the inhabitants of Timbuktu to devote themselves to the repair of the plastering of the mosque. 

Although this annual maintenance is essential to ensure the preservation of the mosque, the communities were not allowed to carry out this activity. In addition, during the day of September 28, 2012, much damage was caused to the structure of the building following an act of terror.

Timbuktu 36 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

Maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque

Following these numerous deteriorations, UNESCO has provided financial support to the Cultural Mission of Timbuktu so that the first reconstruction works can be carried out (restoration of the minaret, consolidation of the perimeter wall of the prayer courtyard, etc.). 

Subsequently, studies were also carried out to determine the way forward to launch a new and more complex series of works.

Timbuktu 37 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

It was not until February 2017 that the Timbuktu community resumed its regular maintenance activities of the mosque. On February 19, 2017, a large part of the population was able to gather to carry out the final stage of the restoration of the mosque, the plastering ceremony.

This collective work demonstrates once again the commitment of the population to its cultural heritage.

Timbuktu 38 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

The Sankoré Mosque

The Mosque of Sankoré is located northeast of the city, it was built during the Mandingo period between 1325 and 1433. It consists of a courtyard for outdoor prayers and 3 naves that separate the 5 rows in which the faithful make their prayers during the winter.

Timbuktu 39 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

It underwent an important restoration in 1582 led by the cadi Al Akib. When he returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1581 he decided to rebuild the shrine of the mosque to the dimensions of the Kaaba.

The north wing of the mosque overlooking the main square is reserved for the university. It is said that at its peak between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it welcomed up to 25,000 students.

Timbuktu 40 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

Maintenance of the Sankoré Mosque

As soon as the city was liberated the Timbuktu also devoted themselves to the organization of the plastering of the mosque. Although it did not suffer any damage during the occupation, it did benefit from rehabilitation work.

Indeed, the lack of maintenance had caused some structural deficits that needed to be remedied, such as the repair of certain walls, the replacement of certain beams, the creation of a surface drainage channel or the raising of the roof to prevent the phenomenon of silting. 

Timbuktu 41 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

Sidi Yahia Mosque

The Sidi Yahia Mosque is located in the center of the old city. According to oral tradition it is said that the marabout Sheik El Mokhtar Hamallah following a prediction had it built in 1400 in the hope that a providential saint would come to occupy it.

This happened 40 years later with the arrival of sharif Sidi Yahia El Tadlissi. With only three aisles and an outdoor courtyard it is the smallest of the three mosques inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

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Courtyard of the Sidi Yahia Mosque

It did not suffer any damage during the period of occupation but still benefited from restoration work including the repair of the roof, the repair of some walls and the desensitization of the courtyard.

Timbuktu 43 by Département chargé de la Culture au Mali (DNPC)UNESCO World Heritage

The secret door of the Mosque Sidi Yahia

According to popular beliefs, it is said that anyone who opened the secret door of the Sidi Yahia mosque would be punished by the Almighty. For fear of provoking divine wrath no one ever opened the door.

Timbuktu 44 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

During the occupation the door was torn down and destroyed, nevertheless the managers of the mosque recovered all that remained of it. Thanks to their approach, the cabinetmakers of Timbuktu were able to completely rebuild the left flap of the new door.

Timbuktu 45 by UNESCOUNESCO World Heritage

Al Farouk Monument

The Al Farouk monument occupies a very important place in the hearts of the population, it was erected to celebrate both this legendary figure and the independence of Mali.

According to oral tradition it is said that this white rider dressed in a boubou and sandals would be none other than the protective genius of the city. It would arise in the middle of the night to scare away evil spirits and robbers.

Timbuktu 46 by Département chargé de la Culture au Mali (DNPC)UNESCO World Heritage

The Destroyed Al Farouk Monument

The monument was destroyed in 2012. Since the liberation of Timbuktu in 2013 the inhabitants have expressed their desire to see this white rider, symbol of the beliefs and stories of the city, rebuilt as soon as possible.

Timbuktu 47UNESCO World Heritage

The Rebuilt Al Farouk Monument

It seemed important to the local authorities to involve the population in the reconstruction process, which is why it was decided that a national architectural competition would be organized in order to designate the project that would best pay tribute to this mythical white rider and this while respecting the urban landscape of the city.

Credits: Story

UNESCO, Lazare Eloundou, Juliette Viguerard, Mohammed Alqahtani.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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