Ten incredible texts from our ancient past
Located at the gateway to the Sahara desert in what is now Mali, within the confines of the fertile zone of the Sudan, Timbuktu is one of the cities of Africa whose name is the most heavily charged with history. Founded in the 5th century, it became an intellectual and spiritual capital, reaching its golden age in the 15th and 16th centuries. Around seven hundred years ago, it was a bustling hub where travellers from Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, and Morocco met to trade in salt, gold, ivory and unfortunately, slaves. But it wasn’t only ‘goods’ that were exchanged. Timbuktu was a place where ideas, philosophies, intellectual thought, and religious beliefs came together in a dynamic mix, and one of the primary ways in which such ideas were exchanged was through the sale of books. The ancient texts of Timbuktu are an impressive sight – bundled in camel skin, goat skin, or calf leather and inscribed in gold, red, and jet-black ink, their pages are filled with words in striking calligraphy from Arabic and African languages, and contain an intriguing array of geometric designs. Subjects in the collections, spanning the 13th through 17th century, include the Koran, Sufism, philosophy, law, maths, medicine, astronomy, science, poetry and much more. The manuscripts provide a window into the minds of the times' leading thinkers as they pondered the meanings of their circumstances.