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Timbuktu (tĭmˌbŭkto͞oˈ, tĭmbŭkˈto͞o), city (1987 pop. 31,925), central Mali, near the Niger River. Connected with the Niger by a series of canals, Timbuktu is served by the small river port of Kabara. Its salt trade and handicraft industries make it an important meeting place for the nomadic people of the Sahara.
Timbuktu was founded (11th cent.) by the Tuareg as a seasonal camp. By the 14th cent., when it was part of the Mali empire (see History under Mali), it had become one of the major commercial centers of the W Sudan region, famous for its gold trade. Under the Songhai empire (15th and 16th cent.) the city was a great Muslim educational center, with more than 100 Qur'anic schools and a university centered at the Sankoré mosque, one of three great mosques there that are outstanding examples of local earthen buildings.
Timbuktu was sacked in 1593 by invaders from Morocco and never again recovered its leading position. It was repeatedly conquered by neighboring peoples until it was captured (1894) by the French. In recent years it has been threatened by the desertification of the surrounding region, and in 2012–13 it and the rest of N Mali was seized by Tuareg and Islamist rebels. After the Islamists gained ascendancy over their Tuareg allies, they destroyed city shrines to local Sufi saints (later rebuilt) as well as some of the city's ancient manuscripts.
(also Tombouctou), a city in Mali, on the left bank of the Niger River. Population, 10,400 (1969). Timbuktu is a junction of caravan routes and a center for trade in salt, dates, and tobacco. The city was founded in the 11th or 12th century as a transfer point for caravan trade. In the 13th through 15th centuries Timbuktu was the most important economic and cultural center of the medieval state of Mali and, at the turn of the 16th century, of the Songhai kingdom. In 1893 the French seized Timbuktu. Its economic significance declined in the 20th century.
Timbuktu’s architectural monuments include numerous tombs and several important mosques—Dyingueré Ber (begun in the 13th century and rebuilt several times; it contains a series of courtyards and halls divided by columns), Sankoré (begun in the 14th century and rebuilt from the 16th through 18th centuries), and Sidi-Yahia (built circa 1440 and later restored). Timbuktu also has a museum of local lore.