Tinbuktu (ⵜⵉⵏⴱⵓⴽⵜⵓ) / Tombouctou
 • Koyra Chiini:Tumbutu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Map showing the main trans-Saharan caravan routes circa 1400. Also shown are the Ghana Empire (until the 13th century) and 13th – 15th century Mali Empire. Note the western route running from Djenné via Timbuktu to Sijilmassa. Present day Niger in yellow.
Map showing the main trans-Saharan caravan routes circa 1400. Also shown are the Ghana Empire (until the 13th century) and 13th – 15th century Mali Empire. Note the western route running from Djenné via Timbuktu to Sijilmassa. Present day Niger in yellow.
Timbuktu is located in Mali
Location of Timbuktu within Mali
Coordinates: 16°46′33″N 3°00′34″W / 16°46′33″N 3°00′34″W / 16.77583; -3.00944
RegionTombouctou Region
CercleTimbuktu Cercle
Settled5th century BC
 • MayorHallé Ousmane
Elevation261 m (856 ft)
Population (2009)[1]
 • Total54,453
UNESCO World Heritage Site
CriteriaCultural: ii, iv, v
Inscription1988 (12th Session)
Endangered1990-2005; 2012-present

Timbuktu (/), also spelt Tinbuktu, Timbuctoo and Timbuktoo (Berber languages: ⵜⵉⵏⴱⵓⴽⵜⵓ; French: Tombouctou; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu), is an ancient city in Mali, situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the Niger River. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.

Starting out as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 10th century. After a shift in trading routes, Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. It became part of the Mali Empire early in the 14th century. In the first half of the 15th century, the Tuareg tribes took control of the city for a short period until the expanding Songhai Empire absorbed the city in 1468. A Moroccan army defeated the Songhai in 1591 and made Timbuktu, rather than Gao, their capital. The invaders established a new ruling class, the Arma, who after 1612 became virtually independent of Morocco. However, the golden age of the city, during which it was a major learning and cultural centre of the Mali Empire, was over, and it entered a long period of decline. Different tribes governed until the French took over in 1893, a situation that lasted until it became part of the current Republic of Mali in 1960. Presently, Timbuktu is impoverished and suffers from desertification.

In its Golden Age, the town's numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made possible an important book trade: together with the campuses of the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa. Several notable historic writers, such as Shabeni and Leo Africanus, have described Timbuktu. These stories fuelled speculation in Europe, where the city's reputation shifted from being extremely rich to being mysterious.


Timbuktu looking west, René Caillié (1830)
View of Timbuktu, Heinrich Barth (1858)

Over the centuries, the spelling of Timbuktu has varied a great deal: from Tenbuch on the Catalan Atlas (1375), to traveller Antonio Malfante's Thambet, used in a letter he wrote in 1447 and also adopted by Alvise Cadamosto in his Voyages of Cadamosto, to Heinrich Barth's Timbúktu and Timbu'ktu. French spelling often appears in international reference as "Tombouctou." As well as its spelling, Timbuktu's toponymy is still open to discussion.[2] At least four possible origins of the name of Timbuktu have been described:

  • Songhay origin: both Leo Africanus and Heinrich Barth believed the name was derived from two Songhay words:[2] Leo Africanus writes the Kingdom of Tombuto was named after a town of the same name, founded in 1213 or 1214 by Mansa Suleyman.[3] The word itself consisted of two parts: tin (wall) and butu (Wall of Butu). Africanus did not explain the meaning of this Butu.[2] Heinrich Barth wrote: "The town was probably so called, because it was built originally in a hollow or cavity in the sand-hills. Tùmbutu means hole or womb in the Songhay language: if it were a Temáshight (Tamashek) word, it would be written Tinbuktu. The name is generally interpreted by Europeans as well of Buktu (also same word in Persian is bâkhtàr باختر = where the sun sets, West), but tin has nothing to do with well."[4]
  • Berber origin: Malian historian Sekene Cissoko proposes a different etymology: the Tuareg founders of the city gave it a Berber name, a word composed of two parts: tim, the feminine form of In (place of) and "bouctou", a small dune. Hence, Timbuktu would mean "place covered by small dunes".[5]
  • Abd al-Sadi offers a third explanation in his 17th-century Tarikh al-Sudan: "The Tuareg made it a depot for their belongings and provisions, and it grew into a crossroads for travellers coming and going. Looking after their belongings was a slave woman of theirs called Tinbuktu, which in their language means [the one having a] 'lump'. The blessed spot where she encamped was named after her."[6]
  • The French Orientalist René Basset forwarded another theory: the name derives from the Zenaga root b-k-t, meaning "to be distant" or "hidden", and the feminine possessive particle tin. The meaning "hidden" could point to the city's location in a slight hollow.[7]

The validity of these theories depends on the identity of the original founders of the city: as recently as 2000, archaeological research has not found remains dating from the 11th/12th century within the limits of the modern city given the difficulty of excavating through metres of sand that have buried the remains over the past centuries.[8][9] Without consensus, the etymology of Timbuktu remains unclear.

Other Languages
العربية: تمبكتو
aragonés: Timbuktú
azərbaycanca: Timbuktu
bamanankan: Timbuktu
Bân-lâm-gú: Tombouctou
български: Тимбукту
bosanski: Timbuktu
brezhoneg: Tombouktou
català: Timbuctu
čeština: Timbuktu
Cymraeg: Tombouctou
dansk: Timbuktu
Deutsch: Timbuktu
eesti: Timbuktu
Ελληνικά: Τιμπουκτού
español: Tombuctú
Esperanto: Timbuktuo
euskara: Timbuktu
فارسی: تیمبوکتو
français: Tombouctou
Frysk: Timbûktû
Gaeilge: Timbeactú
Gàidhlig: Tiombuctu
galego: Tombouctou
ગુજરાતી: ટિમ્બક્ટુ
한국어: 팀북투
हिन्दी: टिम्बकटू
hrvatski: Timbuktu
Bahasa Indonesia: Timbuktu
Interlingue: Timbuktu
íslenska: Timbúktú
italiano: Timbuctù
עברית: טימבוקטו
Basa Jawa: Timbuktu
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಟಿಂಬಕ್ಟು
Kapampangan: Timbuktu
ქართული: ტომბუქტუ
қазақша: Тимбукту
Kiswahili: Timbuktu
Ladino: Timbuktu
Latina: Tombutum
latviešu: Timbuktu
Lëtzebuergesch: Timbuktu
lietuvių: Timbuktu
magyar: Timbuktu
मराठी: टिंबक्टू
Nāhuatl: Timbuctu
Nederlands: Timboektoe (stad)
नेपाली: तिमबुक्तु
Nordfriisk: Timbuktu (Steed)
norsk: Timbuktu
norsk nynorsk: Timbuktu
occitan: Timboctó
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Tombuktu
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਤਿੰਬਕਤੂ
پنجابی: ٹمبکٹو
Plattdüütsch: Timbuktu
polski: Timbuktu
português: Tombuctu
română: Tombouctou
русский: Томбукту
Scots: Timbuktu
sicilianu: Timbuctù
Simple English: Timbuktu
slovenčina: Timbuktu (mesto)
slovenščina: Timbuktu
српски / srpski: Тимбукту
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Timbuktu
suomi: Timbuktu
svenska: Timbuktu
Taqbaylit: Tin Buktu
తెలుగు: టింబక్టు
Türkçe: Timbuktu
українська: Тімбукту
اردو: ٹمبکٹو
Tiếng Việt: Timbuktu
文言: 廷巴克圖
Winaray: Timbuktu
吴语: 廷巴克图
ייִדיש: טימבוקטו
Yorùbá: Timbuktu
粵語: 湯瀑圖
中文: 廷巴克图