Timbuktu (pron.: /), also spelled as Tinbuktu, Timbuctoo and Timbuktoo (
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 12th 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
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 fueled speculation in Europe, where the city's reputation shifted from being extremely rich to being mysterious.