Rescuing cultural treasures in Mali
During their occupation of parts of northern Mali since early 2012, Islamists have not only mistreated the local population and endangered the security of the entire region, but also heavily damaged the country’s cultural treasures. Since these groups were militarily driven back, Germany has been helping bring these treasures to safety and preserve them.
Rescued manuscript from Timbuktu
The items rescued are precious manuscripts from Timbuktu, the intellectual and spiritual centre of Mali. These manuscripts hold the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Arab world’s entire body of scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge. Some of them date back as far as the ninth and tenth centuries.
Of some 350,000 ancient manuscripts held in Timbuktu, Dr Abdel Kader Haidara and his supporters were able to save more than 200,000 from destruction by fanatics. Haidara is a manuscript expert and the head of the Mamma Haidara Library.
Many manuscripts are in poor condition and need to be preserved (file photo)
German assistance helped bring more than 4000 of these manuscripts to safety in Bamako, the Malian capital, where they have been stored in archive boxes. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said from Berlin that he was pleased to see so many of these precious cultural treasures brought to safety with German assistance. The task now is to inventory the manuscripts and preserve them for posterity.
The Gerda Henkel Foundation, which is particularly dedicated to preserving Islamic culture, has also helped fund the needed preservation measures. Foreign Minister Westerwelle underscored Germany’s preparedness to actively support the reconstruction of the library in Timbuktu.
A man from Timbuktu displays his treasures (file photo)
The city of Timbuktu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are its three major mosques and sixteen ancient mausoleums. Eleven of these mausoleums were destroyed by the Islamists during their occupation of Timbuktu in 2012. While retreating from advancing French and Malian troops in January 2013, the Islamists also ravaged the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research, which held some 40,000 manuscripts. Between 2000 and 3000 documents were burned, but most of the others were rescued.
Some of them were hidden in private homes.
UNESCO is currently preparing to send an expert mission to Mali. The mission will determine the extent of the damage and the level of restoration work required.
Last updated 25.02.2013