|Men recover burnt manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Center for Documentation and Research in Timbuktu, Mali, on Jan. 29, 2013. As French-led forces recaptured Mali's desert city of Timbuktu, fleeing Islamists set fire to a building that housed priceless ancient manuscripts. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)|
BAMAKO, Mali — The saving of Timbuktu’s priceless manuscripts owes everything to the bravery of an unlikely group — librarians.
The coalition of Tuareg separatists and Islamic militants who overran the city last April were just the latest in a series of foreign invaders to sweep into the fabled desert city, so the owners of Timbuktu’s manuscripts did what they have always done — they hid them.
An ancient city squeezed between the Niger River and the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu was a center of Islamic scholarship and trans-African trade in its Medieval heyday but has gradually declined in the centuries that followed. The city's manuscripts are a unique treasure trove of scholarly information. Handwritten and many hundreds of years old, they are irreplaceable. Read more...