Have you ever heard an adult use the expression, “It was way out in Timbuktu.” This expression means that a destination is in the middle of nowhere – far away from civilization. Timbuktu is more than just a figure of speech, though. It’s an actual place, found in the country of Mali in the Sahara Desert.
For hundreds of years, Timbuktu was a center of scholarly study in the Islamic world. Thousands of students came to learn here. Three ancient mosques still stand and the city holds many ancient books and papers.
Timbuktu was also an important center for trade. It sits near the Niger River on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Caravans of tradesmen traveling by camel stopped in Timbuktu to get water and food as they traveled.
Today, Timbuktu is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It seems a bit run down. It is, after all, hundreds of years old. Its location at the edge of the Saharan Desert doesn’t help. Fierce winds blow the desert sand into the city, constantly threatening to blot out the city’s existence.
Fun Facts About Timbuktu for Kids
- Timbuktu started as a summer encampment for nomadic tribes of the region.
- During World War II Timbuktu was used to house prisoners of war.
- Today Timbuktu is very, very poor.
- Both droughts and floods consistently threaten the city. Flooding happens because the city doesn’t have an adequate drainage system to keep rainwater from building up.
- The movement of salt from the mines in the middle of the Sahara desert through Timbuktu to the Niger River is what Timbuktu depends on for its survival.
- Rice is the predominant crop grown in the area.
- Tourism in Timbuktu was on the rise. In the 1980s there were two small hotels where tourists could stay. As of 2006 there were seven. Then, after terrorists started kidnapping tourists in 2008, the U.S., France and Britain warned about travelling there.
- As of 2009 the population of Timbuktu was 54,453.
- Expression: A commonly spoken word or phrase
- Scholarly: Relating to learning
- Mosque: A place of worship for Muslims
- Blot: Obliterate (usually used with out)
- Nomadic: leading a life of wandering with no set place; itinerant
- Predominant: Important or significant
- Rebellion: Armed resistance to an established government
- Adequate: Enough or sufficient
All About Timbuktu Video for Kids
Check out this cool video all about Timbuktu for kids:
A short video describing the town of Timbuktu with a short history.
Question: Why would anyone want to visit Timbuktu?
Answer: The event most people visit the area for happens once a year. Every January the Festival au Desert is held near the city. They do this to celebrate the peace treaty after the Tuareg rebellion ended in 1996.
Question: What makes Timbuktu so popular for scholars?
Answer: Historically Timbuktu has been the place where written works important to Islam have been collected. The Ahmed Bab Institute acted as library to about 30,000 manuscripts and a center for Islamic research. Unfortunately, after occupation of the city by Islamist rebels, about 2,000 of those manuscripts have gone missing.
Map of Timbuktu
Here’s a map of Timbuktu and all its cities and villages. Zoom in to get into street level or zoom out to see other countries around Timbuktu! You can see the terrain, but also see the roads, images of the buildings and even take a 3D tour through the streets of the cities of Timbuktu, as though you are actually there!
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