Playful kids near the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly center in Africa.

Twisting the Story of Timbuktu with 21st Century Tales


Once upon a time, in a faraway land of endless sand at the edge of the world, there was a place called Timbuktu.

Now, don’t let the name fool you!

This isn’t some fantasy from a children’s book written by a spaced out hippy and read by a complicated pronoun.

Tuareg males in Timbuktu.

No, sir. Timbuktu is real.

Real as those YouTube videos about instant riches – actually, scratch that; that really is shit speak.

No, Timbuktu is a real thing, as sure as the summer sand searing the sunburn on your GF’s super-sized butt.

So, lets’ take a deep dive into history and wax lyrical about the legendary city of Timbuktu.

First, yes it existed, and yes, it still exists today.

Albeit, not near anything resembling its formerly glory.

In fact, the opposite.

Imagine a broken dusty shambles with a few weird and wonderful mud monuments, and that’s it.

Playful kids near the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly center in Africa.
Playful kids near the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university that established Timbuktu as a scholarly center in Africa.


That’s not the story I wanna tell.

There is a bigger, bolder, more beautiful story.

History of TIMBUKTU

Founded around the 5th century by the Tuareg nomads – cos who else would settle in the middle of the Sahara without endless icy beer? – and it later became a permanent settlement in the 12th century.

TOP LEFT: Tuareg boy highlighting an ornate door; stacked junk in backstreets. BELOW LEFT: Boys at the ‘peace monument’ to a former Tuareg rebellion, weapons cased in concrete. It didn’t last, and unrest has continued since; these women were happy to have their photo taken, but only like this! But later, the lady on the left revealed her full face to my camera.

From those sober beginnings, Timbuktu became an economic and intellectual hotspot.

It was like the Silicon Valley of the medieval world, minus the beer, tech startups but with a bit more brains and sand than dollars.

Yip, masses of Islamic scholars, traders, and travelers flocked there like the end of Ramadan fasting (or, was that just a KFC surge sale?); anyway, the punters were hungry for all that Timbuktu offered.

women outside the ancient mud Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu Mali
Built in 1327, the Djinguereber Mosque is mostly built of mud and timber.

And it was a banquet of opportunity.

The University of Sankore was the Harvard of West Africa, minus the entitled bikini babes, and apparently, with less corporate funding of self-serving scientific studies.

And yes, it had an extensive library of books that would make a blow-up Bill Gates doll drool, being the epicenter for Islamic studies and African history, without any hint of spammers and malware.

So, let’s acknowledge the great manuscripts of Timbuktu that keep learning alive – after all, these weren’t your average bedtime stories of grannie porn or influencer suicide.


These were detailed knowledge of science, astrology, medicine, and more, penned by scholars who had better handwriting than any keyboard warrior.

Then there was wealth.


The legendary Mansa Musa, the ruler of the Mali Empire in the 14th century.

Man, this guy was so filthy-rich that he probably had one-time-use gold loo wipe. (Beat that Bill MicroWorm)

In fact, his wealth was so immense that when he made his Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, he brought along a huge caravan carrying enough gold to cause inflation in the great city of Cairo and other Islamic cities.

He was a social brand of generosity, wanting nothing in return from the plebs, except love but getting envy.

He was so mega rich, so much so that he’d make Bill (and probably Elon) fart silently, for Musa was estimated to be worth 400 billion by today’s standard.

But alas, every golden age must come to an end (here’s looking at you America…).

In the 16th century, Moroccan armies thought they’d join the party (uninvited, I might add, a bit like those ‘well-meaning’ parties in Iraq and Afghanistan of recent times), which lead to Timbuktu’s decline.

But fear not!

Timbuktu still lives through its glorious past with tales which will always intrigue.

So, would I recommend going there?

Faces of Timbuktu in 2007 (I wonder how they faired after the Islamist take-over in 2012? (which while removed from the town, still threatens the region today).

Not really.

It’s not much more than a box tick (yikes, there’s a shitload of those folks on the Internet these days, so yes get there before them dicks and Starbucks create Disneyland).

BUT, if you like history – then go there (yet, Djenne is more impressive).

That was my reason to visit Timbuktu.

And also remember, those profound words of fabulous wankers: “You know, it’s not about the destination, but the journey.”

In this case, this still rings true.

For sure.

My 2-day river trip up the Niger River to Timbuktu was… well, fabulous.

But that’s another story.

And yeah, well, maybe it wasn’t better than an extended massage on Epstein’s private jet? Dunno. Prince Andrew, let me know, if you’re reading?

Scenes from the town of Timbuktu.

FUN FACT: The original of the name – Timbuktu

Have you ever wondered why Timbuktu sounds like a sneeze?

Well, it’s not because it’s dusty (though it is amid the Sahara).

apparently, the name Timbuktu comes from an old woman with a peculiarly large navel, or so the story goes.

This slave woman, named Tomboutou, was left to oversee a Tuareg camp, and thus the place was named after her.

So next time you hear “Timbuktu,” think of it as more than just a far-off land; it’s a tribute to one woman’s belly button (but in today’s social leveling, I suppose it could easily be just the beer gut of a trans-Homer Simpson).

Well, suckers. I mean, dear readers – I told ya, that I’d be twisting the fable of Timbuktu.

What? Ya don’t believe me?

Well, hell – get onto Tik Tok, if you want ‘real’ facts!

Incidentally, this is ONLY ONE OF FIVE THEORIES about the name ‘Timbuktu’.

A family compound beyond the town limits of Timbuktu.

Now, time for some SERIOUS STUFF –

The Western ‘Discovery’ of Timbuktu

René Caillié, a French explorer, undertook a perilous journey disguised as a Muslim to integrate into the society of Timbuktu.

In 1828, he succeeded where many had failed (READ: were murdered) and returned safely with firsthand accounts of Timbuktu’s architecture and customs, dispelling the many myths that had surrounded the city.

Travels in Mali – 2007

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