Timbuktu was the centre of Black Africa’s cultural world.
It was a vital enclave on the gold route during the Middle Ages; a strategically placed oasis bordering on two of the main highways at that time: the camel trains that left the Mediterranean to cross the Sahara as they headed south, carrying mainly salt and fabrics; and the river transport along the Niger River bringing wares from Western Africa that were highly prized in Europe, such gold, ebony, and even slaves.
Yet the merchants that made their way to Timbuktu not only brought goods, as they also spread the culture of the time by trading in books and manuscripts from the other side of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Hundreds of scribes and learned people copied these volumes and redistributed them or jealously safeguarded them in the city’s well-stocked family libraries. This was the true treasure that Timbuktu housed.