Restoration work on Timbuktu's historic tombs to finish this month

Ancient sites were targeted by extremist groups

A project to restore 14 historic mausoleums destroyed in Timbuktu three years ago by hardline Islamists is due to finish at the end of July. The news was announced in Bonn, Germany, at the 39th session of Unesco’s World Heritage Committee, which is scheduled to run until 8 July.

Extremist groups targeted the tombs of Muslim saints as well as the city’s vast libraries when rebels occupied northern Mali following a military coup in March 2012. Located at the crossroads of several Trans-Saharan trade routes, Timbuktu grew to become a major centre of Koranic culture in the 15th century. Known as “the city of 333 saints”, it has 16 mausoleums inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

Unesco, the Malian government as well as various international organisations are behind the effort to restore the mud-brick shrines, the earliest of which dates back to the 13th century. Local craftsmen used traditional materials and techniques in the reconstruction process, which contributed to the local economy by creating around 140 jobs.

Speaking at Unesco’s annual session, Maria Böhmer, a World Heritage Committee chairwoman, said: “At a time when heritage is coming under attack by armed groups, the reconstruction of the mausoleums of Timbuktu gives us grounds for optimism.” The organisation’s assistant director-general for culture, Alfredo Pérez Armiñán, said: “Timbuktu is the symbol of a country that is recovering and regaining its self-confidence. It is the best answer we can give to violent extremists and a remarkable success story for the international community.”