Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Precious Documents in Timbuktu Get a New Home

When I traveled via pinasse (traditional boat) up to Timbuktu, Mali in 2001, I was excited to see the fabled city deemed by many to be the very epitome of remoteness. (Actually you can fly to Timbuktu now, but I find that rather sacrilegious). Amongst the sandy streets and mud brick structures was the Ahmed Baba center, a humble building belying its contents. Inside we found stacks of precious manuscripts, some dating back nearly 800 years, just sitting there on the counter, piled in shelves, and a few in a glass case. Many were right there in the open, able to be handled and touched  - or should I say maimed - by people and exposed to the elements - and termites. There was no air conditioning and the room was warm. Such terrible conditions for fragile, writings documenting the rich education & cultural history of Timbuktu, illuminated Korans, and much more. It was great that the center sought to collect documents from the region, but preservation in these conditions was a definite concern.

Today's BBC website posted an article and video announcing that a new building has been constructed to house the documents, along with people who are working to document and restore/conserve the manuscripts. Amidst the crumbling mud brick buildings, the new white building will probably look a bit out of place, but such an endeavor is necessary if the manuscripts will be around for the next generation.

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