Timbuktu's association with 'a place at the end of the world' is ironical considering that the city once used to be the main intellectual center of Islam in Africa. Timbuktu is in fact a city in Mali, born in the proximity of the Niger River, at the intersection of Trans-Saharan trade routes in the 10th Century. But in parallel with the blooming of commerce, it became home to home to the prestigious Sankore University and other madrasas, and was both the intellectual and spiritual capital of Islam on the continent. That is why it's main treasure is the work of the numerous Koranic schools materialized in manuscripts on history, theology, law, astronomy, science, poetry and medicine, manuscripts dating from as early as the 12th century. The books, written in Arabic and local languages, as part of a rich and diverse cultural heritage, held in large private libraries and hundreds of family chests throughout centuries, are the undeniable proof that Africa did not have an exclusively oral culture, contrary to common beliefs.
The Timbuktu Manuscripts Trust, formed as a joint South Africa-Mali co-operation initiated by former President Thabo Mbeki and former Mali President Mr Oumar Konare in 2001, founded a new library meant to collect, restore and digitize thousands of manuscripts, currently held in private libraries and homes. The new library called Ahmed Baba Center has collected more then 30,000 manuscripts, but there are estimated 300,000-700,000 manuscripts in the region. Today there are still approximately 80 private libraries in the town, amongst which the biggest are Mamma Haidara Library, Fondo Kati Library and Al-Wangari Library. The documents are also part of Unesco's Memory of the World project, which aims to preserve irreplaceable archive holdings and library collections around the world.
The Ahmed Baba Center was designed by South African DHK Architects, with Andre Spies as Project architect, also appointed with his office Two Think for the phase 2 of the project. After the soft opening in early 2009, the library will be fully functional by the end of the year.