The Treasures of Timbuktu; Joshua Hammer; Smithsonian Magazine

Mali – Timbuktu

Scholars in the fabled African city, once a great center of learning and trade, are racing to save a still emerging cache of ancient manuscripts.

White robe fluttering in the desert breeze, Moctar Sidi Yayia al-Wangari leads me down a sandy alley past donkeys, idle men and knapsack-toting children rushing off to school. It is a bright morning, my second in Timbuktu, in the geographic center of Mali, and al-Wangari is taking me to see the project that has consumed him for the past three years. We duck through a Moorish-style archway and enter his home, a two-story stone structure built around a concrete courtyard. With an iron key, he unlocks the door to a storage room. Filigrees of light stream through a filthy window. The air inside is stale, redolent of mildew and earth.

Regardez,” he says.

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