Timbuktu: an African center of learning during the Dark Ages
I started this tablet series to explore the history of communication in greater detail than was possible with the This Too Shall Pass series. Historically, communication was physically written on tangible materials and knowledge was guarded in libraries. Books were so valuable that they were chained to library shelves (in the beginning of season 7 of Game of Thrones, Samwell Tarly is seen walking past such shelves in the Citadel Library). Libraries are crucial to communication; hence the focus in this tablet series.
Timbuktu was a real city of libraries and books. When I was a child, 'Timbuktu' was a name used to evoke the farthest, most obscure and unknowable outpost possible. Now I understand that it was once a proud university city, a center of learning attracting scholars and manuscripts while Europe was still enmeshed in the Dark Ages. But my online research of this tangible literary stronghold shows that mystery still surrounds the place. Different websites list a variety of dates for Timbuktu’s golden age and decline. Even the spelling (Timbu’ktu, Tenbuch, Tombouctou) and toponymy are unsettled.
There are no images of Timbuktu (that I was able to find) during its' heyday. Europeans only arrived centuries later, creating disappointing prints like this.
Timbuktu suffered centuries of decline and many invasive attacks. While many precious manuscripts were destroyed, many others were preserved by hiding and burying the books. I’ve read that librarians would each bury a chest of books. And if a librarian was killed, those books might never be found. Here's a place to read more about all this: