“UNESCO saved the temples of Egypt and rebuilt the Mostar Bridge. UNESCO will rebuild the mausoleums of Mali,“ said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova during the ceremony on 5 June to award French President Francois Hollande the UNESCO-Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize.
The first steps towards this project were taken this week when a UNESCO team of experts visited Timbuktu to assess the damage to the city’s cultural heritage caused by rebel forces that occupied the region until early this year.
“The destruction caused by the systematic attacks against Timbuktu’s heritage is deeply distressing,” said Lazare Eloundou-Assomo from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, who led the mission. “Fifteen of Timbuktu’s mausoleums were destroyed, including nine that are part of the World Heritage sites. We estimate that about 4,200 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba research centre were burned, and that another 300,000 in the Timbuktu region are vulnerable to illicit trafficking.”
Several international experts took part in the mission, alongside a team of Malian specialists. From 28 May the Malian team carried out preliminary investigations in the city; then on 6 June, they were joined by the international team members.
The purpose was to gather as much information as possible on the state of heritage, what will be required to repair, rebuild and protect it, and how this should be carried out. The findings will be used to finalise an Action Plan for Mali, prepared at a high level meeting organised at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters last 18 February.
In Timbuktu, the team met with community and religious leaders, administrative and military authorities, and those responsible for the safekeeping of cultural heritage. They visited all of the damaged or destroyed sites and examined the conditions in which the city’s ancient manuscripts are being held. Based on their assessment, they’ll propose ways of increasing local capacity to manage and conserve this treasure trove.
Concerned by the heightened vulnerability of this heritage to theft and trafficking, the team also reviewed the security measures in place in Mali’s museums and how they could be reinforced.
Living heritage came in for particular attention. The expert team met with community leaders to evaluate the impact of the military crisis on their intangible cultural heritage – the cultural and religious practices that define the peoples of the region – and elaborate a strategy for revival and safeguarding. The full team is today meeting in Bamako to discuss the results of the investigation, which will be presented at a press conference in the capital at 4 pm local time.