Timbuktu, Mali, 19 July—The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova yesterday visited Timbuktu whose mausoleums have been rebuilt three years after they were destroyed by armed groups. During her visit, Ms Bokova paid tribute to the local communities without whom the reconstruction could not have been carried out.
The Mayor of the city and the Imam of the Great Mosque of Djingareyber met the Director-General in the Cemetery of the Three Saints, where Ms Bokova was accompanied by Mali’s Minister of Culture, Handicraft and Tourism, Ramatoulaye N'Diaye Diallo, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Mountaga Tall, the Deputy Special Representatives of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and ambassadors Richard Zink and Beatrice Meyer, representing the European Union and Switzerland respectively, as well as Jacques Batut of the French embassy in Mali.
Ms Bokova paid tribute to the inhabitants and masons of Timbuktu whose mobilization and skills played a crucial part in the reconstruction of the buildings. “Your work is a lesson in tolerance, dialogue and peace,” she declared. “It is an answer to all extremists whose echo can be heard well beyond the borders of Mali. Your endeavour to safeguard essential elements of your history is proof of Mali’s recovery, rallying and regained confidence.”
The mausoleums of Timbuktu have long been places of pilgrimage for the people of Mali and neighbouring West African countries. They were an important part of the region’s religious belief system and were widely thought to protect the city from danger. Fourteen of the 16 mausoleums inscribed on the World Heritage List were destroyed, which represented a tragic loss for local communities. This led the Government of Mali to turn to outside partners, including UNESCO, for support in their reconstruction as early as May 2013.
“Through me, the communities of the city of 333 saints express their gratitude to UNESCO,” said the Mayor of Timbuktu. “What matters most is not never fall, but to rise again and this is exactly what this reconstruction represents,” added the Minister of Culture.
Speaking before the assembly of representatives of the communities of Timbuktu at the Ahmed Bhabba Insititute, several of the people in charge of the safeguarding of the manuscripts stressed the role of culture as a vector of peace: “The manuscripts of Timbuktu are the gold, silver and petrol of this city, whoever helps protect them adds to their honor, legitimacy and dignity.”
“Those who wanted to erase the legacy of the past have failed. The reconstruction bears witness to the cultural vibrancy of Mali,” declared the representative of the MINUSMA.
The reconstruction of the Mausoleums of Timbuktu was carried out thanks to a programme put in place by UNESCO with the support of numerous financial and technical partners including the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, France and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
“Here we have our response to extremism,” said the Director-General, “an example of the successful integration of culture in peace building and we must continue along this road.”
The reconstruction of the mausoleums of Timbuktu, the oldest of which dates back to the 13th century, represented an architectural and technical challenge. The first phase of the work, launched in March 2014, served as a pilot phase. The second stage, began in February this year is practically finished.
During her visit to Timbuktu, the Director-General also visited the Imam Essayouti Library and the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research (IHERI-AB) where she met members of the local communities.
The visit was held within the framework of the #Unite4Heritage campaign launched in Bagdad, Iraq, on 28 March this year to support heritage in place where it is exposed to sectarianism and violence.