(This is the first of a six-part photo essay on traveling through Mali. Subsequent posts: Part II, Part III)

Venturing southward from its vast deserts in the north to its bustling capital, Bamako, in the west, Africa.com invites you to tour of one of the continent’s richest touristic treasures: Mali. Although currently counted as one of the poorest nation’s on earth, Mali is also one of the world’s most culturally resonant—boasting, within its landlocked borders, four UNESCO World-Heritage sites, a renowned and vivid musical heritage and, perhaps most familiar to tourists, the now-fabled mecca of Timbuktu.

A Manuscript on display in Timbuktu, Mali, Africa

A Manuscript in Timbuktu, Mali, Africa  (Photo by Andrea Papitto) 

Situated on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu was initially a hub of gold, salt, ivory and slave trade in the 13th century. During this period—the city’s Golden Age—it also became a center of Islamic study due to the establishment of several prominent universities there. The book industry flourished then, and today, ancient Islamic manuscripts are preserved in libraries and by private families alike. Its universities, cultural centers and mud-mosques still stand tall.

As a result of accounts by Western traders and writers, Timbuktu became reputed, over the years, for its mystery and inaccessibility. Today, the name is generally synonymous with exotic, faraway lands and every year, the city is frequented by thousands of visitors worldwide who are magnetized by its historic allure.