EU shipping is temporarily suspended

The Hidden Treasures of Timbuktu

Historic City of Islamic Africa

John O. Hunwick, Alida Jay Boye

Out of stock


A truly sumptuous book that celebrates the unexpected cultural treasures of one of the most famous but least-known destinations on the planet


For centuries, camel caravans made epic journeys across the Sahara to reach the markets of the legendary city of Timbuktu, where they traded salt, gold, slaves, textiles - and books. By the mid-fifteenth century, Timbuktu had become a major centre of Islamic literary culture and scholarship, attracting scholars from as far away as the Arabian Peninsula. Students came from all over West Africa to learn at the feet of Timbuktu’s masters of law, literature and the sciences. The city’s libraries were repositories of all the world’s learning, housing not only works by Arab and Islamic writers but also volumes from the classical Greek and Roman worlds and studies by contemporary scholars.

The astonishing manuscripts of Timbuktu form the lavish visual heart of this book. Beautifully graphic, occasionally decorated, these exquisite artifacts reveal great craftsmanship as well as learning. Their unbound sheets were often protected by a loose leather cover tied with a leather lace. All were written in the Arabic script, but not all in Arabic, for they also feature a range of local African languages.

Aside from scholarly works, surviving manuscripts include a wealth of correspondence between rulers, advisers and merchants on subjects as various as taxation, commerce, marriage, divorce, adoption, breastfeeding and prostitution, providing a vivid insight into the ordinary life and values of the day.

Timbuktu today is a World Heritage Site, its mud-brick architecture deservedly famous the world over. But its scholarship traditions are still being rediscovered. As this remarkable book reveals, the manuscripts of Timbuktu are an extraordinary treasure: invaluable historical documents; objects of tremendous beauty; and a testament to a great centre of learning and civilization at the heart of Africa.

Read More


'This is a coffee-table book of the best kind, one that wants to be read as well as seen. Accessible text... sumptuous photographs'
Elle Decoration

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 32.0 x 24.0 cm

Extent: 176 pp

Illustrations: 193

Publication date: 27 October 2008

ISBN: 9780500514214

Contents List

Plates I: The Setting • 1. Timbuktu: Where the Camel Meets the Canoe Plates II: Portraits • 2. Timbuktu: A Sanctuary for Scholars • Plates III: Manuscripts • 3. Timbuktu: Keeping the Tradition

About the Author

Alida Jay Boye is co-founder and co-ordinator of the University of Oslo’s Timbuktu Manuscripts Project.

John Hunwick has devoted a lifetime of scholarship to the history, culture and literature of Islamic Africa. He is the author of many books on the subject, including West Africa, Islam and the Arab World and Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire

List of Contributors

Joseph Hunwick