UNESCO HAS LISTED the fabled city of Timbuktu in Mali as an endangered heritage site, the BBC reports.
The UN’s cultural agency said it was concerned about the looting of artifacts from the city, as violence in the West African country escalates.
Rebel groups, who have taken over the north, are competing for control of the entire country.
However, they threaten to destroy ancient sites, including Timbuktu, whose impressive mud buildings are home to over 700,000 ancient manuscripts.
Known as the forbidden city in Victorian times, legends of a ‘lost city of gold’ spread through European capitals in the 18th and 19th centuries. The French and British both established organisations to look for it, but it wasn’t until 1828 that someone got there and made it out alive.
Here we take a brief look at the explorers, including one Irish man, who tried and failed to make it to the city, the one who finally did and the other who made it out alive.
Major Daniel Houghton
In 1790 the Irish army officer was commissioned to set off from Gambia to find the ‘lost’ city of Timbuktu. However, after reaching the Niger river, he was murdered by the Moors.
Major Gordon Laing
Another Scot, Laing tried a different route, leaving Tripoli in February 1826 and crossing the Sahara desert from the north. He reached Timbuktu in May 1826 penniless and with just one hand hand, after being pursued by Tuareg tribesmen on his way south. He spent three days in Timbuktu but had to flee as the city was forbidden to foreigners. He was killed by Tuaregs in the desert a few days later
The orphaned son of a prisoner, Caillié was the antithesis of the stereotypical ennobled, snobbish and wealthy Victorian explorer. Inspired by teh book Robinson Crusoe, aged just 16 he sailed to Senegal in West Africa, learned Arabic and local customs, helping him blend in to the local landscape unlike those who went before him.
Made it to Timbuktu in April 1828, then joined a camel caravan riding north for Fez in Morocco. He became the first European in modern times to visit Timbuktu and live to tell the tale.