A Precious History Preserved

How scholars in Timbuktu protected medieval texts under an Islamist occupation

A Precious History Preserved in Timbuktu 1

Daniel Seckman for The Chronicle

Time, heat, and insects have damaged many of Timbuktu's manuscripts.

Sidi Lamine gently opens the creaky wooden door that leads to his collection of manuscripts. Housed in a dark, windowless room, hundreds of medieval texts line handsome wooden bookshelves that reach to the ceiling. A musty smell lingers over everything. On an ornate table under dusty glass rest the rarest books in his collection, several of which he quietly mentions were written in 1010.

"I haven't visited this room in more than 10 months," he says,