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Tombouctou is famous for the semi-mythical city Timbuktu (or as known in French, Tombouctou), synonymous with an elusive, hard-to-reach destination. The city began its mythical reputation in 1390 when its ruler went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, stopping with his entourage in Egypt and dispersing enough gold to trash the Egyptian currency. This started the legend of a city in the interior of Africa, where roads are paved with gold and buildings with roofs of gold, which was not true.
The city is located at the Southern edge of the Sahara, near the Niger River, which has headwaters in the highlands very near the Atlantic coast before its long 1500 mile journey to the Northeast, before finally turning South to reach the Atlantic. The riches of the kingdom were due to Tombouctou's position as the Southern terminus of the trans-sahara salt and gold trade route. At its peak, the city was home to 100,000 with 25,000 associated with the Islamic University, hence earning the reputation as the "Oxford of West Africa."
Tombouctou's prominence went into decline after the city was captured by Morocco in 1590. Many of the Islamic scholars were dispersed, some sent to Morocco. Morocco had difficulty holding onto the city, as the supply lines were long compared to the closer kingdoms vying for dominance of the region. Yet the city continued to have a near-mythical status because of its remoteness.
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