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Mali’s rich trove of architectural traditions and historic sites has recently become emblematic of the plight of cultural heritage in times of civil strife. While international conventions help to protect heritage when conflict crosses geopolitical borders, there are limited options when the conflict is within national boundaries. As important symbols of cultural identity and history, the impact of heritage loss is even greater in such times of crises because of societal vulnerabilities.

Armed conflict has affected the northern regions of Mali since April 2012, and historic sites in Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal have suffered significant destruction. The Great Toguna in the city of Douenza was ruined. Nine of the sixteen mausoleums within the World Heritage Site boundaries of Timbuktu were destroyed by rebel forces between May and July of 2012, and even those sites not directly impacted by the fighting have been negatively impacted. Rebel forces have occupied parts of the Land of Dogons, encroaching on the Bandiagara Escarpment. Tourism—a major source of local income—has dramatically diminished, and the national crisis has drained government coffers. The conditions are dire and resources scarce for cultural heritage conservation throughout the country.

By including the entirety of Mali’s cultural heritage on the Watch, WMF declares its commitment to advocating for the protection of the country’s many significant sites, and raises a call to action by the global community.


After a French-led military operation drove insurgents out of the city, the rebuilding of Timbuktu began in 2013, led by UNESCO, the Malian government, and other international organizations. The destroyed mausoleums were rebuilt by local stonemasons, drawing on technical and architectural studies of the site and using traditional building techniques to respect the integrity of the monuments. Work continues on other ravaged sites in the city even as the security situation remains fragile. According to UNESCO, Timbuktu continues to be threatened by regional warfare and the deliberate destruction of its heritage, and it remains on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Meanwhile, efforts have been underway to evaluate and address the challenges that face Mali’s manuscript collections and intangible heritage. July 2015

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Cultural Heritage Sites of Mali
The fifteenth-century Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu, 2013
Cultural Heritage Sites of Mali
The destroyed Alpha Moya mausoleum in Timbuktu, 2013
Cultural Heritage Sites of Mali
Traditional earthen dwellings characterize the Bandiagara Escarpment, 2012