The Watch

Cultural Heritage Sites of Mali

Did You Know?
When armed conflict broke out in Mali in 2012, the country’s rich trove of architectural traditions and historic sites became emblematic of the dangers that warfare can pose to cultural heritage.
A Closer Look

Cultural Heritage Sites of Mali

Mali boasts some of the world’s most fascinating architectural traditions and historic sites. When armed conflict began in the northern regions of Mali in April 2012, the country became emblematic of the dangers that warfare can pose to cultural heritage. Historic Malian sites in Gao and Kidal suffered significant destruction in the struggle, and the Great Toguna in the city of Douenza was ruined. Nine of the 16 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 had been damaged. Rebels occupied parts of the Land of Dogons, encroaching on the Bandiagara Escarpment. Tourism—a major source of income in Mali— diminished dramatically, and the national crisis drained government coffers. The conditions were dire and resources scarce for conservation throughout the country when the entirety of Mali’s cultural heritage was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch. In recognizing these sites, we declared our commitment to advocating for the protection of the country’s many significant sites, and raised a call for action by the global community.

Since the Watch

In May 2014 the restoration of 14 medieval shrines dedicated to Muslim saints began in Timbuktu under the leadership of UNESCO. The conservation project was part of a plan developed in 2013 by UNESCO and the French and Malian governments to recover the cultural heritage sites that had been damaged and destroyed in the 2012 conflicts. The restoration of the shrines was completed in February 2016 with funding from the World Bank, the European Union, Switzerland, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In March 2016, The Hague’s International Criminal Court (ICC) called for a trial to address the alleged crimes of Malian jihadi leader Ahmed al-Jaqi al-Mahdi, marking the ICC’s first prosecution of cultural heritage destruction as a war crime. Mr. Mahdi expressed regret while pleading guilty to damaging a mosque and destroying shrines in Timbuktu as the trial began in August 2016.


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