An amazing collection of ancient manuscripts and books are kept at the Centre de Recherches Historiques Ahmed Baba. Home to (at last count) 23,000 Islamic religious, historical and scientific texts from all over the world, the centre is the focus of a South African-funded project to protect, translate and catalogue the manuscripts.
The oldest manuscripts date from the 12th century, but there are countless other priceless works, including some of the few written histories of Africa's great empires, and works of scholarship carried to Timbuktu from Granada after Muslims were expelled from al-Andalus in 1492. Documented family histories (often over 400 years old) of Timbuktu's most famous clans are also held here. South African experts with whom we spoke estimate that up to five million manuscripts could survive in the Timbuktu area, preserved by the dry desert air and in the possession of families. Indeed, Timbuktu has a few other private libraries containing ancient manuscripts and books.