1. Timbuktu was founded in 1100 by Tuareg nomads as a seasonal trading post and camp for gold, salt, ivory, kola nuts and slaves. Thousands of camels brought salt from deposits in the middle Sahara—along with racier goods of Egyptian, Arabian, European and Oriental provenance. Salesmen from the south met them halfway with an array of tropical trade.
2. The gold-rush rumour began with Malian Emperor Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-1327. Accompanied by a 60,000-strong train, he distributed four hundred pounds of gold on arrival, which he claimed he'd got in Timbuktu. The Arab world was hooked.
3. In the 15th and 16th centuries Timbuktu became an intellectual and spiritual capital of Islam. 15,000 students were said to attend its prestigious Koranic Sankore University every year.
4. In the 1700s and early 1800s, many European explorers attempted to reach Timbuktu but none returned. Legend had it that they were forced to drink camel urine, their own urine, and even blood to survive in the barren Sahara desert. In 1618, a London company was formed on...