Great Mosque of DjennÃ© © Jean Louis Potier
Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, is rich in wonder, offering some of Africa's most fascinating cultural sites and scenery. The landlocked Republic is the largest country in West Africa, surrounded by seven other states and crisscrossed by the great Niger River.
The country's best-known city is the fabled Timbuktu, home to one of the oldest universities in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Timbuktu is well worth a visit to explore the birthplace of advanced mathematics and astronomy. In ancient times this city was the powerful centre of Mali's Mandinka Empire. Mali's empire lost power in the 16th century as the trans-Saharan caravan trading routes were replaced by European sea traders. Imperial power in Mali was substituted by French colonialism and ultimately, in 1960, independence, which has failed to bring prosperity. The Niger River is now the centre of industry and commerce, vital for the livelihood of a nation whose majority are poor farmers and fishermen.
Mali is a perfect holiday destination for travelers looking for an 'off the beaten track' experience. From camel treks through desert landscapes, to hikes along the Bandiagara Escarpment where the Dogon people have carved their homes from the mountain, Mali offers many unique sensations. Visit the medieval city of Djenne to marvel at the exquisite mosque, the largest mud building in the world and centre of the country's predominant Islamic faith. Master the skill of bartering in the Bamako City Centre Market or explore some of the capital's worthwhile museums. Many visitors opt for the lively town of Mopti, built on three islands, where the river market that brings in goods from along the Niger bursts with music, arts, and crafts.
The name Timbuktu has long been colloquially used in English to denote remoteness. However, a trip to Mali today is certainly not a dead end, but rather an intriguing journey of discovery.
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