BAMAKO • The shrines of Muslim saints in Timbuktu in northern Mali are widely believed to protect the fabled city from danger, but were largely destroyed by extremists in 2012.
Five years after their destruction, the Timbuktu mausoleums have been restored through work carried out by local craftsmen, with help from the United Nations' cultural arm Unesco.
The mausoleums are the tombs of revered Muslim sages, known as "saints" in Timbuktu, a city listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. In 2012, the city was put on its List of World Heritage in Danger.
According to Unesco, the city is home to 16 cemeteries and mausoleums which "were an important part of the region's religious belief system and were widely thought to protect the city from danger".
As well as in cemeteries and mosques, the revered mausoleums, adorned with headstones and other funerary insignia, are found in the city's alleyways and private residences. Experts say the oldest dates back to the 14th century.
Timbuktu has been nicknamed the "city of 333 saints", a reference to the number of Muslim sages buried there.
In 2012, extremists linked to groups such as Al-Qaeda destroyed 14 of the 16 mausoleums on the World Heritage List.
They used pickaxes and bulldozers to demolish the sites, denouncing them as idolatrous.