Protecting words

Preservation of manuscripts of the Al Aqib library in Timbuktu, Mali

The virtual exhibition is dedicated to the project which, between November 2019 and December 2020, made it possible to preserve the collection of manuscripts of the Al Aqib library in Timbuktu.

A journey through the places of the project, to discover the library and the collection of manuscripts

Go to section I

Goals, phases of activities, people, institutions: The project in images

Go to section II

One of the milestones of the project: To pass on knowledge and know-how in the field of preservation

Go to section III

The range of activities carried out during the project

Go to section IV

Preventive conservation explained through its materials

Go to section V

We've been through a lot ...

Go to section VI

Archivi, manoscritti e libri antichi

AMALIA is a non-profit association that pursues a dual purpose: To promote knowledge of the archival and library heritage, and contribute to its protection and promotion.

TIMBUKTU,
THE LIBRARY,
THE MANUSCRIPTS

From above
Aerial view of the square of Sankore, where the Mosque that gives the square its name is located.
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The Sankoré mosque
In the 15th-16th century the Mosque was one of the centres of the educational system called "University of Timbuktu"; it is part of the assets registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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Let's go into the library
Entrance to the Al Aqib library: Named after Al Aqib, an eminent scholar of the city who lived in the 16th century, who was also its imam and cadi (judge).
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The manuscript room
Interior of the library: The manuscripts. The shelves are covered with cloths to protect the manuscripts from dust.
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Manuscripts
The collection, of around 3,300 manuscripts, covers a time span from the 16th to the 20th century.
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Paper and leather
The manuscripts are on paper and are usually in loose sheets; most of them are kept inside leather covers.
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The dress of the manuscript
Some leather covers have decorations made with dry tooling or with inlays of leather or paper. The decorative elements bear witness to the trades that took place between Timbuktu and other areas of Africa and the Middle East.
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Texts, writing, languages
The manuscripts are in Arabic script, but they often bear annotations in local languages. In the image, a 19th century manuscript of poetry with the main text in Arabic and annotations in Fulfulde, Bambara and Songhay (courtesy of HMML).
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Decorations
Some manuscripts bear decorations of considerable beauty, and the writing itself, in its calligraphic expression, becomes decoration (in the image: prayer on the Prophet, manuscript of the 19th century. Courtesy of HMML).
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The support
The paper on which the manuscripts are written is often of Western origin: The examination of the sheets on a light table makes it possible to identify the watermarks (here in the centre, between the two sheets) and study their origin.
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Preservation problems
High temperature, dryness, handling: Some of the conservation problems that affect Timbuktu manuscripts.
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THE PROJECT

Training
The project was based on the training of local staff on preservation topics and activities.
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hands-on
As the skills progressed, laboratory activities were started: Dry cleaning of manuscripts and box making.
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The conservation environment
Regular cleaning and control of the conservation environment are an integral part of the preservation plan.
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People / 1
The success of a project is done by the people who work on it. The project team at the Al Aqib library. Right to left: Ibrahim Nalion, Saadou Amadou Traoré, Mohamed Elmoctar Cissé, Oumar Aquit Allimam, Maria Luisa Russo.
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People / 2
Right to left: Oumar Aquit Allimam, Al Akib Cissé, Saadou Traoré, Mohamed Elmoctar Cissé, Maria Luisa Russo.
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Combining efforts
The project was funded by the ALIPH Foundation, whose mission is the protection of cultural heritage in conflict areas. AMALIA’s skills combined with ALIPH’s financial support made the project possible.
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Synergies
The University of Hamburg, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, and the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library run research and digitization projects in Mali and in the Al Aqib library itself: Preservation measures of AMALIA’s project thus complete the process of safeguard and research through a synergic work with CSMC and HMML.
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TRAINING

Study of material characteristics
In order to understand preservation issues, we need to first investigate the characteristics of the materials.
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Examination of the artifacts
Each artifact has its own history: The paper on which the manuscripts are written has come down to us through centuries of history. History of people who created, wrote, and studied them; but also climatic history.
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Damages
Climate, insects, inks, human action: Damages on manuscripts have different origin and it is necessary to investigate and understand the causes to identify the most appropriate treatment.
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Assess the options
The decision on the interventions to be carried out results from a careful and shared evaluation of the preservation assessment, and the technical options available.
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Not only manuscripts
Part of the training was performed on printed material, modern and old, in order to acquire skills on different types of materials.
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Hands-on sessions
Practicing the separation of leaves damaged by water.
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The environment
The collection, management and analysis of the environmental parameters of the storage environments were part of the training.
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Paper and environment
The measurement of the paper's water content provides an indication of the preservation conditions of the support, its needs, and the environment in which it is stored.
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Materials and tools
Discussing materials and tools in the laboratory.
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Training and discussion
Each artifact poses specific problems: The solutions to be adopted and the materials to be chosen result from a careful evaluation.
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Training and discussion
Each artifact poses specific problems: The solutions to be adopted and the materials to be chosen result from a careful evaluation.
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Training and discussion
Each artifact poses specific problems: The solutions to be adopted and the materials to be chosen result from a careful evaluation.
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In the storage room
Training also takes place in the storage room.
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IN TIMES OF LOCKDOWN / 1

Supporting our team even from afar

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IN TIMES OF LOCKDOWN / 2

“It doesn’t work”: emergency tutorial

THE ACTIVITIES

Dry cleaning
Manuscripts are cleaned with soft hair brushes in a separate environment.
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Box making
For each manuscript, or group of small manuscripts, a custom-made box is made with archival cardboard.
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Labelling
Boxes are labelled.
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Working together
Ibrahim Nalion, from the city of Djenné, assisted Oumar Aquit in conservation activities in Timbuktu.
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Storage room cleaning
The manuscript storage room is cleaned regularly with the professional portable vacuum cleaner, so as not to spread the dust in the environment.
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Environmental parameters
Collection and analysis (even on the plane ...) of temperature and relative humidity data of the storage room.
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Collaboration in management
The collaboration of local staff in the operational and administrative part of the project.
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Collaboration in management
The collaboration of local staff in the operational and administrative part of the project.
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Interventions on leaves
Mending of tears and cuts, so as to slow down the degradation process of the support and the loss of fragments.
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Interventions on leaves
Mending of tears and cuts, so as to slow down the degradation process of the support and the loss of fragments.
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The box
The manuscript and the custom-made box. When needed, a sheet of archival paper is placed between the textblock and the cover.
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First outcomes
The completion of the first part of preservation boxes.
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And finally ...
All the manuscripts have been rehoused inside the boxes.
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But that's not all ...
... Preservation is a continuous action, a combination of attention and care for the artifact, even in the years to come.
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Do you like before and after treatment?

No, it’s not a time machine. Conservation treatment does not cancel damages, nor stops the degradation of the support. But it can slow it down, and it allows you to mend the tears that could lead to the loss of fragments.

HANDS AT WORK

In Mali and in Italy

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PRESERVATION MATERIALS

The corrugated cardboard
Sheets of cardboard for manuscript boxes. Corrugated cardboard, 100% cellulose, alkaline buffer, high degree of permanence.
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The cabinet of small tools and materials
Brushes, lines, cutters, gloves and all that is needed for preservation activities.
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Japanese papers and tissues
For tears mending and consolidation of the weakened areas of folios, Japanese papers and tissues of different weights were used.
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A suitcase for Timbuktu
Some materials and tools are not available in Timbuktu: so, they were put in a suitcase and transported from Bamako (some from Italy) to Timbuktu.
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And if the suitcase is not enough ...
The heavy and voluminous cardboard sheets were sent by post: and, in perfect Timbuktu tradition, they travelled inside a trunk!
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Home delivery
The trunk upon arrival at the library.
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A LITTLE BACKSTAGE

RAIN

… but we don’t lose heart

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Traveling
Each project is a metaphorical journey. But this project is also a physical journey: The Niger River from the plane, on the Bamako-Timbuktu route.
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Aircraft
There are currently no domestic civilian flights available for Timbuktu. To go to Timbuktu by plane we took the flights operated by UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service).
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Arrival
Timbuktu airport.
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SECURITY
Security conditions in North Mali are problematic. Support provided by MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) to local and international public institutions has also created a favorable environment for the carrying out of AMALIA's activities.
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Boats
During certain periods of the year, it is possible to go to Timbuktu by boat on the Niger River.
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Fatigue
Moving the trunk is always a challenge ...
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Adventures
And the transport of materials during the rainy season is also an adventure ...
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But we don't lose our smile
Commitment and concentration, of course: but we know how to smile.
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Promotion / 1
The t-shirts with the project logos. Screenprinting made in Mali.
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Promotion / 2
The bags. Cotton and screenprinting made in Mali.
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The postcard from Timbuktu
We made the postcards of the project and posted them from Timbuktu, with themed stamps on the city's manuscripts.
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Together
Thank you for visiting our virtual exhibition!
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THE PROJECT TOTE BAG

How were the project tote bags printed?

FUNDING BODY

ALIPH, International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas, is a foundation which brings together states and private partners who have chosen to join forces to protect heritage in danger.

ALIPH is a unique international cooperation initiative designed to meet the challenge of protecting cultural heritage in conflict and post-conflict areas
VISIT SITE
Manuscripts are the most important medium writing has ever had. For thousands of years, manuscripts have had a determining influence on all cultures that were shaped by them, their only serious rival arising in the early modern period, with the introduction of printing.
VISIT SITE
Preserving and sharing the world’s handwritten past to inspire a deeper understanding of our present and future
VISIT SITE
COLLABORATIONS

The University of Hamburg, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, and the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (Minnesota, USA) have been active in Mali for many years and the collaboration with these institutions has been an added value of our project. Discover their research and digitization projects!

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COPYRIGHT © 2017-2021 ENJOYMUSEUM S.R.L.

We thank all those who have contributed, with their work, to the success of the project and of the exhibition.

Project team, in alphabetical order:

Oumar Aquit Allimam, Al Akib Cissé, Mohamed Elmoctar Cissé, Ibrahim Nalion, Maria Luisa Russo, Saadou Amadou Traoré.

Project manager and instructor: Maria Luisa Russo.

Photographer: Nicolas Réméné.

Social media management: Jasmine Russo.

We thank Dmitry Bondarev (University of Hamburg) and Columba Stewart (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library) for the support always shown to the project; all members, supporters and followers of AMALIA for their contribution in promoting the activities of the association.

The exhibition deliberately includes pictures taken by a professional along with pictures taken by ourselves during the project. Because we are at work and not on a photographic set, and the sharp beauty of professionally taken photos must be accompanied by the genuine imprecision of pictures taken by people engaged in activities.

We thank all the collaborators who, during the project, took photographs and made them available to AMALIA.

Here the professional pictures taken by  Nicolas Réméné

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