An international brand resource for neighbourhoods, towns, cities, regions and economic clusters.

Famous in song and story III

Posted by Claire Matthews

As I was trolling the Internet researching this week’s blogs on places made famous by songs or expressions, I found a chat board where someone asked “Is Timbuktu a real place?” Heavens – you didn’t think Dr Seuss would write about somewhere imaginary did you? (see Hop on Pop).

Timbuktu is indeed a real place, located in the West African country of Mali, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. It became legendary in Europe during the 16th century thanks to the writings of Leo Africanus, a Spanish-born Arab who was commissioned by the Pope to write a survey of Africa. This was during Timbuktu’s golden age, when it was a centre for trade, religion and scholarly activity and the site of a royal palace. Africanus’ descriptions of a palace piled with gold and a king surrounded by doctors and other scholars is probably what led to Timbuktu becoming a metaphor for all unreachable and exotic locations.

According to Wikipedia, a 2006 survey of young Britons indicated that 34% of them did not believe the town existed, confirming its mythical status. Books, films, a crater on Mars, a line of messenger bags and even a Swedish rapper have been named after it. And it remains hard to get to – so even today, “going all the way to Timbuktu” is something you can brag about.

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