Sankoré Madrasa (also called the University of Sankoré, or Sankore Masjid) is one of three ancient centers of learning located in Timbuktu, Mali. It is believed to be established by Mansa Musa, who was the ruler of the Mali Empire, though the Sankoré mosque itself was founded by an unknown Malinke patron. The three mosques of Sankoré: Sankoré, Djinguereber, and Sidi Yahya comprise the University of Timbuktu. The madrasa went through multiple periods of patronage and renovation under both the Mali Empire and the Songhai Empire until the Battle of Tondibi in 1591 led to its looting. Madrasa (مدرسة) means school/university in Arabic and also in other languages that have been influenced by Islam.
The University of Sankoré has its roots in the Sankoré Mosque, which was built in 988 AD with the financial backing of a Malinke woman. It was later restored between 1578 and 1582 AD by Imam Al-Aqib ibn Mahmud ibn Umar, the Chief Qadi of Timbuktu. Imam al-Aqib demolished the sanctuary and had it rebuilt with the dimensions of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Sankoré University prospered and became a very significant point of learning in the Muslim world, especially under the reign of Mansa Musa (1307–1332) and the Askia dynasty (1493–1591).Growth as a center of learning
Timbuktu had long been a destination for merchants from the Middle East and North Africa. It was not long before ideas as well as merchandise began passing through the fabled city. Since most, if not all, of these traders were Muslim, the mosque would see visitors constantly. The temple accumulated a wealth of books from throughout the Muslim world becoming not only a center of worship but a center of learning. The reputation of Timbuktu brought greater audiences in and bolstered the population of the madrasa. Books became more valuable than any other commodity in the city, and private libraries sprouted up in the homes of local scholars. The manuscripts and books found in Sankoré Madrasa spoke to its relationship with other Islamic centers of learning, with its importance to Timbuktu being realized with the existence of a whole class that lived at the mosque of Sankoré and were held in high regard by the people and foreign signatories. Even the Songhai Kings’ would bestow numerous gifts upon them during Ramadan.Apex and Fall
By the end of Mansa Musa's reign (early 14th century CE), the Sankoré Masjid had been converted into a fully staffed madrasa (Islamic school, or in this case, university) with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. With the rise of the Songhai Empire under Askia Muhammad, the empire ushered in the golden age of the Sankoré madrasa, drawing in scholars from as far as Cairo and Syria. The madrasa at one point enrolled more foreign students than New York University did in 2008. The level of learning at Timbuktu's Sankoré University was superior to that of many other Islamic centers in the world. Scholars from Sankoré would engage in learning or teaching while completing the Hajj. The trade in books within the Islamic world was one of the most important aspects of the university where thousands upon thousands of manuscripts were written. The Sankoré Masjid was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world, housing between 400,000 and 700,000 manuscripts. In 1591 AD, an invasion by Ahmad al-Mansur of Morocco plundered Songhai for its wealth after the Battle of Tondibi, including the Sankoré Madrasa, starting a long decline of the West African states. A few days after the death of Askia Daoud, the last monarch of the Songhai Empire, IImam al-Aqib, the restorer of the mosque and chief Qadi of Timbuktu, died of natural causes.Modern Day
The integrity of the Sankoré Madrasa has been at risk with increased urbanization and contemporary construction in Timbuktu. Irreversible damage has been done to the mosque due to the erection of the Ahmad Baba Center, as well as flooding and a lack of restoration work. As a result, the integrity of the traditional building techniques are at risk. However, there are currently several restoration and protective committees being funded by the government to prevent further damage. The Management and Conservation Committee of the Old Town, in coordination with the World Heritage Center, held long term plans to create a 500 foot buffer zone to protect the madrasa and create a sustainable urban development framework.