A virtual synonym for "the middle of nowhere," Timbuktu found its way into global headlines on June 30 as militants attacked some of the city's oldest shrines, denouncing them as idolatrous. The attacks on Timbuktu's antiquities came days after the U.N. cultural organization UNESCO added three mosques and 16 tombs -- some of the structures over 1,000 years old -- to the list of endangered World Heritage sites.
Lying on the southern edge of the Sahara, Timbuktu has long benefited from a strategic location along ancient trade routes and became an important center of Quranic learning in the 15th and 16th centuries. But a different form of Islam has taken hold in the city today. When Tuareg rebels unseated Mali's government in a coup this April, an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group called Ansar Dine took control of Timbuktu and enforced sharia law over its 50,000 inhabitants. Following the first attacks on Timbuktu's landmarks, UNESCO denounced Ansar Dine's actions as war crimes, which provoked another round of attacks on July 10.
As Mali's National Assembly considers military action against the rebels, the fate of the country's legendary city is still uncertain. Here's a look at some of the ancient structures and streets that might vanish into rubble in the coming weeks.
Above, the Sankore Mosque is pictured at sunset. The 16th century structure is one of the oldest mosques in West Africa and was renowned as a place of Arabic learning in the Muslim world.
Lonely Planet Images/Zuma Press