French soldiers have been on the ground in Mali since last week, trying to beat back Islamist militants who seized control of the country's northern half in a coup. But France, of course, has a long history in the region, which it colonized in the late 19th century -- naming it Soudan français (French Sudan) -- and occupied until Mali's independence in 1960. From the mosques of Timbuktu to the Bandiagara cliffs, French postcards collected on the site Images du passé en Afrique de l'Ouest offer a glimpse into Mali's colonial past.
Around 1905, the French photographer Francois-Edmond Fortier captured the view above of the famous Sankoré Mosque, which was built in the 14th century at a time when Timbuktu was a center of scholarship, commerce, and culture. The Islamist group Ansar Dine seized control of the city last year, imposing sharia law and destroying many famous shrines and tombs.