Snagged from Wikipedia:
Timbuktu (play /ˌtɪmbʌkˈtuː/; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu; French: Tombouctou), formerly also spelled Timbuctoo2 and Timbuktoo,3 is a town in the West African nation of Mali situated 15 km (9.3 mi) north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.
Starting out as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 12th century. After a shift in trading routes, Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves, and it became part of the Mali Empire early in the 13th century. In the first half of the 15th century the Tuareg tribes took control of the city for a short period until the expanding Songhay Empire absorbed the city in 1468.
In its Golden Age, the town’s numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made possible an important book trade: together with the campuses of the Sankore madrassah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa. Several notable historic writers, such as Shabeni and Leo Africanus, have described Timbuktu. These stories fuelled speculation in Europe, where the city’s reputation shifted from being extremely rich to being mysterious.