By about 300 A.D., camel caravan routes had been established throughout West Africa, linking West African cities with Europe and the Middle East. Timbuktu, Gao and Djenné – all major cities along the West African routes – became important cultural, as well as trading, centres. In major cities, schools and universities were endowed and vast libraries were built.
This important legacy had been in decline for many years. Beginning in 2004, under a public-private partnership, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) began working to revitalise the centres of three cities in Mali. AKTC started with the restoration of the Great Mosques of Djenné and Mopti and the Djingereyber Mosque in Timbuktu, as well as the public spaces around them. The mosque restorations became the most visible part of a multidisciplinary programme aimed at improving the quality of life in the cities. These efforts included the installation of new water and sanitation systems, street paving, early childhood education, training, health care and economic development. Following the completion of the restoration of the Great Mosque of Mopti in 2006, the Trust implemented an urban regeneration programme that aimed to raise the standard of living for residents in the Komoguel area. Several public water points were established to increase access to safe, clean drinking water; an underground sewerage system was built with connections to individual households in the area; a treatment facility for raw sewage was installed; 4000 square metres of streets were paved with locally manufactured bricks (made from recycled polythene bags and sand) and a system for collection of solid waste was introduced. A flood barrier built to withstand periodic flooding was constructed. A visitor centre housing the Centre for Earthen Architecture, a community centre and public toilets were also constructed. In the process, 345 people were trained in construction techniques, plumbing, masonry, brick manufacturing, carpentry and metal work.