Nearly a thousand years before Europeans established a colonial presence in the West African region, the city of Timbuktu flourished. While in the west, the very word "Timbuktu" possessed an aura of mystery, and continues to purvey a fanciful sense of otherworldliness, Timbuktu proved remote, in the main, only to Europeans. That is, their access to the lucrative West African gold trade for which Timbuktu was an essential entrepot of the transsaharan routes was effectively and quite deliberately blocked by their Arab trading rivals. To the inhabitants of the region known as the Western Sudan -- that is, this inland region of West Africa at the southern boundaries of the Sahara desert -- Timbuktu was neither inaccessible nor mirage-like. Rather it, represented a thriving focal point of commercial activity and scholarship.