The University of Sankore was located in the city of Timbuktu during the height of the Empire of Mali. Founded in the late tenth century AD, the main building was located in Sankore Mosque, a spectacular pyramid-shaped work of architecture. During the sixteenth century AD, the University of Sankore stood at the heart of a great Islamic center of learning. Scholars traveled across the Islamic world from as far away as India and Persia to visit the famed school.
The organization of the University of Sankore was very different from that of medieval European universities. It had no central administration, student registers, or prescribed courses of study: instead, it was composed of many entirely independent colleges, each run by a single "imam" (scholar). Students associated themselves with an imam (rather than with a subject or department) and instruction was often carried out on an individual basis. Anyone could establish a college if he so wished; not surprisingly, the quality of the different schools was said to be very uneven.
Courses took place in the open courtyards of mosques or in private homes. The primary focus of the university was study of the Qur'an, although some imams gave lessons in science, jurispudence, mathematics, history, astronomy, and logic. Scholars were encouraged to write their own books because it was profitable to do so - in the Islamic world at that time, books commanded a much higher price than gold or slaves. Among the most famous scholars at the University of Sankore was Ahmed Baba, a highly distinguished historian quoted often in Islamic scholarship.
Unfortunately, the best scholars left the school during the Moroccan invasion of Mali in the 1590s and did not return later. Sankore was never able to recover its former glory.