Mar. 17 (GIN) – Mausoleums in the historic city of Timbuktu, defaced during the 2012 uprising by separatist Tuaregs and Islamists in the north of Mali, are being rebuilt by Malian experts, the United Nations has said.

Masons began work last week on the centuries-old tombs critically damaged by militants who considered the local Sufi version of Islam to be idolatrous.

The fighting also destroyed parts of the Djingareyber Mosque, one of three madrassas comprising the University of Timbuktu. It is believed to have been built around 1327, mostly out of straw and wood with some limestone reinforcements.

The emblematic El Farouk independence monument in the shape of a horse at the entrance to the city was also razed.

Timbuktu has blossomed in the 16th century as an Islamic seat of learning, home to priests, scribes and jurists. “The very name Timbuktu sparks the imagination of millions of people in all parts of the planet,” said UNESCO head Irina Bokova in a press interview.

According to the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, the three mosques and sixteen mausoleums to be rebuilt are part of the former great city of Timbuktu that once numbered 100,000 inhabitants.

Video footage from the period shows armed militants hacking at the sites with pickaxes. Thousands of ancient manuscripts were also burned.

“The rehabilitation of Timbuktu’s cultural heritage is critical for the Malian population, for the inhabitants of the city and for the entire world,” Bokova said.

The reconstruction, financed by Malian authorities and UNESCO, with contributions from Andorra, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Croatia and Mauritius, as well as logistical support from the UN, is expected to last one month.