Commerce and scholarship were two significant aspects of the everyday life of Timbuktu. Traders came and went, bringing along finished goods and other products such as gold, salt and millet from surrounding regions for exchange in Timbuktu. Long-distance camel caravans would also call on the town.
Because public and private spaces in the town, like the mosque of Sankore and the houses of scholars, were used for learning and teaching, and furthermore because of its large variety of hand-written manuscripts - remarked upon by many visitors over the centuries - Timbuktu became renowned across the world as a place of learning. Many of the manuscripts found in Timbuktu today bear watermarks of European manufactured paper which indicate the existence of viable trade in paper with distant regions of the world.
The most famous scholar of all in the town was Ahmed BABA, to whose name is often appended al-Tinbukti. He was born on October 26 1556. In the literature, he has been given many epithets reflecting his ethnic background - such as al-Sanhaji and al-Takruri - but Timbuktu (hence al-Tinbukti) is what he most closely came to be identified with. His family (the Aqīt) were renowned as scholars and judges and he studied under his father, grandfather and several others. Like all the young students of the time in the region, he had to work his way through the major works of grammar, mysticism and the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, among other things.
He refused to recognise the Sa’dian conquerors of the town and at the age of around 35 he was chained and exiled with his family to Marrakesh in Morocco where he arrived in June 1593. It is said that when he left Timbuktu, he took with him 1600 volumes of works from his personal library - all of which were reputedly lost or not returned to him. At the request of prominent local scholars who petitioned the Sultan, he was placed under some kind of house arrest rather than imprisonment and later he was allowed to move around freely in the city and to teach. His lectures in the Jāmic al-Shurafāc in Marrakesh were distinguished and very well attended, often including the Mufti of Fez.
In 1607 he was allowed to return to Timbuktu where he devoted himself to teaching law which appears to have been his favourite field of research and teaching. He died in Timbuktu in April 1627.
Baba was the author of around 56 works.  We know of between 23 and 30 titles that are still accessible today. His Nayl al-ibtihaj bi-tatriz al-dibaj which is a biographical dictionary of the leading scholars of his time, was republished in 1986. It lists around 800 scholars including his own teacher, Muhammad AL-WANGARI.
Ahmed BABA was committed to a life of learning and teaching, a life which left a strong intellectual imprint on Timbuktu. His legacy was remembered long after his death and it remains to this day.                     
Students and their professors would come from far and wide to study and teach and were spread throughout the town. Often the vocation of merchant and scholar went hand-in-hand and there was a healthy trade in books. Other figures devoted solely to an intense spiritual life would also act as teachers. All these categories of people thrived in the town. Many of them came especially to study a particular field with the leading specialists of the day in subjects such as traditional medicine, astronomy, optics, musicology, botany, mathematics and the sciences. Alongside scholarship there developed an industry around books, book production and copying: ink making, illustration, copyists, the paper trade, production of book enclosures, binding and so on.