The UN cultural organisation UNESCO is assessing the damage wreaked on Mali's historic city of Timbuktu and repairing the mausoleums of saints alone will cost up to five million euros, its chief said Friday.
Known as "the City of 333 Saints" or "The Pearl of the Desert", Timbuktu was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988 and is an ancient centre of Islamic learning.
But Islamists who occupied the city for 10 months destroyed the mausoleums of 11 saints and the entrance to the 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque, claiming they were blasphemous.
"As soon as the situation is secured in Timbuktu, we will send an evaluation mission," UNESCO head Irina Bokova told a news conference, adding that the cost of repairing the shrines was estimated at between four and five million euros.
"It will not be difficult to get funds, there is great awareness," she said. "We have to make an assessment, a plan of action."
Bokova on Saturday visited the city with French President Francois Hollande after it was retaken by French-led Malian troops in a whirlwind offensive to rout Islamist radicals from the north.
The city is also home to some 300,000 ancient manuscripts, according to UNESCO.
Reports had emerged in recent days that rebels fleeing the advancing soldiers had torched a building housing thousands of priceless manuscripts, but experts said most had been smuggled to safety as the Islamists overran the city last year.
"Thirty families have the majority of these manuscripts who have hidden them or placed them outside the occupied zone," Bokova said.
According to UNESCO, quoting local experts, the fleeing Islamists destroyed 2,000-3,000 documents.
Bokova said the texts were part of the "pride, identity, daily life" of Malians, adding: "I don't believe Mali can move to national reconciliation if they don't restore this heritage."