Timbuktu (/ˌtɪmbʌkˈtuː/; French: Tombouctou [tɔ̃bukˈtu]; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu), formerly also spelled Timbuctoo and Timbuktoo, is a city in the West African nation of Mali situated 20 km (12 mi) north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.Starting out as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 12th century. After a shift in trading routes, Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. It became part of the Mali Empire early in the 14th century.