A UN peacekeeper from Burkina Faso stands guard at the Djinguereber mosque, built in the 14th century, in Timbuktu, Mali, July 28, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Malian masons have begun rebuilding mausoleums in the historic city of Timbuktu destroyed by Islamists during their occupation of the country’s north, the United Nations said.

The earthen tombs of saints, located in the UNESCO listed desert city, were destroyed in July 2012 by militants who considered the local Sufi version of Islam to be idolatrous.

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,” said UNESCO head Irina Bokova last week.