Where: Djenne, Mali, West Africa
When: 13th Century, rebuilt in 19th century
Built by: Koy Konboro
Key Fact: The Grand Mosque is the largest mud brick building in the world
Best Enjoyed: Fantastic exterior and bustling market
The Grand Mosque of Djenne is the largest mud-brick building in the world. Although the elegant structure which stands there today is not the original mosque which stood on the site, it has become a vivid symbol of the town and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
What’s the history here?
The original mosque in Djenne was built in the 13th century by Koy Konboro, the town’s first Islamic ruler. He tore down his own palace and built a mosque on the site as an expression of devotion to his new found faith. The religious structure towered over the town for 600 years, and tales of its magnificence spread far and wide, even reaching Europe.
In the 19th century, the region was beset by political strife and ideological, and the mosque was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In the political climate of the time the townsfolk preferred a smaller, more modest mosque which was built in 1835 and dedicated to Cheikou Amadou, the warrior king.
The current mosque was constructed in 1906 and it’s Sahel-style design was closely based on the original. The wooden ‘spikes’ which cover the exterior walls are part of the framework which supports the mud bricks, but give the building a rather foreboding appearance.
At the end of every rainy season, the townsfolk all take part in essential restoration work, to renew the smooth layer of mud which covers the bricks. With 4000 willing pairs of hands to assist in the preservation of the town’s most famous building, the entire project takes little over a month.
What’s there to see & do?
It’s forbidden for non-Muslims to enter the mosque, but even from the outside it’s a spectacular site. It’s a quiet, picturesque town and a wander through the narrow alleyways reveals that it has remained largely unchanged since the 14th and 15th centuries.
Monday is market day in Djenne, and the whole town bustles with traders and shoppers who come from many miles around. There’s an incredible array of local wares for sale but little in the way of tourist souvenirs. Nonetheless, itís a fascinating window into West African society and culture.
Website of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, including a list of World Heritage Sites.
By Jess Halliday