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The Story of the Great Mosque of Djenné: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Icon of Mali’s Mud Architecture


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Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa, is known for its rich culture, diverse ethnic groups, and long history of great empires.

The country is home to several notable landmarks, and the Great Mosque of Djenné stands out as one of the most unique and significant.

Built entirely of mud bricks and plaster, the mosque is an impressive example of Mali’s traditional mud architecture, which has been practiced in the region for centuries.

The Great Mosque of Djenné is an architectural masterpiece that is both historically and culturally significant to the West African country of Mali.

The mosque is an impressive display of Mali’s mud architecture and has become a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its rich history and cultural significance.

The Great Mosque of Djenné is an iconic symbol of Mali’s diverse culture and has become a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the history, architecture, and cultural significance of the Great Mosque of Djenné, and how it has become an important icon of Mali’s mud architecture, attracting visitors from all over the world.

History of the Great Mosque of Djenné

The Great Mosque of Djenné has a rich and fascinating history that spans over seven centuries, starting from its inception during the reign of the Mali Empire.

The original mosque was built in the 13th century by Nana Wangara, the king’s sister, who was a devout Muslim. However, this early mosque fell into disrepair and was eventually destroyed, leaving behind little record of its design or construction.

It wasn’t until the 16th century during the reign of the Songhai Empire that the mosque was rebuilt, and a new design was created.

The architect responsible for the new mosque was Isma’il Diogo, who incorporated elements of Sudano-Sahelian architecture into the design.

This included a flat roof, which was supported by wooden columns, and a large central courtyard. The mosque was also adorned with distinctive decorative features, such as stylized arabesques, friezes, and calligraphic inscriptions.

Over the years, the mosque went through periods of neglect and disrepair, leading to several rebuilds. However, the most significant transformation of the Great Mosque of Djenné happened in the early 20th century, during the French colonial period.

In 1907, the French colonial administration undertook a massive restoration project of the mosque, led by French architect R.H.G. Company.

The restoration work involved the extensive use of traditional mud architecture and was done in such a way that preserved the mosque’s unique design and improved upon it. The result was a larger, more elaborate mosque with new minarets, additional galleries, and a larger courtyard.

Today, the Great Mosque of Djenné is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity of Mali’s mud architecture and the remarkable preservation of its traditional building techniques.

The mosque’s design is a combination of several architectural styles, including elements of Islamic, West African, and Sudano-Sahelian styles.

The architecture of the Great Mosque of Djenné

The architecture of the Great Mosque of Djenné is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of the people of Mali.
The mosque’s design is based on traditional West African Sudano-Sahelian architecture, which has been used for centuries in the construction of buildings in the region.

This style of architecture is characterized by the use of wooden scaffolding to support the mud walls, which are made of sun-dried mud bricks.

The walls of the mosque are constructed using a mixture of mud, water, and straw, which is molded into bricks and left to dry in the sun.

The Story of the Great Mosque of Djenné: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Icon of Mali's Mud Architecture

These bricks are then laid in a specific pattern, with each layer of bricks reinforced by wooden beams and bamboo. This construction method has proven to be highly effective, as the walls of the mosque have withstood the test of time, lasting for centuries.

One of the most unique features of the mosque’s architecture is its roof. The roof is made of palm branches that are woven together and supported by wooden pillars.

The roof is then covered with a layer of mud, which helps to insulate the building from the sun’s heat.
The design of the roof also allows for natural ventilation, which keeps the interior of the mosque cool and comfortable, even in the hottest months of the year.

The mosque’s main entrance is located on the eastern side and is decorated with intricate carvings and designs.
The entrance is flanked by two large towers, which are topped with ostrich eggs, a symbol of fertility and purity.
The mosque’s minaret, located in the northeast corner, is another distinctive feature of its architecture.

It rises to a height of over 80 feet and is topped with a spire that is adorned with ostrich eggs and other decorative elements.

The interior of the mosque is simple yet elegant. The prayer hall is a large open space that can accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers.

The hall is supported by several rows of wooden columns, which are decorated with intricate carvings and designs.
The mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, is located on the qibla wall, which is the wall facing towards Mecca.

The mosque also has several small courtyards, which are used for ablutions and other rituals. Overall, the architecture of the Great Mosque of Djenné is a reflection of the ingenuity and creativity of the people of Mali.

The use of mud as a building material and the incorporation of traditional West African Sudano-Sahelian architecture into the design have resulted in a unique and beautiful structure that has stood the test of time.

Preservation of the Great Mosque of Djenné

The Great Mosque of Djenné is a fragile building that requires constant maintenance and preservation.
The mosque is particularly vulnerable to damage from heavy rains, which can cause the mud walls to erode and collapse.

To protect the mosque, a team of local craftsmen annually repairs and coats the walls with a layer of mud plaster. In recent years, the government of Mali and the international community have taken steps to preserve and protect the Great Mosque of Djenné.

In 1988, the mosque was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognizing its importance to Mali’s cultural heritage. The UNESCO designation has helped to raise awareness of the mosque’s significance and has provided funding for preservation efforts.

The government of Mali has also established a national heritage conservation program to preserve Mali’s cultural heritage, including the Great Mosque of Djenné.

The program has trained local craftsmen in traditional building techniques and provides funding for the maintenance and restoration of historical sites.

The Great Mosque of Djenné Today

The Great Mosque of Djenné has become a significant cultural symbol for Mali, and it remains a vital part of the country’s national heritage.

The Great Mosque of Djenné is regarded as one of the most prominent examples of mud architecture in the world, and it is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of the people of Mali.

Today, the mosque is still an active place of worship and is open to visitors. While non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer hall, they can explore the mosque’s courtyard and take in its breathtaking architecture.

The mosque’s annual festival, the Festival of the Crepissage, is a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the mosque’s cultural significance firsthand.

The festival is a vibrant celebration that brings together people from all walks of life, including locals, tourists, and dignitaries from around the world.

During the festival, the mosque’s walls are re-plastered with fresh mud by the community. This tradition dates back to the mosque’s construction and is a vital part of its maintenance.

The replastering process takes several days and involves mixing mud with rice straw and water to create a plaster that is then applied to the walls by hand. The process is labor-intensive and requires a significant amount of skill and expertise.

The festival features traditional music, dance, and food, and there are various other events and activities taking place throughout the city. Visitors can also purchase souvenirs and handicrafts made by local artisans.

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the mosque’s preservation and maintenance. The harsh climate of the region, including heavy rain and strong winds, can cause significant damage to the mosque’s walls.

The mosque requires constant attention and maintenance, and there are ongoing efforts to ensure its long-term preservation.

The Malian government, in partnership with international organizations, has implemented various preservation initiatives, including the use of modern materials and techniques to ensure the mosque’s structural integrity.


The Great Mosque of Djenné is a remarkable example of Mali’s mud architecture and a symbol of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Its unique design and intricate architecture have made it an iconic landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Despite its fragile nature, the mosque has been preserved and protected through the efforts of the Malian government and the international community.

Today, it remains an important religious and cultural site in Mali and continues to attract visitors from around the world who come to marvel at its beauty and history.



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