Website Category: Traditional Cultural Landscapes
Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition (iv) icon of an era
Location and Values: Djenne, and the four smaller towns at Djenne-Djeno, Hambarketolo, Tonomba and Kaniana are located in the middle reaches of the inland delta of the Niger River in central Mali. They are remarkable towns, built almost entirely of river mud and other natural materials on mounds in the delta (which prevents them from being flooded at high water). The most famous of Djenne’s buildings is the Grand Mosque, the largest mud-built structure in the world, re-constructed in 1907 on the site of an original structure dating from 1280. Historically, the area has been settled since 250 BC, but the town of Djenne only really grew to prominence during the 15th and 16th centuries when, alongside Timbuktu, it was involved in the trans-Sahara gold trade, and became a major centre for Islam.
Slideshow of the Old Towns Of Djenne: The slideshow is dedicated to a remarkable sequence of photos showing the annual re-plastering of the Grand Mosque of Djenne. This needs to be done because the mud is gradually washed off during the course of each year, whenever it rains. New plaster has to be applied, using the protruding ends of the building’s beams as scaffolding to climb all over the walls. The entire population of the town is involved and the work is completed in less than 24 hours. Bands of closely co-ordinated young men collect, mix and pummel the mud, then apply the plaster to the entire exterior of this massive building, from top to bottom. The work is undertaken under the watchful eyes of their elders, and a festival atmosphere prevails as everybody enjoys getting coated in mud. The town of Djenne stands on an island, and canoes are everywhere, ready to fish or ferry people across to the shore.
Slideshow of the Old Towns Of Djenne:
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Djenne on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. The view here provides an overview of the town and its island setting, but it is well worth zooming in to have a closer look at the Grand Mosque and other buildings, then out again to get a sense of context, understanding how this place is situated within the wider landscape of the Niger Delta and the fringes of the Sahara desert to the north.