The Great Mosque of Djenné, a magnificent structure located in the bustling city of Djenné, Mali, is considered to be one of the greatest examples of Sudano-Sahelian architecture. Dating back to 1907, the mosque stands on the flood plain of the Bani River and is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Africa. With roots tracing back to the 13th century, when it was first built as the center of the community of Djenné, the mosque is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa, known for its timeless beauty and remarkable architectural style.
The Great Mosque of Djenné Technical Information
- Architects: Ismaila Traoré
- Location: Djenné, Mali
- Typology: Religious Projects / Mosque
- Project Year: 1907
- Topics: Mud Architecture, Vernacular Architecture
The replastering, or remodeling, has preserved the structure but also, over time, subtly altered it, rounding and softening its contours, giving it a molten, biomorphic look.
– Malian Architect
Great Mosque of Djenné Photographs
The Great Mosque of Djenné: A Journey Through its History
With a history dating back to the 13th century, this mosque is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style and is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. The mosque was built in 1907 by architect Ismaila Traoré, the city’s chief mason and a Muslim, using traditional materials like sun-baked earth bricks, sand and earth-based mortar, and Rodier palm (Borassus aethiopum) sticks.
The mosque stands on a raised platform measuring 75 meters by 75 meters and is raised 3 meters above the marketplace level to prevent damage from Bani River floods. The mosque is accessed by six sets of stairs, each adorned with pinnacles, and has a trapezoidal outline due to its non-orthogonal outer walls.
The prayer wall, or qibla, of the mosque, faces east towards Mecca and is dominated by three large, box-like towers or minarets. The central tower is around 16 meters in height, while the cone-shaped spires or pinnacles at the top of each minaret are topped with ostrich eggs. The qibla is surrounded by pilasters-like buttresses, and the corners are formed by rectangular-shaped buttresses decorated with toron.
The prayer hall, located in the eastern half of the mosque, measures 26 by 50 meters (85 by 164 feet) and is supported by nine interior walls running north-south. The mud-covered roof is made of Rodier’s palm and is supported by pointed arches that reach almost to the roof.
This design creates a forest of ninety massive rectangular pillars that span the interior prayer hall and severely reduce the field of view. The small, irregularly-positioned windows on the north and south walls allow little natural light to reach the hall’s interior. The floor is composed of sandy earth.
Features and Maintenance of the Great Mosque of Djenné
Bundles of Rodier palm sticks embedded in the Great Mosque walls are used for decoration and scaffolding for annual repairs. Each of the three towers in the qibla wall has a niche or mihrab in the prayer hall. The iman conducts the prayers from the mihrab in the larger central tower. A narrow opening in the central mihrab ceiling connects with a small room situated above the tower’s roof level. In earlier times, a crier would repeat the words of the imam to people in the town. To the right of the mihrab in the central tower is a second niche, the pulpit or minbar, from which the iman preaches his Friday sermon.
The towers in the qibla wall do not contain stairs linking the prayer hall with the roof. Instead, two square towers housing stairs are leading to the roof. One set of stairs is located at the southwestern corner of the prayer hall, while the other set, situated near the main entrance on the northern side, is only accessible from the exterior of the mosque. Small vents in the roof are topped with removable inverted kiln-fired bowls, which, when removed, allow hot air to rise out of the building and so ventilate the interior.
The interior courtyard to the west of the prayer hall, measuring 20 m × 46 m (66 ft × 151 ft), is surrounded on three sides by galleries. Arched openings punctuate the walls of the galleries facing the courtyard. The western gallery is reserved for use by women.
Though it benefits from regular maintenance since the facade’s construction in 1907, only small changes have been made to the design. Rather than a single central niche, the mihrab tower originally had a pair of large recesses echoing the north wall’s entrance arches. The mosque also had many fewer toron with none on the corner buttresses. It is evident from published photographs that two additional rows of toron were added to the walls in the early 1990s.