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The Great Mud Mosque of Mali

(Credit : Khan Academy)

The Great Mosque of Djenné is located in the city of Djenné, Mali, on the flood plain of the Bani River. The first mosque on the site was built around the 13th century, but the current structure dates from 1907. As well as being the centre of the community of Djenné, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. Everything from its minarets to its spired walls is constructed from mud.

In fact, the whole historic town of Djenné has been built from this mud architecture since the 14th century, in a tradition passed down from generation to generation. The process involves baking mud and straw bricks in the sun and stacking them to create walls that are then plastered with mud. The mosque (together with some 200 historic homes in the city) requires regular re-plastering to keep its form.

Recent political upheavals and a drought have threatened the mud architecture of Djenné, and so has the emergence of more modern building materials. However, while some Mali mosques have added electricity and other technology, the citizens of Djenné are dedicated to their historic building and only a loudspeaker system has been incorporated into the structure.

The entire community of Djenné takes an active role in the mosque's maintenance via a unique annual festival. This includes music and food, but has the primary objective of repairing the damage inflicted on the mosque in the past year (mostly erosion and cracks caused by rain and humidity).

(Credit : BBC Travel)

In the days leading up to the festival, the plaster is prepared in pits. It requires several days to cure but needs to be periodically stirred, a task usually falling to young boys who play in the mixture, thus stirring up the contents. Men climb onto the mosque's built-in scaffolding and ladders made of palm wood and smear the plaster over the face of the mosque.

Another group of men carries the plaster from the pits to the workmen on the mosque. A race is held at the beginning of the festival to see who will be the first to deliver the plaster to the mosque. Women and girls carry water to the pits before the festival and to the workmen on the mosque during it. Members of Djenné's masons guild direct the work, while elderly members of the community, who have already participated in the festival many times, sit in a place of honor in the market square watching the proceedings.

(Credit : Natural Homes)

The original mosque presided over one of the most important Islamic learning centers in Africa during the Middle Ages, with thousands of students coming to study the Quran in Djenné's madrasahs. The historic areas of the city, including the Great Mosque and the Old Towns of Djenné, were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. While there are many mosques that are older than its current incarnation, the Great Mosque remains the most prominent symbol of both the city of Djenné and the nation of Mali.


Sources : Wikipedia, Atlas Obscura

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