The Great Mosque Of Djenné – A Unique Attraction Not To Be Missed

The Great Mosque of Djenné is not one of the ten biggest Mosques in the entire Islamic World, but it has great importance as the biggest mud building Mosque. It boasts of a unique Sudanese architectural feature and stands out as the biggest mud building Mosque in the world.

It is found along the banks of Bani River in the town of Djenné in Mali and it is close to the Sahara Desert. It is also the highest building in this unique town where every other building is built of sun-burnt bricks including the Post Office and other government or local government offices. The residential houses are also of similar building materials. The mud collected from the Bani River is mixed with straw and rice husks to strengthen it so that the rain or wind does not erode it easily.

The Great Mosque Of Djenné – A Unique Attraction Not To Be Missed in Mali

REASONS FOR SETTING UP THE MOSQUE

The original Mosque of Djenné was founded by the ruling Sultan who was converted to Islam in the 13th Century.  He turned his palace into a Mosque. The Great Mosque of Djenné was then established as the centre of Islamic scholarship in the major route of Trans-Sahara Gold Trade. It provided an important route from the early West African businessmen to the Mediterranean Sea.  The route also connected Djenné to another important city of Timbuktu about five hundred kilometres away. The current building has been in existence since 1907. This kind of set up has achieved its objectives since the majority populations of about 10,000 Djenné residents are Muslims. They managed to establish the religious and cultural aspects of the people of Mali and, in particular, the residents of Djenné.

WOOD POSTS

The mud building of the Mosque has many wood posts or beams which one may think are inserted into the building for decorative purposes. These wood posts act as scaffolds during the maintenance of the Mosque.

OSTRICH EGGS

Ostrich eggs are perched at the highest level of the Mosque to symbolize purity, prosperity, fertility, good fortune and protection from water damage. However, ceramic pipes have also been inserted into the building to divert rainwater away from damaging the building. It is important also to note that the foundation of the building was raised to three meters high to prevent water damage from the floods of the Bani River.

THE ROOF OF THE MOSQUE

The roof of the Mosque has special openings in some parts allowing fresh air to enter the building even during the hottest months. These openings are covered by “lids” made of fired clay when it is cool.

UNESCO HERITAGE SITE

As one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, the population of Djenné is agreeable to the conditions set up by the organization in maintaining the Mosque. The only confrontation comes to the individual houses whose owners are forbidden to make alterations to the buildings in form of changes that might come up as a result of not using the traditional building materials of sun-dried bricks. Some people have acquired enough wealth to put up the ground and upstairs residential houses made out of burnt bricks and cement. Such people are upset with UNESCO and feel their lives are just designed to entertain tourists.

MASONS OF DJENNÉ

The secrets of masons are equated to the powers that lizards have to hide in buildings spaces whenever they are approached by predators. The lizard will not fall to the ground but will find refuge in holes or crevices. Similarly, the masons of Djenne have found solace in maintaining the Mosque in spite of many attractive offers that are offered to them abroad. Maintaining the structures of the Mosque is their calling which was inspired by their ancestors. Some of them have been invited abroad and offered attractive jobs in masonry, but they have opted to return home and attend to the needs of the Mosque in the form of maintenance. The ancestors’ skills had been passed on from one generation to the next.

The Masons of Djenné

THE FESTIVAL OF “CREPISSAGE DE LA GRANDE”

The Festival of “Crepissage De La Grande” is the annual festival that takes place to plaster the walls of the Mosque to bring back the beauty that was lost during the rainy season when some plastered walls peeled off. This involves all the occupants of the town as male and female workers or entertainers are involved regardless of their ages. The masons or builders themselves mix the soil to its required form and helpers begin taking the mixture to those on the scaffolds. Women are engaged in bringing water to the place where the soil is mixed. The dancers of all ages, male or female are great entertainers as the masons work to the sound of music. This is where one witnesses Africa’s beats and dancing styles at their best performance.

SPECIAL TOURIST ATTRACTION

Although the town has a poor drainage system and produces an unpleasant smell when you walk around the Mosque, tourists are treated with “second home away from home” smile. The people know very well that there are many benefits in trying to be good to tourists because it is one of the major sources of their livelihood. That is why the majority of the population in Djenné is in favour of complying to UNESCO’s demands of no alterations of any building materials.

BARRING FOREIGNERS FROM ENTRY INTO THE GREAT MOSQUE

Recently foreigners have been barred from entering special partitions of the Great Mosque of Djenné because one photographic company abused such freedom. This company of which the name was withheld took some top models from the European countries and photographed them stack naked inside the great Mosque. Of course, the punishment for such a company was obvious, but nobody has been brave enough to reveal to the public the exact punishment which was meted out. Consequently, the banning of all foreigners from entering certain partitions of the Mosque was effected.

TAKING A LEAF FROM KING HASSAN II MOSQUE IN MOROCCO

With due respect to the decision taken to bar foreigners from entering the Great Mosque of Djenne, the authorities can take a leaf from what goes on inside the King Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. The authorities there have two sessions on certain days to allow foreigners to enter the Mosque under tour guides. The security inside and outside the mosque is excellent. With the tour guides around, it becomes impossible for foreigners to misbehave and get photographed while they are naked. In this way, they can charge an entry fee to anyone wishing to explore all the different partitions of the Mosque. This would mean doubling or supplementing money to boost the revenue coming from tourism.

CONCLUSION

Visiting Djenné to view the Great Mosque can be one of the tourist sights, but with the rich history of Mali, it would be better to include in your tour the ancient city of Timbuktu. In this way, you would have the advantage of killing two birds with one stone. What are you still waiting for? Get in touch with your travel agents and book the next plane to Mali and find out why it is one of the best places to visit in Africa.

24 thoughts on “The Great Mosque Of Djenné – A Unique Attraction Not To Be Missed”

  1. Edgar, what wonderful article you have given us.
    I note that masonry seems to be as old as man. How they made mud structures that have stood the test of time remains a wonder.
    I am happy that such history has been preserved for future generations to marvel at. I would like to physically visit this place.

    1. Thank you, Solomon, for your positive comment.
      Masonry in Djenne especially for construction and refurbishment of clay and sun-baked earthen brick structures is a skill that has been shred from one generation to the other. In fact, there is a guild of masons in place that takes care of this mosque which will allow generations of people to catch a glimpse of it.

  2. Wow! This would be the best destination! Did not even know a building like that would last that long…this great mosque of Djenne has to be one of the most exciting places i could ever want to visit..this is very very exciting…thank you Edgar for this

    1. Joy, ancient structures are always a marvel and The Great Mosque Of Djenné is no exception. It comes close to the Great Pyramid of Giza. What is more exciting is the enthusiasm exhibited in the annual festival, where maintenance works are done on the mosque. Women and children get involved and the elderly participate too by sitting at the market square to observe proceedings.
      When you visit The Great Mosque Of Djenné, I am sure you will have a wonderful moment, never felt before.

  3. I’ve been here before, but I haven’t been able to look inside the mosque because the mosque is closed to non-Muslims like us. Even when I was going up the stairs, entering the courtyard in front of the temple was rejected. I can only watch the Muslims coming and going outside the courtyard. But anyway, it’s really great

    1. Brandon, due to what a group of tourists did in that mosque that was contrary to their beliefs, they decided to close seal it off to non-Muslims. Hopefully, one day the decision will be reversed.

  4. Wow, thank you so much for the information about The Great Mosque of Djenne. I would love to visit there at least once when I having my trip to Africa. Such a shame that a photography company took the advantage of taking naked model picture there 🙁 Is there any other restriction to visit there, such as non-Moeslem people are prohibited to enter certain partitions? Thanks

    1. Alblue, non-Muslims are restricted from entry in the mosque due to acts of the photography company. However, if you dress for prayers, access is allowed. Otherwise, there are no other restrictions that are there to stop worshippers from accessing the mosque.
      I hope you will have a good time when you choose to travel to Mali.

  5. Hi,

    Congratulations on taking the time and effort to write such a detailed piece on The Great Mosque of Djenné. I’m sure that this information will be of huge benefit to people who are looking for more knowledge about the great mosques of the world. The history of this mosque is fascinating it was built in 1907 by the ruling sultan and nowadays it is a real tourist attraction. I note that it is a UNESCO world heritage site di it must mean that it’s a great place to visit. Have you been there?

    Well done,

    Fintan

    1. Duggan, I appreciate your comment that is filled with kind words. I am glad that you find that this information beneficial to readers.
      The Great Mosque of Djenné is a historical structure that is locally maintained and the fact that it was named a UNESCO world heritage site means it will be preserved in that state, making it a great place to visit especially for historians. I have not been to the mosque yet but it is on my list of researched places I will visit soon.

  6. I would personally question UNESCO if The Great Mosque Of Djenné is not one of the heritage sites out there. There are quite a number of architectural beauty with the mosque and it is a very good thing to see how it is all made. I like how you have explained the in and out of the mosque. If I ever want to come to Mali,I will be sure to kill two birds with one stone like you have advised. Thanks.

    1. Thank you Henderson for expressing your interest in one day visiting Mali. Of course as a visitor, it would not be a complete visit if you left out the visit of The Great Mosque of Djenné. It is one of Mali’s best tourist attractions with great religious significance since over 92%of the population in Mali follows the Islam faith.
      I wish you well with your travel plans to Mali.

  7. Mali is a great place to visit and although I haven’t been privileged to visit there, i have read a lot about this place and the mosque of Djenne is indeed another beauty i would love to see. Such historical structures holds a great deal to any place that holds it. Only. a few structures across the world have stood for this long and are still standing so i see this mosque as really great.

    1. Benson, it is nice to note that you read a lot about places and the Great Mosque of Djenné is no exception.
      Most ancient structures have not stood the test of time like this mosque has; thanks to the ever-present masons that made its constant refurbishment their responsibility.

  8. Truly, The great mosque of Djenne is really a place to be, i love the aspect of its artifacts that are really rare to find. I am seriously amazed by the fact that the palace was converted to being a mosque, that was a courageous act that just anyone can’t do. Thanks for sharing this informative article, it’s interesting.

    1. It has been a while Andrea. Thank you for returning with a comment to this post!
      This mosque was at one time occupied by the French in 1893 who oversaw the reconstruction of the mosque’s large mud walls in 1906. They remained in charge until Mali got its independence in 1960. It is therefore interesting to know that the French played a part in the making of the largest mud construction in the world.

  9. I personally didn’t know that there is this mosque made of mud in Africa not until I read this article. It is amazing how they were able to keep the original structures for a long period of time although based on the video it was reconstructed for several times. It is still a treasure to be proud of and it should be maintained for the next generation to see.

    1. Dan, the regular refurbishments are made to this mosque during the annual festival of the Crepissage de la Grand Mosquée. The entire exterior of the mosque is re-plastered with a mud plaster made from a mixture of butter and fine clay from the alluvial soil. It is interesting to find musicians playing during this activity which engages the young and the old of both genders. The regular refurbishment is important to preserve this monument against environmental factors that affect the mosque like floods or heavy rains. 

  10. Hello, I really appreciate your time and effort on writing about The Great Mosque of Djenn which is something I’ve heard about recently and became interested in. It’s definitely a very unique looking mud mosque that sparks my curiosity.

    The way you laid it out is perfect and informative, it sounds like people are friendly over there and it would definitely make a good vacation experience. I’d love to see this mosque if I’m ever in Africa.Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    1. Son, the people of Djenné are friendly to visitors. They are fully aware of the wonderful monument that is in their midst and the attention it attracts worldwide. They have benefitted from the dollars received from tourists and the maintenance of mosque as a UNESCO heritage site.  This has transformed it to a good vacation destination.

      I appreciate the fact that you have developed interest to visit this place and I hope you will include it on your bucket list of places to visit in Africa.

  11. Wow! That is an amazing looking mosque especially since it is made out of mud. I have often wondered how buildings mad of mud could withstand the test of time being that they are subjected to many rainy seasons. I could see how smaller structures like mud huts could be maintained, seeing how they are small. However the Great Mosque of Djenné is massive in size and surface area. It is very impressive looking for a mud building.

    I can see why they used the wood beams as it does help to lay wood planks on them for scaffolding during times of repairs. I would still love to see how it all looks and is maintained. I think it is a real shame that company photographed naked models inside the mosque. That is highly disrespectful no matter what kind of religious building it happens to. Now they have ruined the opportunity for those other foreigners.

    1. Robert, a mud structure is impressive to look at indeed! It is not something you come across easily especially with the architectural advancement these days. As you point it out clearly, a personal visit would be deeply satisfying.

      It is a pity foreigners are not allowed in the mosque but it is my hope and prayer that once day, this decision will be reversed as long as proper guidelines are put in place for tourists.

  12. What a unique architecture this mosque is. It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the dome-like mosques we see so often in other countries, yet it has been around for so long. I am actually interested to see what’s the interior like besides the mud foundation. Do they also add any unique Islamic designs on the wall and how is that different from the architecture found in other Islamic countries?

    1. Cathy, the Great Mosque of Djenné is indeed a unique mosque, without the features of the other modern mosques today. They maintained the old design which is as old as the city of Djenné which dates as far back as 250BC. There are no Islamic designs on the walls. They are as plain as you see the exterior of the mosque.
      The uniqueness of this mosque is with the age, design and material used to construct it as compared modern-day mosques.

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