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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.