Mosques to visit after the Coronavirus lets up (Chapter 2): Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali

Mud and adobe mosque in Mali, Djenne
Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali - enclave made © Hector Martinez Troyano | Dreamstime.com

As the regulations regarding the Coronavirus become stricter around the world, many are beginning to feel the restlessness from sitting in their homes, evermore ready to quench their natural thirst for freedom. The danger of the virus is still quite omnipresent however, affecting yet more countries, consequently leaving us to transfer most of our existence to the virtual world.

As such, there is no better time than now to take interest in some of the wonders of the West-African republic of Mali. This relatively humble country boasts a highly atypical architecture known as the Sudano-Sahelian style, common also to the Western and Southern regions of the continent.

Most unique of this style, in its construction, is the Great Mosque in Djenné located near the Bani River of Mali. The advent of Islam in the country, around the 9th century, was rendered possible via Muslim Berber and Tuareg merchants brining their trade over to the African regions from the middle-east and solidified by the founders of Sufi brotherhoods.

The original mosque that was erected in this location is theorised to have been built during the 13th century, stood atop the former palace of a Sultan who had converted to Islam and ordered it to be taken down, erecting a mosque in its place. Albeit, little written information is available on the mosque prior to the year 1828, when French explorer René Caillié landed ashore, thereupon depicting this curious infrastructure in his writings.

The origins of the Sudano-Sahelian architecture date back to 250BCE, in this same region of Djenné. The relatively simplistic architectural motives in question are commonly characterised by the use of mud-bricks and adobe plaster, surrounding a skeleton of wooden bars. These often peak out from the exterior of bigger constructions like mosques or palaces, attributing the distinctive feature to this local artisanship.

Over the years, the mosque had been reconstructing multiple times and the site has remained an important relic to the people for more than 800 years. As the country is relatively poor, the government couldn’t afford to renovate the mosque so all of the reconstructions were done on private funds.

Today, the locals actively take part in maintaining the mosque in a communal effort. Every year they hold an enticing festival dedicated to the reparation of the mosque with diverse food and music. Once the celebration is over, the kids are left to play with the plaster mix so as to stir it, later used to fill up the erosion and cracks in the walls.

In parallel, workmen climb atop the mosque with all the necessary equipment while the women of the village carry them water throughout the process. The first one to do the honours of bringing the plaster is decided by a staple race at the beginning of the festival. The elderly, who have taken part in the festival many times, observe patiently as the mosque gradually regains its former glory with a directed common effort.

The moment the virus gives out, a marvellous opportunity will present itself for you to take off sightseeing. This is when you can finally take your chance to visit the Great Mosque of Djenné, which will undoubtably leave only positive emotions from the unique cultural and human experience you live.