Farmantala, Djenné, Mali
GPS: 13.905419524767, -4.5549524814084
Looking like a fortress or a giant sand castle, the Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest building in the world built in banco (a type of adobe). This natural material is made from a mixture of compressed earth, clay bricks, straw, millet and raw mud, all dried in the sun. Dominated by its three minarets, the Great Mosque of Djenné features a unique Sudano-Sahelian architectural style with Islamic influences. In its history, this major place of worship in Mali has played an important role in the expansion of Islam in Black Africa. Together with the neighbouring archaeological sites (Djenné Djeno, Hambarkétolo, Kaniana and Tonomba), it constitutes one of the most eminent cultural properties in West Africa. These monuments have all been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1988 under the name “Old Towns of Djenné”.
The origins of the construction of the Great Mosque of Djenné date back to the end of the 13th century when King Koy Komboro, recently converted to Islam, decided to demolish his old palace in order to build a mosque. The city of Djenné, built a few centuries earlier by the Bozo people, was then attached to the Mali Empire during the medieval period. It prospered thanks to the trade of gold, salt and then slaves on the Trans-Saharan Trade Route used by caravanners and camel drivers between the countries of West Africa and the Mediterranean basin. At the same time, the mosque became one of the most important centres of Islamic education on the continent. It was destroyed in 1819 by the Massina Empire at the initiative of the Fulbe marabout Sheeku Aamadu who considered it too sumptuous. The Great Mosque of Djenné was finally rebuilt identically by the French colonial governor William Ponty in 1907, at the request of the marabout Almamy Sonfo.
Situated on a plain that is particularly vulnerable to flooding from the Bani River (a tributary of the Niger), the construction of the Great Mosque of Djenné on a raised platform is supervised by the head of Djenné’s guild of masons, Ismaila Traoré. Palm branches are incorporated into the structure of the building to withstand fluctuations in temperature and humidity, reduce possible cracks and prevent erosion. They also serve as scaffolding for the local community of Djenné, which participates actively and regularly in the restoration of the mosque within a musical backdrop. From generation to generation, the inhabitants are committed to keeping intact this century-old monument which embodies the soul of the city of Djenné.