The Great Mosque, like hundreds of other structures in Djenne, is composed of mud. Although it was constructed in 1907, the town's mud architecture goes back to at least the 14th century. Masons build the structures by packing mud and straw into bricks, allowing them to dry in the sun, then stacking them to make walls. The best-known example of a mud house is Sankore Mahommeden, but there are many others all over Mali.
When construction on the Great Mosque began, Djenne had already been a city for more than 500 years. Its population was made up of Muslims and Christians who worked on the project together. The mosque's design is based on religious principles of harmony and balance. It has three levels: an upper floor for worship, a middle floor for storage, and a lower floor for toilets and drains.
The original builders of the Great Mosque did not have much metal available so they made do with what they had: wood and clay. They built the mosque with the same materials you would find around them: trees from the surrounding forest.
During World War II, French colonial soldiers destroyed much of the city's ancient culture when they occupied Mali. They also burned down the Great Mosque along with many other buildings. When it was reconstructed after the war, it was done using old photographs as a guide. There are no original drawings or plans for the mosque available.
The Great Mosque of Djenne (French: Grande Mosque de Djenne, Arabic: ljm lkbyr fy jynyh) is a massive adobe edifice considered by many architects to be one of the best triumphs of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. It is located in the town of Djenne in Mali's Sahel region.
Constructed between 1220 and 1235 as part to an Islamic university established by Sultan al-Mansur I, it originally consisted of two parallel walls with eighty-four rooms arranged around a courtyard. The mosque was extensively modified over time, with new halls being built onto its sides and its current appearance achieved by covering its original adobe structure with clay bricks. It remains one of the largest and most impressive religious buildings in West Africa.
The Great Mosque of Djenne has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It lies within the boundaries of the Manoir des Singes reserve, which includes several other ancient buildings in various states of preservation. The site is about forty minutes' drive south of Bamako.
The Great Mosque of Djenne was built as a place of learning for the sons of Sultans and noblemen from surrounding countries. Its layout resembles that of a traditional African village with separate living quarters for men and women.
UNESCO listed Djenne's historic sites, including the Great Mosque, as World Heritage Sites in 1988. While there are several mosques that are older than its current form, the Great Mosque remains the most visible emblem of both Djenne and Mali. The city was once home to more than 6,000 people; now there are only about 1,500.
After the French invasion in 1883, which resulted in the loss of most of Mali's territory, the future of the mosque is uncertain. The Germans, who took control after the war, also were unable to preserve it. In fact, they may have been responsible for its destruction. As part to their policy of "civilizing" the natives, they banned all forms of Islamic worship and constructed many Catholic churches across German-controlled Africa. They also destroyed numerous ancient monuments in an attempt to erase any memory of Islam's past power in the region.
Since its listing as a UNESCO site, little has been done to protect the Great Mosque. There are no funds set aside specifically for its maintenance nor is there anyone charged with overseeing its preservation. Although the government does receive some revenue from the site's tour operators, this amount is very small compared to what it needs to cover its operating costs.
The great majority of visitors to Djenne arrive by bus from Dakar.
During the Middle Ages, the ancient mosque presided over one of the most prominent Islamic learning centers in Africa, with hundreds of students flocking to Djenne's madrassas to study the Quran.
The original mosque was built around 972 by Sijilmasa Billah, a Muslim ruler who established the first known government in Mali. It was later expanded by his son Samory Malick Sy (957-1010). The mosque stands nearly 40 feet high and has four levels, each containing a gallery where visitors can view the courtyard below. There are also two other mosques in Djenne with identical plans to the Great Mosque; they were probably built at about the same time by workers under the direction of Samory Malick Sy.
In 1350, the building was completely destroyed by fire. It was subsequently restored by Sultan Abu Sa'id Abd al-Malik (1332-71), the second ruler of the Malian Empire. The current appearance of the mosque dates from this restoration project, which was completed in 1370.
Djenne was once home to more than 7,000 people. But since the 1960s, many residents have moved away seeking employment in Europe. Today, just under 10,000 people live in the city.