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Djenne - Home of the World’s Biggest Mud-Brick Building

Fri, Dec 16, 2011

Western Africa

Djenne is an Urban Commune and town in Inland Niger Delta region of central Mali. In the year 2009, the commune had 32,944 inhabitants and administratively it is a part of Mopti Region. It is a city in Mali well-known for its mosque, the largest mudbrick building in the world. As of 1987, it has been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. It says on its website that Djenne became important link and market centre in trans-Saharan gold trade. The Djenne’s history is intimately linked with Timbuktu. Between 15th and 17th centuries much of trans-Saharan trade in goods like slaves, salt and gold moved out and in of Timbuktu passed via Djenne. Both cities became Islamic scholarship centres. Its prosperity relied on this trade and when Portuguese founded trading posts on the coast of Africa, the significance of trans-Saharan trade and Djenne declined.


Djenne is located 247 miles Bamako’s northeast and 47 miles Mopti’s southwest and sits on floodplain between Bani and Niger Rivers at southern end of Inland Niger Delta. For organizational reasons, the town forms part of Djenne’s Urban Commune that covers an area of 302 kilometers and comprises of town itself surrounding villages – Yenleda, Balle, Velingara, Diabolo, Syn, Gomnikouboye, Kera, Kamaraga, Soala and Niala. The population figures are for commune and including these villages. The commune is surrounded to south by communes of Dandougou Fakala; to north by communes of Derary and Ouro Ali; to west by communes of Pondori and to east by communes of Fakala and Madiama.

Only the winter months of January and December of Djenne have average daily maximum temperatures under 32°C. Between March and December the warm dry north easterly Harmattan wind blows from Sahara. Situated 2.5 kilometers southeast of present town is an archaeological site of Djenné-Jéno or Djoboro. Excavations undertaken by Roderick and Susan McIntosh in the year 1977-1981 specify that Djenné-Jéno was originally settled around 200 BC. It had urbanized into huge walled urban complex by 850 AD, however after 1100 AD, the population of the town declined. Many smaller settlements within Djenné-Jéno’s few kilometres appear to have been discarded around this date. Initial archaeological excavations at sites within modern Djenné specify that present town was initially settled after 1000 AD.

Djenne is popular for Sudanese style architecture and almost all apartments in the city along with Great Mosque are constructed from sun-baked mudbricks that are coated with mud plaster. The conventional flat roofed two-storey houses are developed around small central courtyard and have striking facades with pilaster like buttresses and intricate arrangement of pinnacles forming parapet above entrance door. Even though historically Djenne had been a significant trading and commercial centre, in the 20th century commerce in town declined because of its comparatively inaccessible position. The local economy is primarily based on fishing, livestock and agriculture and is quite dependent on flooding of Bani and Niger rivers and annual rainfall.

Djenne great mosque

The Tomb to Tupama Djenepo and Grand Mosque are the main attractions of Djenne. The Great Mosque is one of the major Djenne sights and governs old town. It is created in usual Sudanic style. Sun-baked mud bricks have been used in its construction and looks like large sand castle with three wooden poles and huge turrets sticking out. After each rainy season, the maintenance work is carried out for the spring festival. The wooden turrets sticking out of structure allow workers to scale monument for restoration. The conventional African market is situated around the vicinity of mosque and is held every Monday near mosque. Plenty of traders from several regions in Africa take part in this colorful market. As a city, Djenne was a center for Islam’s propagation. Being a World Heritage Site it is a ‘must see’ in the list of leisure historians and tourists.

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