Great Mosque of Djenné

The Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest mud brick or adobe building in the world and is considered by many architects to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, albeit with definite Islamic influences. The mosque is located in the city of Djenne, Mali on the flood plain of the Bani River. The first mosque on the site was built around the 13th century, but the current structure dates from 1907. As well as being the centre of the community of Djenné, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. Along with the "Old Towns of Djenne" it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.  
 The actual date of construction of the first mosque in Djenne is unknown but dates as early as 1200 and as late as 1330 have been suggested.
 The walls of the Great Mosque are made of sun-baked mud bricks (called  ferey), a mud based mortar, and are coated with a mud plaster which gives the building its smooth, sculpted look. The walls of the building are decorated with bundles of rodier palm ( Borassus aethiopum ) sticks, called toron, that project about 60 cm (2 ft) from the surface. The toron also serve as readymade scaffolding for the annual repairs. Ceramic half-pipes also extend from the roofline and direct rain water from the roof away from the walls. The mosque is built on a platform measuring about 75 m x 75 m (245 ft x 245 ft) that is raised by 3 metres (9 ft) above the level of the marketplace. The platform is accessed by 6 sets of stairs, each decorated with pinnacles.
  The main entrance is on the northern side of the building. The outer walls of the Great Mosque are not precisely orthogonal to one another so that the plan of the building has a noticeable trapezoidal outline. The prayer wall or  qibla of the Great Mosque faces east towards Mecca and overlooks the city marketplace. The qibla is dominated by three large, box-like towers or minarets jutting out from the main wall. The cone shaped spires or pinnacles at the top of each minaret are topped with ostrich eggs.
  The eastern wall is about a meter (3 ft) in thickness and is strengthened on the exterior by eighteen pilaster like buttresses, each of which is topped by a pinnacle. The corners are formed by rectangular shaped buttresses decorated with  toron and topped by pinnacles. The prayer hall measuring about 26 by 50 meters (85 ft x 165 ft) occupies the eastern half of the mosque behind the qibla wall. The mud covered rodier palm roof is supported by nine interior walls running north-south which are pierced by pointed arches that reach up almost to the roof. This design creates a forest of ninety massive rectangular pillars that span the interior prayer hall and severely reduce the field of view. The small irregularly positioned windows on the north and south walls allow little natural light to reach the interior of the hall. The floor is of sandy earth.
     Bundles of rodier palm sticks embedded in the walls of the Great Mosque are used for decoration and serve as scaffolding for annual repairs. In the prayer hall, each of the three towers in the  qibla wall has a niche or mihrab . The iman conducts the prayers from the mihrab in the larger central tower. A narrow opening in the ceiling of the central mihrab connects with a small room situated above roof level in the tower. In earlier times, a crier would repeat the words of the imam to people in the town. To the right of the mihrab in the central tower is a second niche, the pulpit or minbar , from which the iman preaches his Friday sermon. The towers in the  qibla wall do not contains stairs linking the prayer hall with the roof. Instead there are two square towers housing stairs leading to the roof.
     One set of stairs is located at the south western corner of the prayer hall while the other set, situated near the main entrance on the northern side, is only accessible from the exterior of the mosque. Small vents in the roof are topped with removable inverted kiln-fired bowls, which when removed allow hot air to rise out of the building and so ventilate the interior. The interior courtyard to the west of the prayer hall measuring 20 m x 46 m (65 ft x 150 ft) is surrounded on three sides by galleries. The walls of the galleries facing the courtyard are punctuated by arched openings. The western gallery is reserved for use by women.


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