The Magnificent Mud Mosque of Djenné, Mali, February 2020

News of the legend of Timbuktu first spread to the outside world in the 14th century when the Malinke king made a pilgrimage to Mecca. His entourage of 60,000 each carried a bar of gold among other luxuries as offerings. As the caravan passed through Cairo the influx of wealth caused one of the first financial market collapses as the gold price plummeted and did not recover for nearly a century. Timbuktu had a golden age between the 14th and 16th centuries when riches poured in from gold mines to the west, salt mines to the north and it sat as a crossroads of trans-Saharan trade between the Maghreb lands of North Africa, Sudan and the savannah to the east and south. At the time it was an important intellectual centre producing manuscripts on astronomy, science and jurisprudence. The mystique of Timbuktu was further embellished by an educated youth who was taken into slavery in Europe and subsequently wrote of his former life and the lavish lifestyles of the inhabitants and traders who passed through its gates. And so the fabled land of Timbuktu has remained in the imagination of many a world traveller.

Alas because of the conflict and security situation in Mali to this day Timbuktu remains out of reach. With local guides I’ve journeyed for a week around southern Mali for a glimpse of its former glory and an introduction to the many tribes and customs.

From the choked capital of Bamako I have visited Ségou (the old seat of Malinke kings from the Great Mali Empire), Djenné – the little sister of Timbuktu, and Mopti on the junction of the Niger and Bani rivers. The majority of the population in Bamako and the south are Bambara tribe, we have also met Fulani – traditional farmers whose women choose to tattoo their mouths for beautification and the men wear distinctive pointy hats. 

There are also Dogon and Songhay tribes, and in the north the recognisable indigo blue robes and turbans of the Tuareg – the nomadic traders of the Sahara.

In Mali Islam and traditional animism beliefs (mask ceremonies and animal sacrifices to the ancestors) still sit side by side. There is an intriguing mix of architecture between Moroccan and Sudanese influences. 

But the greatest architecture in all of Mali is the Grand Mosque of Djenné. It is a magnificent building with 3 rectangular minarets, support beams of palm wood jut from its exterior and 90 columns support the internal arches and corridors inside.. and it’s made purely of mud! The largest mud structure in the world: it was constructed from mud brick and is rendered each year before the rainy season by the community with a new layer of adobe – like mud. It is simply as incredible a sight as the Taj Mahal or the Notre Dame cathedral. 

In a short time Mali has taught me much, inspired me greatly and warmed me with some of the biggest smiles a traveller in a foreign land could hope for.

This entry was posted in Mali and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Magnificent Mud Mosque of Djenné, Mali, February 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *