Culture & Travel

21 December 2020
Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali 

 

The Great Mosque of Djenné is the world’s largest building made of adobe. It is one of the palaces that are under the protection of UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Despite being made of adobe, the building still stands tall after 700 years and impresses its visitors with its strength and simplicity while also being a holy place for the locals. 

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Djenné is one of the largest cities in Western Africa with a mostly Muslim population (over 80%), meaning that this structure from the 13th Century means a great deal for the city.  The structure has conical-spiral minarets and a traditionally religious theme. The mosque has a professional ventilation system furnished on the exterior of the building in wooden logs. Each ventilation pipe in the mosque represents a verse from the Kur’an. Likewise, a column was erected for the 99 names of Allah mentioned in the Kur’an, which is believed to be the basis of the mosque’s strength for 7 centuries.

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The mosque that is earthed each year

There is an annual ritual surrounding the mosque. Wall plaster workers in the city come together each year to plan the earthing of the mosque and set a date and time for the whole city to know. The goal of this ritual is to make sure that the Great Mosque of Djenné is strengthened every year before it starts to dry out and crumble after the African heats. This way, the mosque can stand for many years to come.

When the day arrives, every local in Mali, no matter their age, come together to renew the mosque. The greatest competition is of course between the wall plaster workers. Since the locals consider plastering the longest and largest minaret to be an honor, plaster workers start competing against each other as soon as renewing starts. The plaster worker to climb the top on the logs the fastest will have the honor. His name will be proudly mentioned all year. Earthing usually starts at 5.00 o’clock in the morning and continues till the sun sets. Women carry water from the river while children help with plastering. Men do most of the hard work by plastering the walls. 

When the ritual is complete, the locals pray together followed by celebrations to honor this pride.