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Rebuilding the Great Mosque of Djenne

Each year, the residents of central Mali work together to preserve one of the most iconic structures in both Islamic & African architectural history: the Great Mosque of Djenne, the world’s largest mud-brick structure.


This epic one-day event is called the Crépissage...

Image credit Peter Yeung / BBC Travel

 

Located in southern Mali, the Great Mosque of Djenné is a unique structure that instantly captures the imagination. Nearly 20m high & built on a 91m-long platform, it's the world's largest mud-brick building and the finest example of Sudano-Sahelian architecture.


Image credit Raphael Bick

 

The walls of Djenné's Great Mosque are reconstructed with mud each April in the Crépissage Not only is the Crépissage an act of maintenance to protect the mosque from crumbling, it's also a festival to celebrate community, faith & heritage.

Image credit Google Arts & Culture

 

Djenné was founded between 800 and 1250 C.E., and it flourished as a great center of commerce, learning, and Islam, which had been practiced from the beginning of the 13th century.


Image credit Phil Marion

 

The entire city of Djenne is built from mud, which is a material well suited to the extreme weather conditions in that the thick walls of the buildings retain the cool from the earth and the relatively chilly nights.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

The Mosque has 3 distinctive minarets with hundreds of sticks of rodier palm, known as 'toron' jutting out from the walls. It remains cool during the hottest days. A lattice of 90 internal wooden columns supports the roof & the walls which provide insulation from the sun's heat.


Image credit Raphael Bick

 

The walls of Djenné's Great Mosque are reconstructed with mud each April in an epic one-day event called the Crépissage (Plastering). The structure requires annual reinforcement – as do the town's traditional adobe homes before Mali's rainy season which occurs in July & August.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

This immense undertaking of reconstruction ensures that the mosque will survive the rainy season, despite altering in shape ever so slightly each year.

Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

Not only is the Crépissage an important act of maintenance designed to protect the mosque's walls from cracking and crumbling, but it's also a festival that celebrates Djenné's community, faith and heritage.

Image credit Google Arts & Culture

 

The bricks of the Djenne mosque are formed from banco, a term for the mixture of clay, water, shea butter, baobab tree powder and rice husks that form this mud.


Image credit Google Arts & Culture

 

The mud is first collected from the river and brought into town where it is left to mature in great mounds in the streets in front of the houses or in special large vats in front of the mosque.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

After around three weeks of fermentation, the mud is mature and ready for plastering onto the walls-this is always done directly by the hand.


Image credit Google Arts & Culture

 

The night before the rebuilding, the villagers take part in a carnival of singing and dancing known as La Nuit de Veille, or The Waking Night.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

The whole community of Djenné takes part in the annual repair of the mosque during a festival called Crepissage de la Grand Mosquée. A race is held at the start of the festival to determine who will be the first to deliver the plaster to the mosque.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

Once the Crépissage is underway, teams from each neighbourhood in Djenné race to re-plaster the mosque, albeit carefully and precisely.

Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

Under the supervision of a guild of 80 senior masons, a highly revered profession in Djenné, young men scramble up the building's façade carrying wicker baskets dripping with wet clay to smear in thick layers onto the walls, using the toron like ladder rungs.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

One of the most unique features of the mosque’s architecture is its roof. The roof is made of palm branches that are woven together and supported by wooden pillars. The roof is then covered with a layer of mud, which helps to insulate the building from the sun’s heat.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

Djenné is characterized by “exceptional architecture and its urban framework, of unusual harmony,” according to UNESCO, and the Great Mosque exemplifies this. Despite its centuries-long history, the mosque continues to play an important role in modern culture.


Image credit Raphael Bick

 

Today, the Great Mosque of Djenné is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity of Mali’s mud architecture and the remarkable preservation of its traditional building techniques.


Image credit MINUSMA / Sophie Ravier

 

The citizens of Djenne aim for this beautiful and unique structure to be kept as traditional as possible, resisting modernisation. Consequently, the only added modern aspect of the mosque since its creation is a loudspeaker system, for the adhaan to be heard from a distance.


While there are mosques that are far older than this still standing today, the Great Mosque of Dijenne in Mali has a uniqueness that makes it one of the architectural wonders of the world.


Image credit Peter Yeung / BBC Travel

 

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