Belonging to the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, the Great Mosque of Djenne is located on the flood plain of the Bani River, in Djenne, Mali. It is the largest mud-brick building in the world. Along with the ”Old Town of Djenne”, the Great Mosque has been on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 1998.
The actual date of construction of the first mosque is unknown but thought to be between 1200 and 1330.
Originally, the church was built in the 13th century during the reign of Sultan Kunburu after he became a Muslim. The Sultan had his old palace demolished and turned it into a mosque. His successor built the minarets of the mosque and the following Sultan built the surrounding walls.
During the following years, the Great Church of Djenne fell into decay.
When the French occupied Mali, they commissioned the original church to be restored and rebuilt and the current church was completed in 1907. Although it is one of the most visited religious sites in West Africa, the building receives criticism due to the involvement of the French in its reconstruction.
The Great Mosque is the center of the community of Djenne, it is also one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. It is a fine example of African vernacular architecture.
The mud-brick building is four stories high and it is covered with clay made from a mixture of rice husks, soil, and water. At the top of the three minarets, there are ostrich eggs that symbolize good fortune and fertility according to the Malian traditions. The roof has 105 little windows covered with terra-cotta lids which allow fresh air to circulate within the church. There are 99 wooden columns inside, representing the 99 names of God, which also provide insulation from the heat and support for the roof and walls.
The Great Mosque is the center of communal, religious, and cultural life in Djenne.
In the annual festival called the Crépissage de la Grand Mosquée (Plastering of the Grand Mosque), the people of Mali come together to replaster the walls with a mixture of butter and clay to maintain the mosque’s iconic look. There are hundreds of protruding timber beams across the facade for aesthetic and practical purposes. The timber beams give the mosque its unique appearance, they also provide the festival attendees with scaffolding for the replastering.