Thursday, March 13, 2008
The Great Mosque of Djenne, one of the most famous structures on the continent of Africa
The first mosque on the site was built in 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.
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 are between 16 in and 24 in. thick.
Bundles of palm wood were included in the building to reduce cracking caused by frequent drastic changes in humidity and temperature and to serve as readymade scaffolding for annual repairs. The walls insulate the building from heat during the day and by nightfall have absorbed enough heat to keep the mosque warm through the night.
The prayer wall of the mosque is dominated by three large, box-like minarets jutting out from the main wall and has eighteen buttresses. Each minaret contains a spiral staircase leading to the roof, and on top of each minaret is a cone shaped spire topped with an ostrich egg.
The entire community of Djenné takes an active role in the mosque's maintenance via a unique annual festival. This includes music and food, but has the primary objective of repairing the damage inflicted on the mosque in the past year - mostly erosion caused by the annual rains and cracks caused by changes in temperature and humidity.
Men climb onto the mosque's built-in scaffolding and ladders made of palm wood and smear the plaster over the face of the mosque.
The original mosque presided over one of the most important Islamic learning centers in Africa during the Middle Ages. Thousands of students came to study the Qur'an in Djenné's madrassas.