Our City of Clay in Africa – Djenne in Mali

 

A UNESCO world heritage site, the ancient town,Djenne in the heart of  Mali,stands on Africa's mighty River Niger. A city of mud houses, streets and city walls. The ochre mud composition gives out an embezzling monochrome look.

 

 

 

The journey to Djenne is like stepping into another era. Little has changed since its prosperous 14th and 15th-century heydays.

Djenne on the flood lands of the Bani and Niger rivers is about 220 miles south-west of Timbuktu. Before  1591, Djenné became a prosperous center of slave, ivory and gold trade. Known as the oldest city in Sub Sahara Africa,  famous for its Great Mosque and market.

It was founded around 800AD by merchants and flourished. The meeting place for Sudan desert traders and Guinea tropical forests, it became an impactful trading center and thrived due to its direct river connection with Timbuktu and the head of all trade routes leading to salt and gold mines.

Controlled by empires of Morrocan kings it expanded featuring products from the north and central Africa until the French occupied in in 1893.

Commercial functions were then taken over by Mopti town in the confluence of Bani and Niger rivers, in the northeast,  An agricultural trade center, Djenne boasts Muslim Architecture and a great mosque.

The great mosque built in 1905 is a classic Sahelian mud architecture.

The highlight of each year is an event when annually, the inhabitants of the town gather and refine the mud structure, giving it a new layer to replace what torrential rains fade out. The festival of plastering event: La Fete de crepissage. 

The labors of plasterers are accompanied with a beating of drums. The drums are perched on wooden spikes that stick out of the walls, serving as permanent scaffolding and decoration.

Younger girls carry bowls and buckets  of water and mud from the river bed, and older women pound millet making pancakes,

Special meals are made by each family to celebrate the occasion. Proud of their architectural heritage the people of Djenne have long resisted paved roads and any introduction of electricity.

Only a handful of cars exist in Djenne belonging mostly to government officials that run development programmes for sustainability.

All new buildings and even the hospital are built in traditional style and technique binding the river mus with straw and grass

The building material is plentiful and cheap and the clay keeps houses cool, even with the scorching hot sun outside.

Labor for repairing is becoming a challenge in present day when most move into cities with computers, email, and television.

The architectural gem receives foreign aid to maintain its splendor and keep it the same, for another two decades and more!

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