Constructed by the community in 1906 on the remains of a pre-existing mosque, the Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest historical mud mosque in the sub-Saharan region and is considered by many to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. It is located in the centre of Djenné alongside the marketplace, making it the city’s focal social point. In 1988 the site was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, together with the entire Old City.
Djenné is a small town of 13,000 inhabitants, located away from the main streams of development of Mali. The main income sources on which the local community is dependent are limited to the weekly marketplace and foreign tourism. While urban life is divided by neighbourhoods, the local community leaders play a major role in the city’s decisions. The city has no proper sanitation system and waste waters flow in the middle of the tiny streets before reaching the Bani River, causing major environmental hazards. Solid waste is being accumulated on the shores of the river, forming a fill on top of which the poorest segment of the population has settled.
The Mosque has been preserved till now thanks to the yearly community effort of maintenance coordinated by the barey-ton, the local corporation of traditional masons, holding technical capacities in earthen architecture but also considered to have magical powers.
In spite of its yearly maintenance campaigns, the Mosque was in poor condition in terms of structural load-bearing walls and the roof. Based on a full documentation via topographic and architectural surveys, a damage assessmentwas drafted. The project scope was to guarantee the stability of the building by consolidating the carpentry and wall-bearing system. The Mosque interior was also subject to full conservation including rehabilitation of the Mosque’s interior and exterior surfaces, eviction of the bats, and replacement of the defective sound, ventilation and lighting installations.
Due to a lack of qualified contractors for monument conservation in Djenné, the work was entirely in-house managed. This also enabled direct quality control, flexibility in resource allocation and on-the-job training in conservation methods to more than 120 community masons.
Jodido, Philip, ed. 2011. "Case Studies: Mali" In The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration. Munich: Prestel, 72-109.
The notion of culture as an asset rather than as a drain on resources is still a new concept in many parts of the world. Culture is considered a luxury in an era of unmet social and economic needs. The sad result is that both tangible and intangible cultures are succumbing to decay or decline. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme has shown how culture can be a catalyst for development in even the poorest and most remote areas of the globe. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Programme’s support to communities demonstrates how conservation of cultural heritage, coupled with urban regeneration efforts, can provide a springboard for social and economic development. This publication highlights, through case studies, drawings and images, the work of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme over the past 20 years.