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.
"An Integrated Approach to Urban Rehabilitation", ed. Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2007.
Dedicated as it is to the in-depth rehabilitation of urban heritage in the Islamic World, the Historic Cities Programme (HCP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture deals with a complex reality. For historic cities harbour an important architectural legacy that goes well beyond the realm of “bricks and mortar”. Their monuments and their traditional urban patterns speak to us about the attitudes, the aspirations and the living conditions of past generations of human beings. That is how cities gain their symbolic dimension and how they are enabled to dispense cultural identity.
While the architectural shell, due to its material inertia, tends to resist the effects of time, the more volatile social realm is subject to changes and transformations that are not immediately refl ected in the built form containing it. It is this delayed interaction between physical structures and more intangible social, emotional and spiritual factors that makes interventions in historic cities particularly challenging, because once the delay leads to structural incongruence, remedial action is needed.