The Djingareyber Mosque is known to have been constructed in 1325 by the Andalusian architect Abou Ishak, at the initiative of King Hadj Moussa, upon his return from pilgrimage to Mecca. Since then the mosque has experienced a number of modifications, resulting from the organic nature of earthen architecture and its vulnerability to weathering. Archaeological test pits carried out in 2009 in the main prayer hall have shown that at least three successive buildings have occupied the site. The main earthen ornaments on the qibla wall and some pillars may date back to the sixteenth century. In 1988 the site was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, together with the city’s other two historic mosques, Sidi Yahya and Sankore.
The Mosque is located at the southern edge of Timbuktu’s historic city, forming the core of modern Timbuktu, the home of 30,000 inhabitants and capital city of Mali’s Northern Province. Lying at the meeting point between the Niger River Delta and the Sahara Desert, Timbuktu and the Sahelian environment is affected by growing desertification. Trees that used to form raw materials for the Mosque’s carpentry are no longer available. Wind erosion and accumulation of sand deposits in the city’s open spaces are also of concern for the integrity of the urban fabric and public open spaces.
Built in mud and tuff stone, Djingareyber Mosque was in poor condition when it was first documented by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in early 2007: a full topographic and architectural survey, first performed on the Mosque, was the basis for a damage assessment. It revealed that the building was in weak structural condition, particularly the roof and wall-bearing systems, due to water ingress in the roofing. This occurred because of defective slopes and accumulation of earth fill and the mediocre quality of local mud plasters due to the decline of familiarity with traditional crafts.
The project first focused on consolidating the mud masonry and carpentry, making the roofing watertight. Then the project aimed to conserve decorative earthen motifs and plastered surfaces in the interior spaces of the Mosque’s covered prayer hall and replace the defective sound, ventilation and lighting installations.
Timbuktu is a remote location posing challenging logistical conditions. Sourcing quality construction materials in the immediate environment is difficult due to the decline of appropriate mud construction techniques. Logistics and local transportation, combined with the lack of skilled mid-level labour and security threats, are also challenging. As a result, the work on Djingareyber Mosque was entirely in-house managed, employing traditional masons active in the neighbourhood’s corporation. This mode of operations also enabled direct quality control, flexibility in resource allocation and on-the-job training in traditional building crafts and contemporary conservation methods to more than 140 community masons and craftsmen. Literacy classes were offered to all implementation crew and foremen as well as training in basic computer skills.