The largest earthen building in the world: The Great Mosque, Djenné


This is the Great Mosque in Djenné, Mali. It is the largest mud brick (adobe) building in the world. Djenné is a small adobe built town on the floodplain between the Niger and Bani rivers. During the rainy season, the two rivers overflow turning the town into an island that is accessed by causeways. The Mosque it is built on a raised platform of mud bricks protecting it from the most severe floods.






The walls of the Mosque vary in thickness between 40-60cm (16-24 inches), depending on their height. These massive walls are necessary in order to carry the weight of the tall structure, much the same as the walls of Shibam. High up in the building bundles of rodier palm (below left) provide footholds for plastering after the rainy season when the whole community (below right) get together in a festival to repair the Mosque's walls. The mud used for the adobe bricks and plaster comes from the Niger River. The mud is mixed with rice husks and straw and fermented for a month when it becomes very tough, viscous and rain resistant.

During the day the walls of the Mosque gradually warm up and then radiate their stored energy during the night. This keeps the interior of the mosque cool all day long. The Mosque has roof vents with ceramic caps that can be removed at night to ventilate the interior. It has three towers, each 11m (36ft) high topped with an ostrich egg symbolizing fertility and purity.

The first Mosque in Djenné was built in 1240 by the sultan Koi Kunboro. A second mosque was built in the 1830's leaving the first to fall into disrepair. The present mosque was built in 1906-7 on the ruined floor plan of the original 13th century mosque. The adobe town of Djenné was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.







Mud is also used in Djenné to decorate cloth. Bogolan cloth, meaning 'made from mud', originated in Djenné. River mud is used to paint cotton fabric which has been dyed with local vegetable dyes. The Bogolan technique of dyeing and printing cotton is entirely natural and environmentally friendly using dried leaves and tree bark. Traditionally the textile is made using narrow strips of cotton cloth woven on looms in the villages around Djenné. The strips are then sewn together by hand to produce a fabric wide enough to make into clothing. This base fabric on which the designs will be painted is first dyed either a rich red by boiling the cloth with tree bark, or yellow by soaking the cloth with dried pounded leaves. Once the fabric is dyed it is painted with Niger mud which reacts with the natural dyes producing a rich black when it has been washed and dried. MaliMali, a company supporting traditional crafts in Djenné, makes textiles and clothing using traditional natural dyes and the Bogolan technique.