UNESCO World Heritage Old Towns of Djenné: Raising Awareness to Combat Looting of Cultural Assets

The Mission Culturelle de Djenné protected the World Heritage Site from further looting through information campaigns and awareness-raising activities.

The programme

The aim of #SOSAfricanHeritage is to contribute to preserving independent and sustainable organisational structures at African World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves with the participation of civil society as well as to secure spaces dedicated to education for global citizenship, sustainability and cultural diversity.

All 22 projects

Located in the centre of Mali, Djenné is one of the oldest cities in sub-Saharan Africa and is known for its medieval clay architecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site "Old Towns of Djenné" includes the old town of Djenné as well as four archaeological sites in its surroundings. The ensemble with its impressive buildings made of clay is a highly representative example of Islamic architecture in sub-Saharan Africa. An architectural masterpiece is the city's Great Mosque, built entirely of clay, which has to be replastered after each rainy season.

One of the four archaeological sites in the vicinity of Djenné is Djenné-Djeno, where excavations have yielded evidence of a pre-Islamic culture dating back to the third century BC. Remains of traditional brick buildings, ancient burial vessels and an abundance of terracotta and metal artefacts make this an important archaeological site for studying the historical development of housing, industry and craft techniques in this part of Africa.

Restrictions due to the pandemic

Djenné-Djéno is, besides the Great Mosque of Djenné, the city's biggest tourist attraction. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of tourists visited the site every day. Due to the lockdown caused by the pandemic, Djenné-Djéno was heavily affected by looting. Looters took advantage of the absence of guards and tourists to conduct illegal excavations and stole numerous statuettes, burial vessels and pearls. The remaining cultural assets are also at risk due to insufficient maintenance and funding. Because of the limited resources available for the maintenance of the monuments, as well as ongoing looting, the Old Towns of Djenné have been inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger since 2016. With the pandemic, this situation had deteriorated massively due to the absence of tourists and the resulting shortfall in financial resources. 

Remedy through awareness-raising

With the help of the #SOSAfricanHeritage 2021 programme, the Mission Culturelle de Djenné strengthened the protection of the Site against looting. For this purpose, information signs and explanatory boards on the significance of the World Heritage Site were set up in Djenné. At the same time, cultural heritage experts raised awareness of World Heritage protection among the local population in workshops, via social networks and the radio. The primary target group of the workshops were local authorities, such as the community leaders of the individual districts of Djenné, the members of the management committee of the site as well as the Djenné Heritage Association.

The project was a continuation of the restoration work and protection measures in Djenné already carried out as part of the #SOSAfricanHeritage programme 2020.

The consortium

On the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut, an International Relief Fund was set up in summer 2020 to provide rapid support to cultural and educational organisations abroad during the COVID-19-pandemic. With its special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage, the German Commission for UNESCO is part of the Relief Fund consortium.

The project

  • Site: Djenné
  • Country: Mali
  • Type of Site: UNESCO World Heritage (cultural heritage)
  • Year of inscription: 1988


Website of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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