UNESCO World Heritage Old Towns of Djenné: Renovation Work on Clay Mosque

Urgent repair measures at the Great Mosque of Djenné could finally be carried out by the Mission Culturelle de Djenné through the special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage. Now, the cultural heritage is restored to a good condition and traditional knowledge about the building techniques has been passed on.

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.

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Djenné is one of the most famous cities in the inland delta of the Niger and is the centre of medieval adobe architecture in the Upper Niger region. It is located 570km northeast of Bamako and is one of the oldest cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The site is an ensemble that for many years symbolised the typical African city. It is also particularly representative of Islamic architecture in the region.

The World Heritage Site is characterised by the remarkable use of clay. The Great Mosque of great monumental and religious value is an outstanding example of this. Due to a lack of resources for the maintenance of the buildings as well as ongoing predatory excavations, the sites of Djenné have been enlisted on the UNESCO list of World Heritage in Danger since 2016.

Restrictions due to the pandemic

The Great Mosque of Djenné has a variety of defects: The facades are partly eroded and cracked. The roofs have been weakened by rain. The plaster of the fence walls has been washed away. Minarets and corner ornaments are crumbling. The building materials of the staircase on the north side are weakened by age.

All these shortcomings pose a serious threat to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The renovation work planned by the Malian Ministry of Culture was abruptly halted this year due to the pandemic.

Remedy through alternative funding

With the funding from #SOSAfricanHeritage, the Mission Culturelle de Djenné was able to carry out the urgently needed renovation work on the mosque as originally planned. The work repaired cracks and filled voids, so the mosque is now in very good condition again. A large part of the local population was involved in the repair work, creating a platform for encounters and the mutual exchange of knowledge - and income. Older professionals experienced in masonry trained new workers in traditional clay construction techniques. For example, the community members involved learned that the traditional addition of shea butter greatly extends the durability of clay plaster. The exchange between the workers helped to reduce existing differences and to preserve cultural knowledge.

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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