Old Towns of Djenné
Old Towns Of Djenné
Cultural Mali Africa DjennéCircle, Region Of Mopti

Djenné-Djeno, along with Hambarketolo, Tonomba and Kaniana, bears exceptional witness to the pre-Islamic civilizations on the inland delta of the Niger. Djennéis an outstanding example of an architectural group of buildings illustrating a significant historic period. It has been defined both as 'the most beautiful city of Africa' and 'the typical African city'.

The annual flooding by the Niger and its tributaries is an essential natural phenomenon in both the region of Djennéand the whole inland delta area. The floods cover all but a few hillocks;these are called toguère. Excavations carried out in 1977-81 on the toguère of Djenné-Djeno, in the flood basin of the Bani, 3 km south-east of Djenné, produced evidence of continuous human occupation from 250 BC to the 14th century.

Several phases of occupation were brought to light. There was a pre-urban phase, when the Bozo people made their living from fishing and growing rice. An urbanization phase was probably due to the Nono people. Under Nono merchants the city quickly became a market centre and a hub in the trans-Saharan gold trade, which began in the 9th or 10th centuries in western Africa in answer to Muslim demand. The discovery of many domestic structures (walls, houses, the remains of ovens) and a wealth of metal and terracotta artefacts make Djenné-Djeno a major archaeological site for the study of the evolution of dwellings, industrial and craft techniques, and the spread of Islam.

The discovery of organic remains, among which were a large number of African rice grains, shed much light on how the cultivation of rice developed. Other toguères, such as at Hambarketolo, Tonomba and Kaniana, revealed important discoveries. All these tels, which were a natural refuge from the flood waters, are potential archaeological sites and on that basis deserve to be protected.

In the 14th century Djenné-Djeno was abandoned in favour of Djenné, which had been inhabited since the 11th century. The story of the sacrifice of atonement of a young girl, Tepama, who was walled up alive in order to ensure the town's prosperity, must be placed in the religious context of a time when animistic beliefs and fetishism had not yet given way to Islam. Introduced by Marka merchants, Islam did not take hold until the end of the 13th century when the sultan Koumboro was converted. He abandoned his palace and turned it into Djenné's first mosque;it was destroyed in 1830.

Like Timbuktu, Djennéenjoyed its golden age during the 15th and 16th centuries. At that time it was a major centre for the spread of Islam. Taken first by the Moroccans in 1591, and subsequently by the Peulhs in 1810, the Toucouleurs in 1862, and finally by the French colonial troops in 1893, Djennédid not undergo any other period of major development until Mali won its independence. The colonial period left deep traces on the city, notably through the reconstruction in 1906-7 of the Great Mosque. However, this monument, which was built for 3,000 worshippers, is a fairly successful pastiche of local religious architecture.

The city of Djenné, which spreads over several toguère, is bisected by a wide avenue. On the south is the Market Place dominated by the Great Mosque. Extending out from both sides of this thoroughfare, over an ancient land parcel of about 20 ha, are about 1,850 traditional houses (1982 figure). The main feature of the domestic architecture, influenced by that of Morocco, is its verticality. Buttresses punctuate the facades of the two-storey houses whose entrances are always given special attention.

Beyond this historic nucleus are contemporary buildings, dating from successive extensions of the city limits. Special mention should be made of the ports of Djenné(of which there are 17), particularly the one at Bambana, where pirogues from Timbuktu would tie up.