Djenne: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Djenné is located in Mali
Coordinates: 13°54′N 4°33′W / 13.9°N 4.55°W / 13.9; -4.55
Country  Mali
Region Mopti Region
Cercle Djenné
Population (1987)
 - Total 12,000

Djenné (also Dienné or Jenne) is a historically and commercially important small town in the Inland Niger Delta of central Mali. It has an ethnically diverse population of about 12,000 (in 1987). The town is famous for its mud brick (adobe) architecture, most notably the Great Mosque which was built in 1907 on the site of an earlier mosque. In the past, Djenné was a centre of trade and learning. It is one of the oldest known cities in sub-Saharan Africa and its historic town center was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. Administratively it is part of the Mopti Region.



Djenné is situated 398 km (247 mi) north-east of Bamako and 76 km (47 mi) south-west of Mopti. The town sits on the floodplain between the Niger and Bani rivers at the southern end of the Inland Niger Delta. It has an area of around 70 ha and during the annual floods becomes an island that is accessed by a causeway. The Bani river is only 5 km (3.1 mi) south of the town and is crossed by ferry.



The weather is hot and dry throughout much of the year. Average daily maximum temperatures in the hottest months of the year - April and May are around 40°C. Temperatures are slightly cooler, though still very hot, from June through September, when practically all of the annual rainfall occurs. Only the winter months of December and January have average daily maximum temperatures below 32°C. Between December and March the warm dry north-easterly Harmattan wind blows from the Sahara. When it blows strongly the dust-laden wind reduces visibility and creates a persistent haze. The annual rainfall is around 550 mm but varies greatly from year to year. August is normally the wettest month.[1]

Annual flood

In Djenné the annual flood produced by Bani and Niger rivers begins in July and reaches a maximum in October. During this period Djenné becomes an island and the Souman-Bani channel which passes just to the east of the town fills and connects the Bani and Niger rivers. The year to year variation in the height of the flood leads to a large variation in the area of land that is flooded. This has important consequences for the local agriculture. The drought that began in the early 1970s resulted in a big reduction in the volume of water flowing in the Niger and Bani rivers. The effect on the Bani was particularly severe as the reduction in flow was much greater than the reduction in rainfall. The annual discharge of the river has not yet returned to the volumes experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.[2] It is only during the flood season (mid-July till December) that the Bani river between Djenné and Mopti is easily navigable. At other times of the year, sandbars lie very close to the water surface. René Caillié made the journey to Mopti in a small boat in March 1828 and was "obliged several times to unload the vessel in order to pass over sandbanks."[3]

Talo dam

A house in Djenné with a Toucouleur-style facade. From a postcard by Edmond Fortier published in 1906.

In 2006 the Talo Dam was constructed on the Bani River to irrigate parts of the floodplain near the town of San. The dam is located 43 km west of San and 110 km upstream from Djenné.[4] The dam functions as a weir in that water can flow over the top of the retaining wall. The construction of the dam was highly controversial.[5][6] The environmental impact assessment commissioned by the African Development Bank[7] was criticised for not fully taking into account the hydrological impact downstream of the dam.[8] The 0.18 km3 of water retained by the dam represents 1.3% of the average annual discharge of the river (the average for the period 1952-2002 is 13.4 km3).[9][10] From the published information it is unclear how much of the total discharge will be diverted for irrigation and, of the diverted water, how much will drain back into the river. The downstream effect of the dam will be to delay the arrival of the annual flood and to reduce its intensity.

Djenné Dam

In May 2009 the African Development Bank approved funding for an irrigation dam/weir to be built on the Bani near Soala, a village situated 12 km south of Djenné.[11][12] The dam is one element in a 6 year 33.6 billion CFA franc (66 million USD) program that also includes the building of a dam on the Sankarani River near Kourouba and the extension of the area irrigated by the Talo dam. The proposed Djenné dam will retain 0.3 km3 of water, significantly more than the Talo dam.[13] It will allow the "controlled flooding" of 14,000 ha of the Pondori floodplain (on the left bank of the river to the south of Djenné) to allow the cultivation of rice and the irrigation of an additional 5000 ha for growing 'floating grass' (Echinochloa stagnina know locally as bourgou) for animal feed.


Houses in Djenné with Toucouleur-style facades. From a postcard by Edmond Fortier published in 1906.

The town was originally situated 2.5 km south-east of its present position at a site known as Jenné-jeno or Djoboro.[14] The results from archaeological excavations suggest that Jenné-jeno was first settled around 200 BC and had developed into a large walled urban complex by 850 AD.[15][16] After about 1100 AD the population of the town declined and by 1400 the site had been abandoned. Many smaller settlements within a few kilometres of Jenné-jeno also appear to have been abandoned around this date. Preliminary archaeological excavations at sites within modern Djenné indicate that the present town was first settled after 1000 AD.[17]

During the fourteenth century the trans-Sahara trade in gold, salt and slaves grew in importance and moved eastwards from Oualata to Timbuktu.[18] The first possible mention of Djenné in the historical record is in connection with this trans-Saharan trade. In a letter written in Latin in 1447 by Antonio Malfante from the Saharan oasis of Tuwat to a merchant in Genoa, Malfante reports on what he had learnt from an informant about the trans-Saharan trade. He lists several 'states' including one called 'Geni' and describes the Niger River "Through these lands flows a very large river, which at certain times of the year inundates all these lands. This river passes by the gates of Thambet [Timbuktu]. ... There are many boats on it, by which they carry on trade."[19]

Djenné probably had a tribute-paying fiefdom status during the time of the Mali empire (mid 13th to early 15th century). Seventeenth century indigenous Arabic chronicles give different accounts of the status of the town. Al-Sadi in his Tarikh al-Sudan claims that the Malians attacked the town ninety-nine times but that Djenné was never conquered[20] while the other major chronicle, the Tarikh al-fattash, describes the chief of Djenné as a humble vassal of the Malian emperor.[21]

The town was conquered by Sonni Ali (reigned 1464-1492) during his expansion of the Songhai Empire. According to al-Sadi, the siege of Djenné lasted 7 months and 7 days and culminated in the surrender of the town and the death of the chief.[22] The chief's widow then married Sonni Ali, and peace was restored.

The town is mentioned by Leo Africanus in his Descrittione dell’Africa published in 1550.[23] He had visited Mali with an uncle in around 1510. He describes Djenné as a village with houses constructed of clay with straw roofs. He mentions an abundance of barley, rice, livestock, fish and cotton and also the importance of trade with north Africa in which merchants exported cotton and imported European cloth, copper, brass, and arms. In the trade with Timbuktu merchants visited during the annual flood using small narrow canoes. Unstamped gold was used for coinage.

In 1591, Moroccan forces conquered the town after destroying the Songhai's hold in the region. By the 17th century Djenné had become a thriving centre of trade and learning. Al-Sadi describes the town in 1655, 70 years after the Moroccan conquest:

Jenne is one of the great markets of the Muslims. Those who deal in salt from the mine of Taghaza meet there with those who deal in gold from the mine of Bitu. ... This blessed city of Jenne is the reason why caravans come to Timbuktu from all quarters-north, south, east and west. Jenne is situated to the south and west of Timbuktu beyond the two rivers. When the river is in flood, Jenne becomes an island, but when the flood abates the water is far from it. It begins to be surrounded by water in August, and in February the water recedes again.[24]

A house in Djenné. From Timbuctoo: the Mysterious by Félix Dubois published in 1896.

The town changed hands several times. Djenné was part of the Segou kingdom from 1670 to 1818 and the Massina Empire under the Fulani ruler Seku Amadu between 1818 and 1861. In 1828 the French explorer René Caillié became the first European to visit Djenné. He published a detailed description:

The town of Jenné is about two miles and half in circumference; it is surrounded by a very ill constructed earth wall, about ten feet high, and fourteen inches thick. There are several gates, but they are all small. The houses are built of bricks dried in the sun. The sand of the isle of Jenné is mixed with a little clay, and it is employed to make bricks of a round form which are sufficiently solid. The houses are as large as those of European villages. The greater part have only one story ... They are all terraced, have no windows externally, and the apartments receive no air except from an inner court. The only entrance, which is of ordinary size, is closed by a door made of wooden planks, pretty thick, and apparently sawed. The door is fastened on the inside by a double iron chain, and on the outside by a wooden lock made in the country. Some however have iron locks. The apartments are all long and narrow. The walls, especially the outer, are well plastered with sand, for they have no lime. In each house there is a staircase leading to the terrace; but there are no chimneys, and consequently the slaves cook in the open air.[25]

In 1861 the town became part of theToucouleur Empire under Umar Tall and then in April 1893 French forces under the command of Louis Archinard conquered the town.[26] The French chose to make Mopti the regional capital and as a result the relative importance of Djenné declined.


A street scene in Djenné from Timbuctoo: the Mysterious by Félix Dubois published in 1896.

Djenné is famous for its Sudanese-style architecture. Many of the buildings in the town, including the Great Mosque, are made from sun-baked mud bricks with a mud based mortar and are coated with a mud plaster.

The traditional flat roofed two-story houses are built around a small central courtyard and have imposing facades with pilaster like buttresses and an elaborate arrangement of pinnacles forming the parapet above the entrance door.[27] The facades are decorated with bundles of rodier palm (Borassus aethiopum) sticks, called toron, that project about 60 cm from the wall. The toron also serve as readymade scaffolding.[28]

Some of the houses built before 1900 are in the Toucouleur-style and have a massive covered entrance porch set between two large buttresses. These houses generally have a single small window onto the street set above the entrance door. Many of the more recent two story houses are in the Moroccan-style and have small ornate windows but lack the covered entrance porch.

The sun-dried bricks are made on the river bank using a wooded mold and a mixture of mud and chopped straw. They are typical 36 x 18 x 8 cm in size and when laid are separated by 2 cm of mortar.[29] Up to the 1930's hand molded cylindrical bricks were used called djenné-ferey. All the brickwork is covered with a protective layer of plaster consisting of a mixture of mud and rice husks.

Between 1996 and 2003 the Dutch government funded a project to restore around 100 of the more monumental houses in the town.[30][31] For some houses the restoration work involved little more than replastering the facade while for others the restoration involved demolition and rebuilding. The total cost was 430 million FCFA (655,000 Euro).[32]

In the early 1980's foreign aid organizations funded a system to supply drinking water to both public taps and private homes. However, no wastewater disposal system was installed at the time and, as a result, wastewater was discharged into the streets. This was both unsightly and unhygienic. Between 2004 and 2008 the German government funded a project to construct gravel filled trenches outside each home to allow the wastewater to infiltrate the soil.[33] By 2008 1,880 homes had been provided with these local infiltration systems.[34]

Great Mosque

In 1906 the French colonial administration arranged for the present Great Mosque to be built on the site of an earlier mosque. Different views have been expressed as to what extent the design was influenced by the colonial administration. The journalist Félix Dubois revisited the town in 1910 and was horrified by what he considered to be a French design[35] while Jean-Louis Bourgeois has argued that the French had little influence except perhaps for the internal arches and that the design is "basically African".[36]


Old Towns of Djenné*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Great Mosque of Djenné
State Party  Mali
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Reference 116
Region** Africa
Inscription history
Inscription 1988  (12th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Although Djenné had been an important commercial and trading centre, in the 20th century commerce declined due to the relatively isolated position of the town. The local economy is now mainly based on agriculture, fishing and livestock[37] and is therefore very dependent on the annual rainfall and flooding of the Niger and Bani rivers. As a consequence, the severe drought that began in the late 1970's caused great hardship in the already impoverished town.

The town is a centre of Islamic scholarship and the many Quranic schools attract students from outside the region.

Tourism is an important part of the local economy particularly in the dryer cooler winter months between November and March. Most tourists visit the Monday market and only spend one night in the town. In 2005, there were 15,000 tourist arrivals, producing an estimated revenue of 450 million CFA francs. In the circle of Djenné, there are 8 licensed hotels and guest-houses with a total of 256 beds, generating 57 direct jobs.[38]

The town has received significant quantities of foreign aid with many countries contributing. The Canadian government helped fund a system to provide drinking water, the Dutch government funded a project to restore and plaster some of the old mud-brick buildings and the German government funded a scheme to improve the sanitation. Repairs to the mosque have been funded by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.[39]


The main attractions are the Great Mosque and the two story mud houses with their monumental facades. The best known house is that of the Maiga family who supply the town's tradition chief. This old building with its Toucouleur-style entrance porch is in the Algasba district on the eastern side of the town. René Caillé visited the house in 1828.[40] Other attractions include the tomb of Tupama Djenepo, who in legend was sacrificed on the founding of the city, and the remains of Jenné-Jeno, a major city from the 3rd century BC until the 13th century. Less attractive are the piles of rubbish and plastic bags that litter the perimeter of the town.

The weekly Monday market, when buyers and sellers converge on the town from the surrounding regions, is a key tourist attraction. There is also a daily (women's) market that takes place in a courtyard opposite the mosque.

Approximately eight hours by road from Bamako, the coaches to Mopti drop off passengers at the crossroads 29 km from Djenné. It is here that the 1000 CFA franc tourist tax is collected (price in 2009).

The great mosque is out of bounds for non-Muslim tourists.


The inhabitants of Djenné mostly speak a Songhay variety termed Djenné Chiini, but the languages spoken also reflect the diversity of the area. The villages around it variously speak Bozo, Fulfulde, or Bambara.


  1. ^ Climatological statistics are available for the neighbouring town of Mopti: Weather Information for Mopti, World Weather Information Service,, retrieved 22-Feb-2010 .
  2. ^ Zwarts, van Beukering & Kone 2005, p. 270 Table I.1
  3. ^ Caillié 1830, p. 2 Vol. 2
  4. ^ The Talo dam is located at 13°16′39″N 5°17′34″W / 13.2774°N 5.2929°W / 13.2774; -5.2929.
  5. ^ Meieorotto 2009
  6. ^ Willis, Ben (2008), "Village of the dammed", Geographical (London),, retrieved 3-Mar-2010 
  7. ^ Moyen Bani plains development program: Summary of the environmental impact assessment, African Development Fund, 1997, 
  8. ^ Fisher, Meierotto & Russel 2001
  9. ^ A flow of 1 m3/s corresponds to 0.0316 km3 per year. 424 m3/s is equivalent to 13.4 km3/y
  10. ^ Politique National de l'eau, République du Mali, Ministère des Mines, de l’énergie et de l’eau: Direction National de l'Hydraulique, 2006,, retrieved 27-Feb-2010 
  11. ^ The village of Saola is located on the left back of the Bani at 13°47′54″N 4°31′54″W / 13.79824°N 4.531775°W / 13.79824; -4.531775
  12. ^ Mali: 33.6 billion FCFA and an additional 76.2 billion FCFA for the development of irrigation, African Development Bank, 2009,, retrieved 4-Mar-2010 
  13. ^ Mali: Irrigation Development Programme - Phase I, Summary Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, African Development Bank, 2008,, retrieved 4-Mar-2010 
  14. ^ McIntosh & McIntosh (1981) provide a brief history of Djenné up to the 19th century and summarise the available historical sources.
  15. ^ Results of archaeological excavations at Jenné-jeno are described in McIntosh & McIntosh (1981) and McIntosh (1995).
  16. ^ For a discussion on the errors associated with radiocarbon dating see McIntosh (1995, p. 59).
  17. ^ McIntosh & McIntosh 2004
  18. ^ Levtzion 1973, pp. 80,158
  19. ^ Crone 1937, p. 87-88
  20. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 16
  21. ^ Kâti 1913, p. 65, Levtzion 1973, p. 82 and McIntosh 1998, p. 274
  22. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 20
  23. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 277-278
  24. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 17-18
  25. ^ Caillié 1830, p. 459, Vol. 1
  26. ^ de Gramont 1976, p. 260
  27. ^ Mass & Mommersteeg 1992, p. 79; Bedaux , Diaby & Mass 2003, p. 19; Marchand 2009, pp. 88, 127, 221
  28. ^ Mass & Mommersteeg 1992, p. 78; Marchand 2009, p. 217
  29. ^ Marchand 2009, pp. 39-42
  30. ^ Bedaux , Diaby & Mass 2003, has photos and plans of the restored houses.
  31. ^ Chabbi-Chemrouk, Naïma (2007), Conservation of Djenné : On site review report, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 
  32. ^ Bedaux , Diaby & Mass 2003, p. 52
  33. ^ Alderlieste & Langeveld 2005; Bedaux, Diaby & Maas 2003, pp. 67-69
  34. ^ Informations n° 17, automne 2004: L’assainissement de la ville de Djenné : où en est le projet KfW ?, Djenné Patrimoine, 
  35. ^ Dubois 1911, p. 189
  36. ^ Bourgeois 1987, p. 58
  37. ^ Mass & Mommersteeg 1992, pp. 30-31
  38. ^ Doumbia, Youssouf (2010), Tourisme à Djenné: choyer la poule aux œufs d’or, L'Essor,, retrieved 20-Feb-2010 
  39. ^ Aga Khan Trust for Culture leading reconstruction works in Djennè, Ismaili Mail,, retrieved 21-Feb-2010 
  40. ^ Bedaux, Diaby & Mass 2003, pp. 98-99


Further reading

  • Bedaux, R.M.A.; van der Waals, J.D., eds. (1994), Djenné: une ville millénaire au Mali, Leiden: Rijksmuseum voor Volkenhunde, ISBN 90-71310-58-2 
  • Gardi, Bernard; Maas, Pierre; Mommersteeg, Geert (1995), Djenné, il y a cent ans, Amsterdam: Institute Royal des Tropiques, ISBN 90-6832-250-8 . Reproduces postcards and photographs dating from the early years of the 20th century.
  • Mommersteeg, Geert (2009), Dans la cité des marabouts: Djenné, Mali, Cohendy, Mireille trans., Brinon-sur-Sauldre, France: Grandvaux, ISBN 978-290955063-3 .
  • Prussin, Labelle (1986), Hatumere: Islamic design in West Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0520030044 .

External links

Coordinates: 13°54′20″N 4°33′18″W / 13.90556°N 4.555°W / 13.90556; -4.555

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Djenné article)

From Wikitravel

The city's 'great mosque', which is a popular tourist attraction
The city's 'great mosque', which is a popular tourist attraction
Djenné is a city in Mali, famous for its mosque, which is the biggest mudbrick building in the world. As of 1987, the city had a population of 12,000. it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO say on its website that "Djenné became a market centre and an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade."

Get in

The best day to find transport to Djenné is Monday - market day - when many minibuses and bush taxis make their way to the town. Otherwise you may need to take transport to the Djenné junction on the main Bamako-Mopti road, and wait for further transport to Djenné.

Get around

For traveling short distances walking may be the best method as it allows you to appreciate the scenery and look at the mud based architecture in the city.

When the river is high, you can take a pinasse to nearby Fula villages.

  • The Great Mosque. This is the main tourist attraction in the city. It is what made the city a UNESCO heritage site. (13.906389,4.555) edit
  • Market. On Monday, the Grand Market assembles -- and quite a incredible spectacle it is too!  edit
  • Le Campement, (North of the Grand Mosque). The menu du jour here is 4000CFA - but it is mediocre.  edit
  • Le Campement, (North of the Grand Mosque). The rooms here are decent enough and well-priced at 10000CFA.  edit
  • Hotel Djenne, Doteme Tolo. This is a newly built hotel that includes a restaurant $69.  edit
  • Djenne Djenno, Outside of the city (walking distance), [1]. Very nicely decorated hotel 25000CFA.  edit

Get out

On Tuesday morning there is a minibus to Bamako leaving at around 7:30 (7500CFA). (It may operate other mornings, too - I have no idea.)

Otherwise, for westbound destinations you can get a minibus headed for Sevare and get off at the junction with the main road (2500CFA), where frequent buses run to Sissako and Bamako.

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