The Old Towns of Djenné comprise the city of Djenné with its typical architecture and the archeological sites of four pre-islamic towns. These are Djenne-Djeno, Hambarketolo, Tonomba and Kaniana
Djenn;e is situated on an island in the Bani-river, in central Mali. It was a prospering city from the 14th til the 16th century, when it acted as an important station on the Trans-Sahara route.
In the 13th century, the ruler of that time built an enormous mosque of clay. That same building was still intact in the 19th century, after that it fell into decay. In the 20th century it was rebuilt. Every year, the mosque has to be replastered to prevent it from falling apart. This occurs in a festival-like event in Spring, and is carried out with help of many of the citizens of Djenné.
Visit October 1999
Quite a lot of tourists visit Djenné, especially because of its famous mosque. However, the old two-storey houses in town are also very worth while.
When you roam around the streets, the first thing that strikes you is the stench: the preservation of this worldheritage has reached so far that it is not allowed to construct modern sewerage.
Solivagant - January 2006
The UNESCO web site is even less informative about the inscribed elements of Djenne than it usually is and I have not even managed to access the “Advisory Body Evaluation”. The title is for the “Old TownS” (plural) but exactly what this includes is not made clear. The famous mud-covered mosque is clearly covered together with the extant surrounding townscape. Whether however the older town of Jenne-Jeno a few kilometres away, and now just an archaeological site, is included I don’t know for certain (though I am reasonably sure it is). Yet this is the more important site historically and it is certainly not on Mali’s Tentative list as a separate entry. It’s most important period straddles AD400 – AD1300 after which the newly converted population moved the short distance to the new Islamic city of Djenne..
There is, in truth, not a lot to see at the archaeological site other than to gain an impression of its size, its walls and its many houses but, whilst you are in the area, it is worth the trip to see the site of what might well be the oldest city south of the Sahara.
As for “modern” Djenne. If you go to Mali you are unlikely to miss it so there is no need really to “sell” it as a destination. The current mosque is in fact a relatively recent building (1905) but has become an African icon. It is very photogenic from many viewpoints – primarily from the main square and the houses which line it and allow tourists upstairs for a better view but also from more distant glimpses around the town (photo). As a tourist you will not be allowed into it however – “legend” has it that this is in response to the indecent cavortings of models during the production of a Pirelli calendar a few years ago (the Mosque in Timbuctoo can still be visited by non-Muslims). The town of Djenne is an island and there are some pleasant walks and views of locals going about their business to be had. The town’s main negative when we were there a few years ago is the surprising lack of a hotel of even reasonable quality and cleanliness considering the relative popularity of the town.
Share your experiences!
Have you been to Djenné? Click here to add your own review.
Full name: Old Towns of Djenné
2016 - In DangerDue to insecurity in the area
1988 - InscribedReasons for inscription
1981 - DeferredAt Bureau - need info on protection
1980 - Deferred
The site has 18 connections. Show all
- Hypostyle Great Mosque - "Djenné's mosque is just an extreme sample of Arabic type hypostyle mosque in contrast, making as many as ninety thick pillars of earth stand densely, causing impossibility to get even a penetrating view of the interior space. Standing up many columns together is a fate for the erection of a grand hall with a flat roof without using a dome structure. Since Djenné's mosque is made of earth, the pillars had to be much bulkier than stone columns." See -
- Tell From AB evaluation "The floods cover all but some hillocks; these are called toguere.....All these tells, which were a natural refuge from the flood waters, are potential archaeological sites and on that basis deserve to be protected." This refers to the Toguere of Djenne-Djeno and "Other toguere, such as at Hambarketolo, Tonomba and Kaniana..."
- Historical Food Remains 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 (AB evaluation).
- Songhai Empire Existed as an independent city state outside the Mali Empire until captured by the Songhai Empire in 1473 after a siege reputed to have lasted 7 months and 7 days
- Trans Saharan trade routes "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 century in western Africa in answer to Muslim demand." (AB)
Religion and Belief
- Legends and Folk Myths 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. (AB ev)
- Mosque Great Mosque (made of mud) - originating from 1300, rebuilt in 1907/9 - Sunni
- Built in the 15th century "In the 14th C Jenne-jaro was abandoned in favour of Djenne... (which) enjoyed 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, Djenné did not undergo any other period of major development until Mali won its independence" (AB)
- Built in the 3rd century BC "Djenné-Jéno, the original site of Djenne is considered to be among the oldest urbanized centers in sub-Saharan Africa ...and has been dated to the 3rd century BC". It had developed into a large walled urban complex by 850 AD, but after 1100 AD the population of the town declined and by 1400 the site had been abandoned. (Wiki)
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process
- Inscribed at third attempt or more Def 1980, Def 1981, Ins 1988