THE GREAT MOSQUE in DJENNÉ The largest mosque in Mali is the Great Mosque of Djenné. Its majestic external view is worthy of surprise for architects from industrialized societies, stimulating with its ‘expressionist’ like appearance, that is, a formation similar to a handwrought clay figure completely different from modern buildings made by assemblage of industrial products. When looking at its plan, the surprise grows all the more. Everything is distorted; moreover the interior space is crammed with pillars.
Plan of the Great Mosque, Djenné ( from R. Bedaux, B. Diaby & P. Maas, “L’Architecture de Ddjenné” 2003 j
The mosque was constructed around 1280 in the time of the Mali Empire (the 13 ~ 16th centuries) by the 26th King of Djenné, Koy Konboro who had just converted to Islam. It is said that he tore down his old palace and built the mosque at that site. That earthen building seemed to have functioned for a long time until its demolition in the 19th century. In 1893 when the French army occupied Djenné, the mosque had already been ruined. The present mosque was reconstructed in 1907 with French assistance on the same site. Since they must have utilized the existing platform and basal part of the ruined mosque, its original plan is considered to have succeeded almost intact, while the reconstructed form of the upper part probably reflected the aesthetic sense of that age. The commander of the construction was the chief of the mason guild, Ismaila Traoré.
The mosque stands on a more than two-meter high platform in order to avoid damage on occasion of a flood of the surrounding river. This platform covering about 75m x 75m does not take a shape of a square but is distorted like a parallelogram. In response to that the plan of the mosque is also distorted and the shape of the courtyard is completely parallelogram. As there should not have been a difficulty of narrowness of the site such as in Cairo’s mosques since it faced an extensive square, this distortion seems to derive from immaturity of measurement skills. It is easy to draw parallel lines, while it might be difficult to make right angles on a large scale.
@ Model of Djenné’s Great Mosque, National Museum in Bamako Though its composition < worship room + courtyard > is the same as that in village mosques, the gap between their scales has brought various differences. First of all the enclosure of the courtyard at the Great Mosque is not simple walls but cloisters, the west part of which is applied to women’s worship space. As the direction of Macca (Mecca) is east of Mali, three Mihrabs are settled on Qibla wall (nevertheless they are not large enough to form independent rooms as in Spain). The erection of a tower over each Mihrab by a successor of Koy Konboro thus engendered ‘Three-tower type’ mosque, quintessential in Malian mosques, like ‘Three-dome type’ in India. The east side of the Great Mosque is an extensive square, where a huge renowned market is traditionally held every Monday. That location gave a front character to the mosque’s east side that is originally a backside. The mosque flaunts its decorative ‘Three-tower type’ appearance to the crowd in the market.
The decorations are horn like protrusions that are set not only on each corner but also on top of the outer walls continuously, three towers divided in three tiers having a horn protruding on each corner as well, and palm wood sticks (Toron) half embedded and rhythmically arranged on the wall surfaces. These sticks are needed on higher positions for the function of scaffolding on occasion of replastering the whole surface of the Great Mosque once a year. Therefore it was not necessarily required at lower positions, but gradually these sticks have come to be used as decorative elements even for low-rise mosques. Apart from them strangely there is no calligraphy, Muqarnas, floral or vegetal ornaments, nor geometric embellishments, which are standard decorations for Islamic architecture in the world.
______ Towers, Collapse, and Interior of the Great Mosque in Djenné Djenné’s oblong worship room of 50m x 26m approximately in area is the exact opposite of Turkish type mosque, a worship room of which looks like a cosmic space covered by an enormous dome. 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.
Even if this worship hall sounds quite strange for people who are used to seeing spacious worship halls, from a pracdtical standpoint it is possible to function as a mosque. As Muslims worship God standing side by side in lines parallel to the Qibla wall even at congregational prayers on Friday, there is no hindrance as far as the arcades stand parallel to the Qibla wall at regular intervals affording the followers space to prostrate themselves in lines (never in columns), although it is a defect that attendants cannot look at the Imam (worship leader) and it is a little hard to hear his preach.
@ @ Plan and Interior of Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cariro When it comes to the origin of this plan, it is likely that it was the oldest existing mosque in Egypt, Ibn Tulun Mosque (876-879). When the Abbasid general Ahmad Ibn Tulun dispatched from Baghdad conquered Egypt, he inaugurated his own Tulun Dynasty (868-905) and erected the Great Mosque in Cairo, introducing brick construction technology from his homeland (although there existed a tradition of stone structures in Egypt). The mosque’s plan was the Arabic type that would become a model for later Egyptian mosques. It was presumably brought to Mali through the pilgrimage route to Macca, or an architect might have been invited from Cairo.
In spite of baked brick construction instead of sun-dried bricks, still thick columns stand densely in Ibn Tulun Mosque compared to stone mosques because of the early stage of Islamic architecture. In addition to that, surrounded with an outer enclosed yard (Ziyada) that could correspond to Djenné’s platform, arranging arcades of pointed arches in parallel to the Qibla wall, and surrounding courtyard with galleries, it is apparent that the principles of Ibn Tulun’s plan have been passed on to Djenné’s Great Mosque. Since the arcades are basically disposed in a right angle to Qibla wall in Maghreb and Spain since Cordoba’s Mezquita, it cannot be said that this plan was brought from Morocco.
Built of earth, the pointed arches of Djenné’s arcades are narrowed more than Cairo’s to avoid collapse, causing strong vertical impression on its interior space with a high ceiling. One cannot see, apart from the sphere of earth culture, such sort of mosques consisting of rows of longitudinal passage-like space only. Unlike Ibn Tulun Mosque, Malians have not erected independent minarets but utilized the towers above mihrabs for the roll, as before mentioned.