Cultural Heritage of Mali

Moulaye Coulibaly, National Director of Cultural Heritage and lecturer in cultural heritage management at the University Institute for Territorial Development of Bamako.

Mali is a country steeped in history and culture. It owes it to a long human occupation since the Upper Paleolithic, as well as to the existence of political entities as diverse as the Great Sudanese kingdoms (Ghana, Mali and Songhoy) and many states including the Bamanan kingdoms of Ségou and Kaarta, the Toucouleur and Fulani theocracies, the kingdoms of Wassoulou and Kénédougou, and of course the colonial period from the end of the 19th century.

This continuous presence of man has left many physical evidences (archaeological sites, historical monuments, places of memory, elements of earthen architecture composed of prestigious mosques, cultural landscapes, cultural routes) as well as a myriad of practices, products of human creativity (cults, rituals and festivals, cosmogonies, etc.) which punctuate the life of the different communities and translate their beliefs and visions of the world. Among the typologies of tangible cultural heritage, we can note the prestigious mosques of Djenné and Timbuktu.

The mosque of Djenne
First built in 1280 by the 26th King of Djenne, Koy Komboro, the current mosque was built between 1906 and 1907 identically, on the ruins of the old mosque.
The mosque belongs to the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style with a qibla wall to the east, facing Mecca, the mosque has a covered prayer space, about 50 m by 26 m, an interior courtyard, 104 ventilation holes on the roof, the mosque influenced the construction techniques of many earthen mosques in Mali. Its dimensions are: length: 85 m, width: 65m, ceiling height: 8 m, total floor area: 6,375 m², height of the central minaret: 18m, number of pillars: 90. This mosque is part of the “Ancient cities of Djenne ”, classified by the national cultural heritage by Decree n ° 92-245 / P-RM of December 18, 1992 and registered since 1988 on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The mosques of Timbuktu
The famous mosques of Timbuktu (Djingareyber, Sankore, Sidi Yahia) and the 16 mausoleums scattered around the old town and in the cemeteries constitute the most eloquent witnesses of the cultural influence of the city during the 15th and 16th centuries. They were classified as national cultural heritage by Decree No. 92-245 / P-RM of 18 December 1992 and since 1988 registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List for their outstanding universal value.

Built in 1325 by the poet Abu Ishaq Es Saheli of Granada, Djingareyber collapsed and was rebuilt several times (1507-1583, 1678, 1709 and 1736) according to the new developments of and uses of the sanctuary.

The Sankore Mosque was built around 1400, then completely demolished and rebuilt according to a new plan drawn up by the Cadi El'Aqib who, this time, gave the building the dimensions of the Kaaba in Mecca.

The Sidi Yahia mosque was built around 1440 AD. With the financial support of Mohamed Naddi, traditional chief of Timbuktu, who appointed his best friend Sidi Yehia as the first Imam. The structure has undergone significant modifications, in particular following its reconstruction in 1939, but the minaret still retains its original appearance.

The primary functions of all these mosques are symbolic, socio-cultural and utilitarian in order to be able to accommodate under suitable conditions Friday prayers and those on holidays and other solemn religious ceremonies. The annual plastering ceremonies provide an opportunity for a large popular gathering and the opportunity to express faith through a contribution in labor time or even financial, and to receive divine blessings. They also help to strengthen the bonds between members of the community around a single act and therefore play an important social role. These plastering’s also constitute a forum for dissemination and fruitful exchanges between the holders of traditional know-how in the field of earthen architecture.

All these mosques represent for the believers a unifying element and a mark of the Islamic Huma.


Moulaye Coulibaly

Holder of an MPhil in ethnology, from the State University of Saint Petersburg (Russia), Moulaye COULIBALY has successively held positions of responsibility for Cultural Heritage, Head of the “ethnographic heritage” division, Director National Deputy of Cultural Heritage / Ministry of Culture of Mali. Currently, he is currently the National Director of Cultural Heritage and lecturer in cultural heritage management at the University Institute for Territorial Development in Bamako. Between 1995 and 2019, he carried out several research missions on cultural heritage at national and international levels in conservation, promotion, enhancement and dissemination of elements of cultural heritage, monitoring and evaluation of cultural projects and implementation of national legal texts and international conventions governing cultural heritage. In 1994, he published Traditions et innovations dans la société bambara, Cercle de Ségou.

The Earthen Architecture Rehabilitation Programme in Mali

Christophe Bouleau, Senior Conservation Officer, Aga Khan Trust for Culture

A partnership between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Malian Ministry of Culture, the Earthen Architecture Rehabilitation Programme responded to the dilapidated condition of mud monuments. It included the following objectives:

• Preserve and rehabilitate significant heritage building in earth
• Reinforce the administrative and technical capacities of local civil servants
• Reinforce technical capacities and train building professionals, master masons, and craftsmen
• Disseminate knowledge on earthen architecture and heritage to raise awareness

The conservation programme adopted criteria and standards that are internationally accepted and sought to identify the best way in which these could be adapted to the conditions found in the Malian context.

Work started with the Mopti Komoguel Mosque in 2004 and demonstrated how a badly rehabilitated mosque with cement coating was to be fully restored using traditional techniques, returning integrity and durability to the building.

In 2007, the Timbuktu Djingarey Ber Mosque conservation was started. It was in poor condition when it was first documented, which revealed that the building was in weak structural condition, particularly the roof and wall bearing system. With local masons working with traditional methods, the restoration focused on consolidating the mud masonry and carpentry, making the roofing water-tight and conserving interior decorative earthen motives. Work was completed in 2010.

The Great Mosque of Djenné , the tallest historical mud mosque in the sub-Saharan region is considered by many to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, In Djenné, the entire community takes an active role in the mosque’s maintenance via a unique annual festival. This event is coordinated by the barey-ton, the local corporation of traditional masons. Despite the yearly maintenance campaigns and the inscription of the Old City as a World Heritage Site in 1988, the Mosque was in poor condition. Started with architectural survey and studies in 2008, restoration work aimed to guarantee the stability of the building by consolidating the carpentry and wall bearing system. Work was completed in 2010.

The Earthen Conservation Vocational Training

Established in 2010, the Centre de l’Architecture en Terre, designed by award-winning architect, Francis Kere, includes a permanent exhibition of building techniques in earth with examples of earthen architecture, supplemented by vocational training grounds.
The Centre was built with the following specific objectives in mind:

• To provide visitors who intend to see earthen monuments elsewhere in Mali with a thorough briefing about the use of banco
• To provide education in the use of banco to nationals and to experts from abroad.
• To present the history, the techniques, and the use of materials in earthen architecture.
• To act as a base for periodic maintenance of restored major monuments.
• To maintain close links with the local community and to provide health and sanitation services for the community

Since its opening, Centre de l’Architecture en Terre has played an important role in education through vocational training with several tailor-made courses for practical application of building with banco. The Centre has also provided advanced training for architects in using banco as sustainable construction materials in their designs.


Christophe Bouleau

Christophe Bouleau holds a Ms degree from the Department of Architecture in the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne and has specialized in monument preservation at the Centre des Hautes Etudes de Chaillot in Paris. Since 2001, he has been working at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Historic Cities Programme as a conservation architect stationed in Cairo in charge of the Darb al-Ahmar district monuments conservation program between 2001 and 2007. He has also been contributing to conservation projects in Aleppo and Damascus, Syria. Since 2008, as a Sr Conservation Project Officer, he oversees from the Trust’s base in Geneva conservation and architectural programmes in West Africa (earthen architecture rehabilitation) and provides technical assistance to the wider Aga Khan Development Network’s conservation and adaptive re-use projects in Canada, India , Portugal and France.

3D model of the Great Mosque
of Djenné

3D model of the Djingareyber Mosque

The environment surrounding the Mosque is artificial and doesn't represent the real environment.

The environment surrounding the Mosque is artificial and doesn't represent the real environment.

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