- Life Style
I have always wanted to go to a city with a moat. It might not have a drawbridge - although that would be pretty cool - but if there’s some water surrounding a town built with timeless architecture, it’ll do.
Djenne, a town in the middle of Mali, seems like that kind of a city. You cross the moat - really it’s only ever surrounded by water during the Inner Niger River Delta Basin’s annual floods - into a town apparently entirely built with mud and wood. The buildings are mainly angular mud-brick structures that feel like a mixture of the efficiency of Arabian souq architecture and African village dwelling.
Many are smoother fort-like facades that jut out of the ground like termite mounds. Termite mounds are definitely one of the most fascinating structures one can find in life. These kinds of facades are called Toucouleurs-style, according to “the internet.”
The initial walk through Djenne is nice, quaint, and educational, until you reach the city’s crown jewel, the Great Mosque. That is when the walk turns awe-inspiring. A 104-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mosque is built entirely with dried mud and wooden studs jutting out of it. Its “domes” look like Egyptian pigeon houses or observation decks. Built like a fortress, the mosque’s exterior is a smooth, monolithic mud structure reinforced and resurfaced once a year in a town festival.
Inside, the columns, high ceilings, nesting bats, and resonating echoes makes it either extremely spiritual - or if you’re not into "the spiritual", surreal. Make sure you check with the imam of the mosque before going in. Just because your name is Mohamed doesn’t mean that everyone will instinctively know that.
Also, enough with the Indiana Jones gear, if that is what you deem appropriate for travel in Africa. Djenne, despite appearances, is actually pretty well equipped for tourists, so put away your whip and Swiss army knife. And, if you’re a grown man, try to not wear booty shorts. The scorching African heat is no excuse for you to go make a mockery of yourself in front of an entire city.
On the outside Djenne seems like a simple and timeless city. In fact, its simplicity and moat-enhanced isolation is a reason for the city’s longevity. Once a center for trans-Saharan trade going back to the 15th century, it also became a center for the exchange of knowledge between Arab and African nomads and merchants. As a learning and commercial center, Djenne may not be as prominent as Timbuktu, also an ancient Malian city, but its isolation kept it well preserved.
The odd thing about it is that Djenne, while looking so antiquated, is relatively much better off than other Malian cities of its size. Tourism, agriculture and trade contribute greatly.
Mali, really needs to be visited by more tourists. Every part of it is fascinating in its own way.