The ancient Old Towns of Djenné in Mali are now on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger, mainly due to rising insecurity in the area.
The continued conflict between Malian pro-government forces and Touareg-led militia has affected the area and is hindering the implementation of protective measures for the heritage site, according to the United Nations.
A UN committee mandated to establish locations that are marked as UNESCO World Heritage Sites has raised concerns over the continuing conflict in Mali, urging the international community to support the country’s efforts to protect the ancient site. “This situation is preventing safeguarding measures from addressing issues that include the deterioration of construction materials in the historic town, urbanization, and the erosion of the archaeological site,” UNESCO stated.
The List of World Heritage in Danger helps to inform the international community of situations that endanger a property marked as World Heritage and to call for immediate correction actions by the relevant stakeholders.
Old Towns of Djenné
Located in central Mali, the Old Towns of Djenné were constructed purely from river mud and other natural materials. They were erected on the hillocks of River Bani and River Niger to ensure they did not flood during seasonal floods.
The area hosts four small towns, namely, Hambarketolo, Tonomba, Djenné-Djeno, and Kaniana, all of which were popular for trans-Saharan gold trade in the 15th and 16th centuries. The area also served as the major center for Islam.
The town’s most prominent building is the Grand Mosque – the world’s largest structure built of mud. The mosque was reconstructed in 1907 after the original structure weathered down.
To retain its spectacular stature and appeal, the Grand Mosque must be regularly plastered with river mud in what has now become an annual event for area residents. The local community comes together once a year to restore the structure by re-plastering areas that have been washed off by rain in the course of the year.
Normally it’s a busy day with everyone, young and old, running around with baskets full of mud. Because the Old Towns of Djenné are situated on an island, canoes are available as well to ferry people across the shores.