The Djingareiber Mosque may not compete in terms of aesthetics or level of preservation with the more famous structure in Djenné, but it certainly alludes to the former glories of the city. In 1325, the Andalusian architect and poet Es Sahéli received the instructions to commence building from the incredibly rich Malian emperor Kankan Moussa, who had just returned from his renowned pilgrimage to Mecca full of religious fervour. Although at first that may not seem too impressively ancient, the discovery that mud is the primary material used in the construction should change that perception.
Externally, solid buttresses rise from the surrounding sandy streets before giving way to the somewhat irregular walls that curve slightly inwards towards the turrets, behind which conical minarets rise. Directly inside the main entrance there is a large enclosed area that is dark, cool, and punctuated by nine rows of square columns, which is where around 2,000 men congregate to worship every Friday. There is little in the way of elaborate decoration, except for the wooden doors ornamented with metal, which are fine examples of the local style. The net effect is plain and unpretentious, which perhaps is the reason that there is an atmosphere that impressively manages to exude both great age and intimacy at the same time. Meanwhile, going up onto the flat roof, where René Caillié is said to have written some of his notes, is also worthwhile, as from the elevated location there are superb views over the city to the desert.
The cost of entering the mosque is around a couple of thousand francs, and it is reputedly sometimes easier to gain admission when accompanied by a guide. Remembering to dress conservatively and to remove shoes before going in is important, and because of the latter, I would recommend visiting in the morning before the sand in the open-air sections becomes uncomfortably hot.
London, United Kingdom
September 30, 2003
From journal Timbuktu - The mysterious city on the edge of the Sahara