Sitting on an island in the River Bani .. Djenné is a photographer's dream.
Originally a Bozo settlement, founded as far back as 800 AD .. it was moved to its present-day location between the 11th -13th centuries. The Sudanic-style buildings and the central spectacle of its world famous Grand Mosquée are all moulded in the clay of the surrounding flood plain .. make it the most beautiful town in the Sahel and richly deserving of its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
As soon as we entered the town .. we could see the startlingly different architecture.
Leaving our driver to organise the car repairs, we were led to a large central
restaurant by a bevy of tourist guides, to have a tasty meal, cool drinks and a welcome rest in the shade.
Alaghi entered into a good-natured contest of Who could speak the greatest number of languages with a couple of friendly local
bumpsters .. er, guides who
had been sampling more than a few bottles of beer. Despite this pair's initial bravado, Alaghi won with ease and from a selection of hopefuls (the sober ones) we chose a young lad to be our guide for the
Factfile 25: There is always a distinction between your driver and your guide. Your driver, assuming he has nothing better to do, and ours had ..
might be fully conversant with the place you are visiting, but he must hand you over to a local guide. Thus preserving fair practise and jobs for all. Failure to do this usually starts an almighty & lengthy argument .. best avoided !
Refreshed, we headed towards the market square .. Monday is market day in Djenné and the best
day to visit. Squeezing through this colourful and crowded spectacle, we had our first sighting of the incredible Grand Mosqué .. large enough to hold 5000
worshippers. I will let the pictures show its magnificence. Out of bounds to non-Muslims, I was unable to look inside .. but Alaghi said he was very impressed when he entered through its large metal-bound doors.
To appreciate the full scale of the mosque, we paid CFA 500 to stand on the rooftop of a nearby compound, where I could take some wonderful pictures.
Our guide was well-chosen, introducing us to many families who allowed us to go upstairs for more rooftop views, then offering us the
opportunity to buy whatever crafts they were producing. At a leisurely pace, he led us through the maze of streets .. where local life carried on as normal amidst the sweltering heat .. showing us ornate doors on
some of the thick mud-walled buildings .. all of which had tiny windows to keep the sun and the dust at bay.
For the next four hours we explored the streets, finding an area at the rear of town .. by the river ..
where locals were fishing and the donkeys, horses and carts were gathered .. providing more splendid and unique views
We did find a few small shops, selling so many genuine ancient bronzes that we were almost completely spoilt for choice. I say almost, but the fact that there were so
many, so similar and so tourist-first-price expensive .. it rather gave us the feeling that perhaps they might not all be 100% genuine ! Some that we did see, in upstairs private rooms away from the main shops,
would undoubtedly have been genuine. But they were so expensive and we were looking for beads, not bronzes .. each needing totally different expertise in their identification.
I bought some ancient and worn Spindle Whorls at a far greater price than I would normally pay .. but as they were bought in Djenné, they are very special to me. We were unable to verify previously heard rumours that new ones were being made there, although two different sources told us that the man who used to make them in Djenné, had transferred to another location a short time ago.
Somewhere, I think in Mali, there is major production of similarly patterned and well-made new whorls, but if anyone actually knew where, they weren't telling !
Three years later I found out where they were made .. read all about it on
After some protracted and skilful negotiations, without a Toubab at his side .. Alaghi managed to buy himself some beads and get me some ancient Tuareg
rings .. at a reasonable price. As with tourist areas everywhere .. most of the craft items' prices were very high .. especially the Toubab price .. and quality was not good on the few old beads that we did find.
This was no problem to us .. we didn't buy very much and really hadn't expected to. The sights of the buildings and the people .. and just to bask in the general aura of
antiquity of this medieval town .. were more than sufficient to make our visit a lifetime experience.