Jihadis tore up nearby Timbuktu but left locals here alone to re-mud their place of worship – the world's largest mud mosque, recognized by UNESCO.
Early in the morning, just before the muezzin calls to early Muslim prayer, Bakary Touré steps out the door of his low mud-brick home. He walks the hundred yards across Djenné’s main square to the city’s great mosque, where the whole town is waiting.
Mr. Touré takes a large blob of mud and smears it on the cracked wall.
A moment later, hundreds of young men laden with wicker baskets full of dripping wet clay begin to swarm over the same mosque wall.
“No one touches the mosque before the oldest member of the town’s mason guild have put a stroke of mud to the mosque,” says the 92-year old Mr. Toure, who brings out his identity card to show us his age.
It was Djenné’s great mosque that put this town on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. And this re-plastering is an annual ritual involving the whole town.
The mosque is the largest mud-brick structure in the world, so unique that it looks like something from outer space. It is an imposing sand castle looming over the main square.
The architectural style, known as Sudanese, is native to the Sahel. The distinct features are a trio of square minarets topped by pointed pillars and crowned by an ostrich egg that dominates the facade. A permanent scaffolding that allows for scrambling up the sides to do mud work is created by palm tree boards inserted into the mosque in rows like toothpicks.