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Inhabited since 250 BC, Djenné became a market center and an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was one of the centers for the propagation of Islam. Its traditional houses, of which nearly 2,000 have survived, are built on hillocks (toguere) as protection from the seasonal floods.

The trans-Saharan trade that contributed to the expansion of kingdoms in the western Sudan also led to the development of contacts with regions in northern modern Ghana and in the forest to the south. By the thirteenth century, for example, the town of Jenne in the empire of Mali had established commercial connections with the ethnic groups in the savanna-woodland areas of the northern two-thirds of the Volta Basin in modern Ghana. Jenne was also the headquarters of the Dyula, Muslim traders who dealt with the ancestors of the Akan-speaking peoples who occupy most of the southern half of the country.

The growth of trade stimulated the development of early Akan states located on the trade route to the goldfields in the forest zone of the south. The forest itself was thinly populated, but Akan-speaking peoples began to move into it toward the end of the fifteenth century with the arrival of crops from Southeast Asia and the New World that could be adapted to forest conditions. These new crops included sorghum, bananas, and cassava. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, European sources noted the existence of the gold-rich states of Akan and Twifu in the Ofin River Valley.

Also in the same period, some of the Mande, who had stimulated the development of states in what is now northern Nigeria (the Hausa states and those of the Lake Chad area), moved southwestward and imposed themselves on many of the indigenous peoples of the northern half of modern Ghana and of Burkina Faso (Burkina—formerly Upper Volta), founding the states of Dagomba and Mamprusi. The Mande also influenced the rise of the Gonja state.

Djenné, chief town of the Djenné Circle, located 130 km south-west of Mopti (the regional capital) and roughly 570 km north-east of Bamako (the national capital), is one of the oldest towns of sub-Saharan Africa. The cultural property “Old Towns of Djenné” is a serial property comprising four archaeological sites, namely Djenné-Djeno, Hambarkétolo, Kaniana and Tonomba, along with the old fabric of the present town of Djenné covering an area of 48.5 ha and divided into ten districts. The property is an ensemble that over many years has symbolised the typical African city. It is also particularly representative of Islamic architecture in sub-Saharan Africa.

The property is characterised by the intensive and remarkable use of earth specifically in its architecture. The outstanding mosque of great monumental and religious value is an outstanding example of this. The town is renowned for its civic constructions, with the distinctive style of verticality and buttresses as well as the elegant monumental houses with intricate facades.

Excavations carried out in 1977, 1981, 1996 and 1997, revealed an extraordinary page of human history dating back to the 3rd century B.C. They have brought to light an archaeological ensemble which bears witness to a pre-Islamic urban structure with a wealth of circular or rectangular constructions in djenné ferey and numerous archaeological remains(funerary jars, pottery, millstones, grinders, metal scoria etc.).

The property « Old Towns of Djenné » comprises the town of Djenné, characterised by a remarkable architecture and its urban fabric, of rare harmony, and four (4) archaeological sites bearing witness to a long-gone pre-Islamic civilization. The property « Old Towns of Djenné » still retains the values which justified its outstanding universal value at its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. First and foremost, the archaeological, historic, religious and architectural values should be mentioned.

Djenné-Djeno, along with Hambarketolo, Tonomba and Kaniana bears exceptional witness to the pre-Islamic civilizations on the inland Delta of the Niger. The discovery of many dwellings on the site of Djenné-Djeno (remains of traditional brick structures (djénné ferey), funerary jars) as well as a wealth of terra cotta artifacts and metal make this a major archaeological site for the study of the evolution of dwellings, industrial and craft techniques.

The ancient fabric of Djenné is an outstanding example of an architectural group of buildings illustrating a significant historic period. Influenced by Moroccan architecture (1591), and later marked by the Toucouleur Empire in 1862, the architecture of Djenné is characterized by its verticality, its buttresses punctuating the facades of the two-storey houses whose entrances are always given special attention. The reconstruction of the Mosque (1906-1907) resulted in the creation of a monument representing local religious architecture.

The vestiges of the four inscribed archaeological sites remain intact (pottery shards, funerary jars, remains of walls and circular or rectangular dwellings of traditional round mud bricks (djénné ferey), statuettes and mud bricks, metal scoria, millstones, grinders and Islamic burial grounds). The marshes where the small islands are located ensure a relative physical integrity. However, these inscribed archaeological sites are vulnerable to very serious threats such as leaching, erosion and gullying by inclement weather and uncontrolled urbanization.

In addition to its prestigious mosque, Djenné still retains its elegant monumental houses of rigorous composition with façades sometimes decorated by a porch, and supporting pilasters with, in the centre, “the potige”, a decorative motif indicating the position of the front door. This earthen architecture, one of the criteria for inscription of the property on the World Heritage List, has for several decades undergone modifications altering its aesthetic values, for example: the introduction of modern materials, namely cement, fired bricks and metal doors and windows; the disappearance of decorative features on the façades, characteristic of the earthen architecture of Djenné.

The authenticity of the site, in particular the inscribed ancient fabric, is testified by the use of little-modified construction materials: earth is the overall privileged material. The transmission of construction techniques is entrusted to the Barey Corporation, stone masons from generation to generation. Finally, through spirit, wisdom, welcome and the Great Mosque, Djenné is and remains the “pious town”.

The town of Djenné benefits from legal protection through national heritage listing of the property and the creation of a cultural mission for its conservation. The Great Mosque, the Koranic schools and the Tombs of the Saints benefit from customary protection through the establishment of a management committee for the Mosque, the association for Koranic schools and supervision by the village chief, its Council and district chiefs.

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Page last modified: 06-12-2016 14:29:23 ZULU