Aouaki Mosque (top), Bougouberi Mosque (bottom left) and Dang Mosque (bottom right) in Mali.
All photographed by Sebastian Schutyser in 2001.
West African mud mosques satisfy all the standard expectations of mosque architecture — with the qibla marked buy its mihrab, minarets, interior spaces delineated by transverse naves and aisles of columns — while at the same time abstracting these forms that were canonized in the regions of the post-Byzantine, early Islamic Empire.
Mali’s mud mosque architecture is directly related to local domestic architecture. Materials are selected both for their economy and their appropriateness for the remarkably hot climate. Earth used to create mud mortar and mud plaster, and minimal palm wood for scaffolding and roofs, as timber is a rare and costly commodity, compose the forms.
Walls are thick and tapered, to both protect the inside from the heat and support the often two story structures and the roof. During the day, the walls absorb the heat of the day that is released throughout the night, helping the interior of the mosque remain cool all day long. Some structures, for example, Djenne’s Great Mosque, also have roof vents with ceramic caps. These caps, made by the town’s women, can be removed at night to ventilate the interior spaces. Masons have integrated palm wood scaffolding into the building’s construction, not as beams, but as permanent scaffolding for the workers who apply plaster annually during the spring festival to restore the mosque. The palm beams also minimize the stress that comes from the extreme temperature and humidity changes typical of the climate. Towers are often topped with a spire capped by an ostrich egg, symbolizing fertility and purity.