Djenné is located on the internal delta of the Niger in Mali. The city, built almost completely of raw earth and covering some 50 hectares with a current population of about 12,000, was once an important trading centre, deserving mention by travelers and historians from the Middle Ages onwards. Its architecture became a reference point in West Africa. Traces of continuous occupation since the third century AD were recently found at a site a few kilometres inland from Djenné. This was the birthplace of a city, Djenné-Djeno, whose importance reached its peak between the eighth and the eleventh centuries, when it had a population of about 20,000. The move to present-day Djenné, located on the Bani, a tributary of the Niger, was largely completed by the thirteenth century when Koy Konboro, the twenty-sixth prince of Djenné, converted to Islam and tore down his palace to found on its ruins the city's first mosque. The reasons for the abandonment of Djenné-Djeno in favour of Djenné may probably be found as much in the adoption of Islam and the preference for a site free from the influence of former cults, as in the more favorable location offered by greater proximity to the river. 

Throughout the ensuing centuries of political change and successive domination of the region by groups of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Djenné, positioned at the crossroads of the major trade routes of West Africa, prospered as a trading centre. The nineteenth century, however, saw the beginning of its decline: drought, civil war and cholera marked the fifty years that preceded the arrival of the French who, in 1893, occupied the city and demolished the city wall with its fourteen gates. The city's commercial importance suffered a final blow when the French decided that this role would be better served by a new trading post, which they established 100 kilometres downstream in Mopti, at the junction of the Bani and the Niger. 

In recent years, periodic droughts have caused the emigration of significant numbers of farmers and fishermen. By the mid-1980s it was feared that Djenné, in the form it had assumed for most of the last millennium, was in danger of disappearing. In 1988, the city was included in UNESCO's World Patrimony list.


Conservation of Djenné On-site Review Report, edited by Aga Khan Award for Architecture, 2007.

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