The Great Mosque of Niono


The Great Mosque of Niono is salient in the Ségou region of Southern Mali, notable for its religious and secular activities. As a mosque built in the modern era that is characterized by building materials like concrete and glass, the construction utilized the vernacular mud-brick structure emblematic of the Sudano-Sahelian style. However, this definition of hypostyle mosque design has its roots in Mali around the thirteenth century with famous mosques, such as those of Djenne and Mopti. The mosque was constructed in 1948 with subsequent reconstruction and expansion in 1955 and 1969 for architectural heritage preservation.

The mosque was built through community effort under the guidance of a Master Builder, Lassina Minta. For a structure forged with a local Adobe construction technique by artisans without formal education, the structure exhibits elegant refinement without being ostentatious. The frugal aesthetic exhibited by the mosque diverges from the contemporary norm of ostentatious religious architecture prevalent in the Muslim world. In 1983, the mosque was one of the recipients of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, a high architecture honor for work related to Islam or Muslim societies.

Architectural Analysis

One of the essential design decisions is the location of the site in the hub of the city (Fig 1). With proximity to the market and residential quarters, it is easily accessible to the whole community through five access portals from the three streets on the east, south, and western axis of the mosque. The Northern boundary of the site is abutting a residential structure which shows the level of assimilation with the environmental context, rather than the isolation of contemporary mosques. The ontological qibla direction of Mali is towards the East, which aligns with the more extended wall parallel to the cynosure. Symmetry and order expound the design along the longitudinal axis. The internal arrangement of the prayer sanctuary has a large hypostyle design made of rows of supporting piers (Fig 2).

Historically, this style is epitomized by the archetypal mosque of Prophet Muhammed in Medina. This system of construction is sustainable because of its adaptive nature to accommodate expansion across the bays of supporting columns. As a result, the prayer hall has been expanded to accommodate the increasing population over twenty-five years (Fig 3). The massive minaret of the mosque is located at the axial entrance opposite the mihrab. Despite the relatively small size, the mosque provides a prayer hall for the women on the western edge of the site. The abutting arcade around the courtyard accommodates the outward flow of worshippers during the Friday prayer. Ablution facilities are discreetly located on an obscure part of the site towards the northwest part of the structure of the site. In general, the mosque is one of the largest of its kind.

Construction and Materials

In Mali, stones and timbers are rare which obviates their use in construction like many of the prestigious mosques. Clay is the primary building material due to its availability in the community. Locally, the sun-dried clay bricks (banco-ferey) are used because of a lack of access to technology to fabricate fired bricks or tile kilns. Likewise, clay mixed with rice husk operates as the mortar and plaster. Intervals of about two meters separate the internal support of columns and arches. The structural limit of the wooden joist and roof guides this spatial arrangement. As a building material, mud is known for its passive indoor comfort irrespective of the outdoor climatic condition. The tropical wet and dry climate has a negligible effect on the structure due to the appropriate height of the building (4.7m) that aids the circulation of air. The interior of the mosque has a perfect contrast of light and shadow. Small windows pierce the walls to bring in light and provide an outlet for the circulation of air. However, the interior space of the mosque gets dark because of the ratio of building size to opening. This gloomy environment may be an advantage, as it fosters meditation and spirituality. Moreover, when required, the imbalance in the light comfort is augmented by electric light sources and solar panels on the roof of the mosque.

The façade of the mosque follows the pervasive cultural identity of the region as exhibited on religious and domestic structures (Fig. 4). Indeed, the mosque is an acculturation of Islamic and pre-Islamic traditional systems of cosmology. The symbolic towers evolved from the guarding pillars of ancestral venerations and show progression over space and time. The roof has interlaced wood placed at diagonal to support a layer of clay. This ingenious technique helped in the distribution of the load from the roof to the ground. In addition to the aesthetic attributes, the wooden spikes (toron) on the towers function as the permanent scaffold for the annual maintenance of the façade (Fig. 5). Clay surfaces disintegrate after the continuous shrinking and thawing of the climate. Also, the finial of the tower has ostrich eggs that function to protect the predominantly susceptible part of the building from rain. Besides, it holds symbolic meaning to the community as it indicates continuity, purity, and fertility.


The sustainability ethos of the mosque is an intrinsic aspect that resonates with the contemporary understanding of a proper mosque. The material and technique utilized generate a lower carbon footprint compared to the modern trend of machine buildings. It is also cost-efficient to build and restore due to the availability of the building materials and artisanship. The mosque accommodates social activities in addition to the ritual daily, weekly, and ceremonial prayers. The sanctuary is often the venue for marital union amongst the community members. Also, the mosque constitutes the cultural identity for the people in the community, which encourages its preference as a style for other smaller mosques amidst the plethora of modern mosque designs. The construction process itself was a social event where members of the community volunteered. The yearly restoration work (Crépissage) occurred with each family delegating a representative to partake in construction work without financial incentives. To a substantial extent, this fosters social cohesion and a sense of belonging. 


  1. Bourgeois, Jean-Louis. ‘The History of the Great Mosques of Djenné’. African Arts 20, no. 3 (1987): 54–92.
  2. Bourgeois, Jean-Louis, and Carollee Pelos. Spectacular Vernacular: A New Appreciation of Traditional Desert Architecture. Peregrine Smith Books, 1983.
  3. Cantacuzino, Sherban, ed. ‘Great Mosque of Niono. In Architecture in Continuity’. New York, NY: Aperture, Architecture in Continuity: Building in the Islamic World Today, 1985, 149–53.
  4. ‘Great Mosque of Niono Drawings’. Aga Khan Award for Architecture, 1983.
  5. Marchand, Trevor H. J. ‘The Djenné Mosque: World Heritage and Social Renewal in a West African Town’. APT Bulletin 46, no. 2/3 (2015): 4–15.
  6. Prussin, Labelle. ‘An Introduction to Indigenous African Architecture’. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 33, no. 3 (1974): 183–205.
7222+72X, Molodo
Images & Videos
Associated Collections
constructed 1945-1948/1364-1367 AH
expanded 1969-1973/1389-1393 AH
restoration completed 1973/1393 AH
Style Periods
1,980 m²
Variant Names
The Great Mosque of Niono
Great Mosque of Niono
The Grand Mosque of Niono
Building Usages
mud brick
earthen architecture
mud brick
vernacular architecture
Related Sites