Jami' al-Kabir
Chinguetti, Mauritania
The Friday Mosque in Chinguetti was built in either the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and is said to be the soul of the holy city of Chinguetti. In the 1970s it was restored through a UNESCO effort, and though the desertification is rapidly leading to its deterioration, its minaret still towers above the old city.

The walls of the mosque are constructed of split stone and its floor is lined with sand. A roof of palm beams covered with clay is held aloft by stone piers, which, like the sanctuary at the Tomb of Askia in Mali, create four aisles of bays. The innermost aisle is set before the eastern wall of the qibla. A double-niched mihrab, which represents both the mihrab and the minbar, projects from the qibla wall, also like that at the Tomb of Askia.

Across from the mosque sanctuary in the southwestern corner of the complex, rises the dominant minaret. The minaret is notable for its lack of plaster construction. The minaret is set on a square plinth measuring between six and seven meters on each side. Rising from this base, its walls, constructed of dry yellow and rose-colored stone, taper gradually inwards to create a sawma'a tower form. The tower thickens again at the top through a triple-stepped corbelled cornice. The apex is surmounted by four pinnacle like acroteria (crenellation-like forms) at the corners.

Atop the acroteria sit clay sculptures of ostrich eggs. These ostrich eggs are said to recall a time when Chinguetti was still green and ostrich thrived there. These four pediments demarcate the four cardinal directions. A fifth egg sits in the center of the roof of the minaret, which when seen from the west defines the axis towards Mecca and serves as a guide for prayer. Supposedly in the past, travelers would give offerings of eggs at the mosque.

Small window like apertures on the west facade of the minaret allow in a slight amount of light. The larger doorway, leading to the internal minaret stairs, is surmounted by triangular ornaments.

Recent archeological findings suggest that this mosque was built upon the base of a pre-extant mosque.


Defert, Thierry. 1985. "Chinguitti ou l'appel des espaces radieux" in Balafon. No. 71. July 1985, 10-18.

Michell, George. 2000. Architecture of the Islamic World. London: Thames and Hudson, 276.

Glassé, Cyril. 2001 New Encyclopedia of Islam, Revised Edition. Singapore: Tien Wah Press, 12.

Jacques-Meunié, D. 1961. Cités Anciennes de Mauritanie. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 195.

Prussin, Labelle. 1986. Hatumere: Islamic Design in West Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 111.
Chinguetti, Mauritania
Associated Names
13th-14th c./6th-7th c. AH
Variant Names
Jami' al-Kabir
Great Mosque
Friday Mosque
Djamaa el-Kebir
Jamaa el-Kebir
Building Usages
mud brick