Ancient African City, Jenné-jeno (Mali)
A early city, Jenné-jeno, Mali, lies on the Bani river, a tributary of the Niger river.
Part of the city of Jenné, on the Bani River, a tributary of the Niger, Jenne, an important trading centre, was mud built, as were all the towns and cities of the Sudanic zone. (Atmore 1979). Fishermen, farmers, and herders still depend on the Bani’s floods, which faltered during the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s but resumed in the 1990s.
Miller, F. P., Vandome, A.F., McBrewster, J. 2010. Great Mosque of Djenné: Mudbrick, Adobe, Architect, Sudano- Sahelian, Islamic Architecture, Mosque, Djenné, Mali, Floodplain, Bani River, Landmark. Alphascript Publishing - ISBN-10: 6130601808
Jenné-jeno, site of the oldest known city of sub-Saharan Africa, founded about 250 BC and abandoned in the 1300s AD.
Roderick and Susan McIntosh excavated at Jenné-jeno and neighboring sites in 1977 and 1981 and returned in 1994 for coring and more survey, with funding from the National Science Foundation of the United States, the American Association of University Women, and the National Geographic Society (1994). Overviews: West African Archaeology, Rice University, Texas It seems that before about 3000 years ago the part of the Middle Niger in which Jenné-jeno is situated was so often covered by river floodwater that it was not regularly occupied, although there must have been hunters, plant-food gatherers, and fishermen in the vicinity. Farmers and herdsmen might also have been nearby because there is evidence of them at Jenné-jeno from about 2500 years ago. By the time its inhabitants were already growing rice and keeping cattle, as well as raising other crops, fishing and collecting wild plant food. In addition, they were smelting iron from iron ore brought from outside the area. This iron industry is among the earliest known in sub-Saharan Africa, antedated only by that of the Nok culture. They build houses of sticks and mud and made fine pottery. By about 2000 years ago their village had grown into a small town, and by about 1000 years ago it had become a city of perhaps as many as 13,000 people, protected by a city wall 2 kilometers long. The area made an important contribution to the world economy during the first half of the second millennium AD, handling much of the gold that reached Europe at that time. Jenné-jeno has not only thrown new light on the indigenous origins of urbanism in the West Africa savanna, it has also demonstrated the significance of the Middle Niger in the history of Africa as a whole. (Conna 2004)
The town of Jenné (Djenné) was founded near Jenné-jeno between 800 and 1250 A.D. and grew to become an even more significant trans-Saharan trading center than its neighbor. By the fourteenth century, gold, kola, from the southern savanna, salt and manuscripts from the Sahara, and the staple foods of the Inland Niger Delta were bartered here in an extensive web of trade reaching as far as northern Africa and Europe. By the sixteenth century, Jenné had become one of the foremost market centers on the African continent.
For West Africa, the seventeenth century yields two works of central importance from the school of Timbuktu, those of Mahmud Kati and Abderrahman es-Sa`di. From Abderrahman es-Sa`di, Tarikh es-Sudan, translated here from the French version of the Arabic text by O. Houdas and Edm. Benoist (Paris:1900):
This city is great, flourishing and prosperous . . . one of the great markets of the Muslim world. Here gather the merchants who bring salt from the mines of Teghaza and those who bring gold from the mines of Bitou . . . It is because of this fortunate city that the caravans flock to Timbuktu from all points of the horizon . . .
Djenné is surrounded by a rampart which used to have eleven gates, but three have since been walled up . . . The town was founded by pagans in the middle of the second century after the Flight of the Prophet [i.e., about 850 AD] . . . God has drawn to this fortunate city a certain number of learned and of pious men, strangers to the county, who have come to live here . . . (Davidson 1964) Modern Jenné (Djenné), has an ethnically diverse population of about 33,000 (in 2009). The local economy is now mainly based on agriculture, fishing and livestock. The town is famous for its distinctive mud-brick (adobe) architecture (above), most notably the Great Mosque which was built in 1907 on the site of an earlier mosque.
Excavation through the settlement mound formed by the remains of the city of Jenné-jeno.
Bundles of rodier palm sticks embedded in the walls of the Great Mosque are used for decoration and serve as scaffolding for annual repairs (Photo). The Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest mud brick or adobe building in the world and is considered by many architects to be the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style, albeit with definite Islamic influences. The mosque is located in the city of Djenné, Mali on the flood plain of the Bani River. The first mosque on the site was built around the 13th century, but the current structure dates from 1907. As well as being the centre of the community of Djenné, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. Along with the "Old Towns of Djenné" it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. (Miller 2010). Non-Muslims cannot go inside the Mosque.
The ruins of the original mosque as seen in a turn of the century French postcard.