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How Local People Maintain the Great Mosque of Djenne in West Africa

Djenne is one of the oldest towns in sub-Saharan Africa. Dating back to 250 BC, it grew as an essential connection in the trans-Saharan gold trade and is described as the "Twin City" of ancient Timbuktu. Djenne's rich past is an integral part of Islamic history. It was a center for the spread of Islam in Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Djenne continues to be a representative of Islamic architecture in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ancient architecture in West Africa uses Earth elaborately. It is home to an abundance of clay houses that blend into its natural surroundings and is the largest earthen mud structure in the world. Every spring, there is a festival that brings the entire town population together to celebrate faith and heritage. This festival is called the Crepissage or the "plastering."

The residents of Djenne work together every year to replaster the Great Mosque. Like the town's traditional clay homes, the mosque contains earthen mud walls coated with adobe plaster. The Sudano-Sahelian architecture, the original structure of the mosque, is believed to have been built around the 13th century. The mosque has been reconstructed at least twice.

The current mosque structure was finished in 1907, making it over a century old. The natural filling of mud and clay in the mosque's structure keeps it cool inside, even during the hottest summer days. The mosque has a prayer hall that can hold up to 3,000 people. The UNESCO World Heritage site rises 20 meters high and has three minarets with a hundred sticks of rodier palm called "toron."

The Great Mosque has become an essential piece of religion and cultural identity. On the eve of Crepissage, the residents of Djenne step out on the streets in a carnival known as La Nuit De Veille or "The Walking Night," where they sing until sunrise in anticipation of the most important day of the year.

[Source: BBC News; The New York Times]

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