Djenné’s Grand Mosque

Barcelona- I threw together a short clip of my brisk tour of Djenné on the way from Sévaré back to Bamako. Djenné is one of the twin centers of medieval Islamic learning in Mail-the other being cut-off Timbuktu. I’d always wanted to see the mud mosque and couldn’t resist the lure of a short side trip.

As I’ve done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other places in conflict, I always manage to sneak in a trip to the ancient sites that captivated my imagination well before political violence began to consume my day to day thoughts. Djenné was certainly one such place. Like the Hellenistic columns of Ai Khanoum in Takhar, the spiral Abbasid-era minaret of Malwiya in Samarra or Cyrene in Cyrenaica, Djenné held a particular place in the mental landscape of history for me.

The Bradt guide to Mali describes Djenné is the country’s “pre-eminent tourist attraction.” Passing through a village on the way to the Bani River crossing, my fixer said normally the villagers charge cars carrying foreigners a “toll” of 1000 CFA in order to pass through their area. He said the fact that such people didn’t bother to stop our car was indicative of the end of tourism in Mali for the time being.

The schizophrenic way things are going amongst the Azawadis with Ansar Eddine having gone to Burkina Faso to negotiate with President Campoaré while the MNLA is setting up a transitional administration, who knows what will happen next with regard to northern Mali. If ECOWAS and the AU have their way, the winds of war will be blowing through the country in the near future. Whatever the outcome of the current military stalemate partitioning Mali, I’m grateful to have been able to visit Djenné and dance in the dust with the lizards.

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