Sunday, January 23, 2011

Five years after my first arrival in Djenne I entered the Great Mosque for the first time two days ago. (I am not counting my one foray into the inner court yard only, attempting to blend in with the Djenne maidens bringing water for the crepissage, see April 7 2007.)
The occasion was a visit by a South African delegation of scholars interested in the Djenne Manuscripts. These visitors were treated as dignitaries and as such were given a tour of the mosque. I tagged along gratefully.
The Mosque has been officially closed for non-muslims for many years. A story which has been perpetuated is that Italian (?) Vogue once came here and did a photoshoot with scantily clad models,upsetting the faithful. This may be apocryphal, but in any case the mosque has been, and is still more or less closed. That is to say, it is of course possible to pay one's way in, and this has proven a lucrative business recently for some close to the administration of the mosque. If you are a visitor to Djenne you will most likely be offered a tour of the Mosque for a very high price, and your guide will tell you the money goes towards the upkeep of the Mosque, which is of course nonsense. The Aga Khan Foundation has just finished restoring the mosque and they do not need touting around for the support from tourists on the street...
Inside the pillar hall the mosque is simple and monumental. The mud walls are unadorned and a great calm reigns. Long shafts of sun light illuminate the long walkways between the ninety pillars which support the stupendous mud mass. The floor is covered with prayer mats and here and there someone is sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall fingering his prayer beads, momentarily disturbed from his contemplation by the passing toubabs. I did not want to use a flash, so the picture is out of focus.


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