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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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On the broad floodplain of the Bani River stands one of the most celebrated cities in Africa— Djenné, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its earthen architecture. Over 200 historic houses in the city date back several centuries, while the magnificent central mosque built in 1907 rises above the central square and dominates the skyline.

Djenné Mosque

Mud mason working atop a mud brick wallDjenné owes its unique character to its masons, inheritors of a craft tradition handed down from one generation to the next since the city arose in the 14th century. Masons belong to a professional organisation, the barey ton, which sets wages, regulates working conditions, and orchestrates the annual re-claying of the town’s mosque. In their work, masons control spiritual forces, manage culturally-diverse work teams, and creatively build with limited means and within a setting dominated by ideals of timeless tradition.

Following the 2012 political upheaval in Mali and the resulting collapse of tourism, foreign aid and the economy, Djenné's masons are operating in a period of pronounced austerity and uncertainty. The experiences, concerns and hopes of the five masons you meet here– each one representing a different generation – give voice to the pride that they take in their work and to the challenges they face today.

Where is Djenné?

Map of Africa

View a map of where the city of Djenné is located in Africa.

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