The advent of Islam witnessed a steady building of mosques across the globe. The mosque was the most prevalent design among Muslims. It was perhaps one of their most inventive architectural designs. Sudano-Sahelian architecture, especially in the Great Mosque of Djenne Mali, replicates the sacred architecture of Mecca in mud-brick and other local materials. Mosques in Tunisia have similar architectural styles. Many architects consider the Great Mosque of Djenne to be the pinnacle of the Sudano-Sahelian architecture style with distinct Islamic elements. It is also one of Africa’s most well-known landmarks. Although the exact date of completion of the mosque is unclear, it is thought to have been constructed between 1200 and 1300.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan, also known as the Mosque of Uqba, on the other hand, is one of North Africa’s most remarkable and largest Islamic monuments. It is a mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the two great mosques having several differences and similarities, they both combine local, Arab architectural, aesthetic, and material elements.
The Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali is the world’s largest mud-built structure and the living center of the Djenne culture. However, there was a much older mosque on this site, constructed in the 13th century, but it fell into disrepair by the 19th century and was abandoned to thousands of swallows, who built their nests in it. The entire building is constructed on a 75 by 75-meter foundation high meters above ground to protect the mosque from the river Bank’s annual flooding. The Mosque of Djenne’s walls are made of mud brick and coated in clay plaster, giving it a sleek, sculptural look. Palm branches were used as beams to prevent the walls from collapsing due to temperature and humidity fluctuations.
Moreover, the mosque’s roof is backed by ninety wooden pillars that run the length of the inner prayer hall; the utilized adobe and wood is African. Half of the mosque is covered by a dome, while the other half is an open-air prayer hall. The mosques’ architecture follows global convections, and this can be seen in the Great Mosque of Djenne with the inclusion of minarets and qibla wall with the mihrab, which functioned to call people for prayer. Besides, to suit the local needs, the mosque was built with local materials with the local architectural style leading to the ritual of crepisssage.
On the other hand, the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia has different Arab architectural design, aesthetic, and material elements compared to those of the Great Mosque of Djenne. The mosque is 70 by 125 meters in size and is built like an irregular rectangle, in comparison to Mali’s great mosque. The complex is surrounded by a wall of several towers and bastions that is buttressed from the outside. The courtyard, which was covered with pottery tiles until the late 1800s, is now located in the heart of the complex with white and yellow marble. The luster tiles appear to have originated in Iraq.
However, Similar to the mosque of Djenne, the mosque is constructed with the inclusion of minarets and qibla wall with the mihrab. Its square minaret is aligned with the building’s centerline. The mosque has a flat roof, but there are domes above the mihrab and an entrance supported by carved stone squinches. The magnificent luster mihrab is thought to be one of the earliest examples of its kind in Islamic architecture. Besides, the bay forms a T-formation along the qibla wall and main longitudinal axis, which was a common structure in the area. However, the original structure from the early eighth century was obliterated during the ninth-century reconstruction. More bays were added to the prayer-courtyard hall’s face, and a central dome was built over it.
Even though numerous mosques in the world are older than the two mosques, the Great Mosque of Djenne and the Kairouan Mosque are the most visible symbols of Mali and Tunisia. Both Great Mosques have been the subject of numerous accounts by Arab historians and geographers for many centuries since their completion. Besides, Western visitors, poets and authors who visit Mali and Tunisia sometimes leave their experiences and testimonies in the mosque, and sometimes tinged with emotion or appreciation.