Except in the biggest cities like Bamako, most buildings are mud brick construction. Mud built buildings have to be re-plastered every year after the rainy season ends. The wooden pegs that you see on a lot of mud buildings are used to climb up the building during the annual mud plastering.
The mud bricks are usually made right where they are needed. Villages usually have a mud hole next to them where the bricks for the village are made. These bricks have to be renewed constantly, especially after the rainy season.
Since I couldn't come up with a better ordering, I put the towns in the order in which I visited them.
The Dogon town Koro is close to the border with Burkina Faso. It is a sleepy little town, but has a beautiful mud built mosque.
The mud brick mosque in Koro. (889k) The mosque in Koro. (795k) The mosque in Koro. (803k) Closer view of the mosque in Koro. (927k) Street in Koro. (1009k)
Songho is the area where, according to legend, the first Dogon settled. There were four couples that were looking for a place to settle, but couldn't find water. A crocodile showed them the way to water, so they settled here. Since then, the crocodile is sacred for the Dogon. The Dogon all descend from these first four families. The Dogon found the area inhabited by the Tellem people, who lived in the cliffs of the escarpment. According to Dogon legend, the Tellem left voluntarily, when the Dogon started cultivating the land in the plains below the cliffs. The Tellem where thought to be able to fly or be wizards, since it seemed impossible to get to the cliff dwellings otherwise.
According to archaeological evidence, the Dogon settled here probably in the 13th or 14th century. They came from the area of Kangaba in eastern Mali, where they left because of overcrowding and approaching Islamic Fulani.
View of Songho. (749k) In Songho. (847k) Mosque in Songho. (724k) Circumcision grotto. Women are not allowed to go there. New paintings are added every two years when the circumcision rites are performed. They are the signs for the different Dogon families. (931k) Wall painting of signs of the original Dogon families in the circumcision grotto. (985k) Crocodile painting. The crocodile is sacred for the Dogon. (890k) Wall painting in the circumcision grotto. (903k) Wall painting in the circumcision grotto. (948k) Music instruments that are played after the circumcision rite. There are over 1000 of these instruments in this cave. They are used only once. (825k)
Sangha is a nice Dogon village on the plateau, close to the Bandiagara escarpment. It has a Muslim section, a Christian section, and an animist section. The three different religions seem to be getting along with each other (according to my guide).
On the way down to Ireli, we walked past the fox tables. These are sand beds surrounded with stones. During the night, the fox, an important Dogon spirit, walks across the sand. In the morning the wise men interpret the tracks and predict the future.
View of Sangha from across the valley. (801k) View over Sangha. (795k) In Sangha. (992k) Council place. The roof is so low that you cannot stand in there. If somebody gets angry during a meeting and stands up, they bang their head, which brings them back from their fury. (739k) House in Sangha. (758k) House of the shaman/healer in the animist section of Sangha. (939k) Village chief of Sangha and his wife. This position is hereditary. The chief basically spends his whole life in his house. The village people bring him food, and everything he needs. (1038k) Village chief of Sangha. (759k) Village well in Sangha. (834k) Huge African Baobab (Adansonia digitata, german: Afrikanischer Affenbrotbaum, french: Baobab africain) in Sangha. (905k) Sangha in the morning mist. (720k)
The Tellem lived in this area before the Dogon came in the 13th or 14th century. They lived in the cliffs of the Bandiagara escarpment, in seemingly impossible locations.
Tellem cliff dwellings above Ireli. (1076k) Closer view of Tellem cliff dwellings. (709k) Closeup of Tellem building. (696k) Tellem cliff dwellings above Banani. (1153k) I really wondered how the Tellem got up there. (940k)
Not much to say about this sleepy little town.
Market in Douentza. (659k) Bela huts in Douentza. (676k) Main street in Douentza with small mosque. (641k) Meeting place in Douentza. (1242k) Street scene in Douentza with street vendor grilling meat. (774k)
Legend has it that the name Tombouctou comes from "Tom" place of a well, and "Bouctou", the name of the woman who found the first well, sometime in the 10th century. The city became an important trading post, especially for salt, on the way from the Sahara Desert into central Mali. It was also an important scholarly city with a university as early as the 13th century. In the 16th century, there were 100,000 people in Tombouctou, including 25,000 students of the university and some 180 Koranic schools.
At the end of the 16th century, Tombouctou was conquered by Morocco, and lost its autonomy, and soon its university. This led to the decline of Tombouctou. Europeans discovered Tombouctou in the first half of the 19th century. Toward the end of the 19th century, it was annexed by France.
Touareg hut on the outskirts of Tombouctou. (643k) Nomad tents on around Tombouctou. (539k) View of the outside of Tombouctou with Nomad tents during my camel ride. (569k) The moon over Touareg tents on the fringe of Tombouctou. (475k) Market in Tombouctou. (954k) Leather Touareg tent in a small museum in Tombouctou. (644k) According to legend, this is the first well in Tombouctou. (851k) House in Tombouctou. (899k) Beautifully decorated entrance door. (897k) Window detail. (1085k) Mud brick construction in Tombouctou. (997k) Bela tents in Tombouctou. (730k) Street view with bread oven. People from Tombouctou say that if there is no sand in the bread, you are not in Tombouctou. I can attest to that, there definitely will be sand in the bread if you are in Tombouctou. (722k) Bread oven in the street. (795k) Old Koran documents. (639k) Old Koran documents. (625k) The Djingarey Ber mosque (oldest mosque in Tombouctou from 1325). A few days after my visit during a religious celebration at this mosque, there was a stampede and 26 people were killed. (561k) Close-up of the Djingarey Ber mosque in Tombouctou. (497k) Sidi Yahiya mosque (from ~1400). (777k) Sidi Yahiya mosque. (881k) Sanikore mosque, the largest mosque in Tombouctou. (618k) Closer view of the Sanikore mosque. (531k) Closer view of the Sanikore mosque. (641k) Sunset over the sand dunes on the outskirts of Tombouctou. (402k)
Mopti was not overly interesting. The mosque is nice, the market was not very big. The most interesting part was the harbor and its surroundings. There are drainage ditches in most parts of the town, but they are almost all full of garbage.
In the outskirts of Mopti. (671k) Street in Mopti, with a drainage ditch full of garbage. (865k) Market in Mopti. (935k) Street scene in Mopti. (1038k) Even in the city, people have their goats. (902k) Young trees on a street in Mopti, protected from goats and sheep by a mud brick enclosure. (1117k) Harbor in Mopti. (756k) The mosque in Mopti. (830k) View of the mosque in Mopti. (701k) Close-up view of the mosque in Mopti. (970k)
Djenné is famous for its mosque, the largest mud brick structure in the world. It has interesting houses in the Moroccan part of the town.
Street in Djenné. (785k) Street scene in Djenné. (773k) On the street in Djenné. (778k) Fetching water. (765k) Another well in Djenné. (724k) In the old part of Djenné. (701k) Narrow lane in Djenné. The waste water running along the street was smelly in places. (809k) Moroccan style house. (757k) Large Moroccan style house. (655k) Moroccan style house. (757k) Vegetable gardens in Djenné along the river. (728k) Street in Djenné with the mosque in the background. (778k) The mosque in Djenné. (796k) The mosque in Djenné. (731k) Close-up of the mosque in Djenné. (1075k)
Old Ségou is the site of the palace of the Bambara King Biton Mamary Coulibaly. Old Ségou was first settled by Touaregs. In the 11th century Bambara replaced the Touareg. The oldest mosque in Old Ségou was built by the Touareg. The other mosque was built by Biton Mamary Coulibaly for his mother. He himself was animist, but his mother was Muslim, and he dedicated the mosque to her.
Small mosque outside of Ségou. (735k) Street scene in Ségou. (1084k) Main stage of the Festival sur le Niger. (841k) Sign against HIV (VIH in French) next to the main stage. (485k) Car and cart caravan of festival participants driving through Ségou. (725k) Street scene in Old Ségou. (1091k) Street scene in Old Ségou. (1147k) Granary in Old Ségou. (984k) Inside the house of the village chief of Old Ségou. (847k) Wood carved decorations in the house of the village chief. (585k) Old Ségou. (1021k) View over Old Ségou. (891k) Palace of Biton Mamary Coulibaly. (616k) Close-up of a house in Old Ségou. (987k) Oldest mosque in Old Ségou. (537k) Tree outside the old mosque. (1292k) Mosque dedicated to the mother of Biton Mamary Coulibaly. (992k) Youngest mosque in Old Ségou. (1016k)
Bamako is the capital of Mali. It is the site of the only university in Mali. It is much like any big city, lots of traffic congestion. It has a big market, and a nice museum about the history of Mali.
Kayes (pronounced Kai) is a little town in the far western parts of Mali. It has a bunch of French colonial buildings. Outside the city is the Fort de Médine, a fort from French colonial times on the Sénégal River, from 1855, with a nice old train station. The first school in the area is there, built in 1870. There is the site of a former slave market next to the fort. The French abolished slavery in 1848, but still practiced it in Mali. Slaves were sold to Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria.
The Tour de Guet near the fort is said to have held gold in World War II to hide it from the Germans.
A little further south is a series of waterfalls, the Chutes de Félou (see Mali Nature).
French colonial building in Kayes. (933k) Market in Kayes. (794k) Vegetable gardens in Kayes. (640k) School next to the Fort de Médine. (785k) Fort de Médine outside of Kayes. (797k) Main building in the fort. (534k) A machine gun in the fort. This gun and guns like it were the main reason the French could win against the Bambara. (683k) Site of the former slave market. (595k) Old train station. (666k) Tour de Guet. (691k)
Small villages and camps
Fulani camp. As usual, the kids come running to have a look at the strangers. (1069k) Fulani huts and cattle. (1076k) Dogon village. (1017k) Dogon granary. (1188k) Mosque in a Dogon village. (943k) Dogon village. (1055k) View of a village on the Bandiagara escarpment. (1018k) View of the Dogon village Ireli from the top of the Bandiagara escarpment. This was the path we took to get from the plateau down into the plains. (909k) View of the Dogon village Ireli. (988k) Council place in Ireli. (908k) View of Banani from the top of the Bandiagara escarpment. This is where the road climbs up the escarpment. (918k) View of Dogon village Konoudou. (749k) View of Dogon village Konoudou. (726k) Dogon village Yondouma. (1252k) Dogon village Damassongo. (1227k) Bela camp. (657k) Bambara village. (662k) Bambara village with mosque. (675k) Christian church in a Bambara village. (707k) Granary in a Bambara village. (683k) Bobo village near Mopti. (781k) Bozo settlement on the Niger River. (609k) Bozo village on the Niger River. (739k)
Houses, construction, signs, etc.
Houses in a Dogon village. (859k) Tent house in Ignedjetebane, near the Gourma reserve. (976k) Inside the house. (980k) Tree trunk as stairs. (924k) Wood carved pillar on the council place. (981k) Sign in Sangha. (945k) Water tower in a Dogon village. Some villages had running water like that, but mostly the villages had a village well for water. (855k) Wood carved decoration. (1124k) One of the hotel rooms. They were simple but relatively clean. (423k) This was my sleeping quarters in one of the camps, a mat on the floor. Fortunately I had a mosquito net and a sleeping bag. (725k) Mud brick factory next to a village. (841k) Mud brick fabrication. (684k) Mud brick fabrication along the Niger River. (711k) Mud plastering a wall. As frequently seen, one or two people were working, the others were watching. (894k) Quarry for building stones. (1036k) Advertising for mosquito nets. (764k) Advertising for testing for HIV (VIH in French). (583k) Field covered with the ubiquitous plastic bags. They are a real scourge around the villages. (1128k)