The Magnificent Mudbrick Mosques of West Africa

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All around the Muslim world, mosques have a typical architecture characterized by a minaret, a dome, arches and mosaics or stucco decorations. These design elements were brought by the Arabs when they migrated and took control of foreign lands through conquest. But in areas where the spread of Islam was more gradual, brought by merchants and traders, mosque architecture conforms more to vernacular design determined by local skills and availability of materials. Nowhere else this manifests more than in West Africa. The mosques here vary from simple roofless enclosures serving the function of places where the community could gather and pray, to magnificent buildings.
In the Sahel and Sudanian grassland of West Africa, a unique style of mosque has developed. Spanning a vast area across the northern African continent from Senegal to Sudan, as well as Ghana and Ivory Coast, these mosques are characterized by a common building material—mud bricks, reinforced by large wooden logs and support beams that jut out from the wall face giving them a fortress like appearance. These wooden stakes, called toron, are used as scaffolding when the surface is reworked every year. They also serve a decorative purpose. The mosques usually have a tower, a flat roof and a courtyard. The floor inside is covered with sand over which prayer mats are laid. Natural light streaming in through holes pierced in the ceiling provide the only illumination. Except for massive pillars supporting the roof and their arches, the interior is undecorated so as not to distract the worshipper.


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