Sudano-Sahelian architecture

The Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali (Malian).
Agadez Grand Mosque, Niger (Fortress style).
Larabanga Mosque, Ghana (Gur-Voltaic).

The Sudano-Sahelian architecture (also Sudanese) covers an umbrella of similar indigenous architectural styles common to the African peoples of the Sahel and Sudanian grassland (geographical) regions of West Africa, south of the Sahara, but above fertile forest regions of the coast.

This style is characterized by the use of mudbricks and an adobe plaster, with large wooden-log support beams that jut out from the wall face for large buildings such as mosques or palaces. These beams also act as scaffolding for reworking, which is done at regular intervals, and involves the local community. The earliest examples of Sudano-Sahelian style likely comes from Jenné-Jeno around 250 BC, where the first evidence of permanent mudbrick architecture in the region is attested.[1]

Difference between Savannah and Sahelian styles

The earthen architecture in the Sahel zone region is noticeably different from the building style in the neighboring savannah. The "old Sudanese" cultivators of the savannah built their compounds out of several cone-roofed houses. This was primarily an urban building style, associated with centres of trade and wealth, characterised by cubic buildings with terraced roofs comprise the typical style.

They lend a characteristic appearance to the close-built villages and cities. Large buildings such as mosques, representative residential and youth houses stand out in the distance. They are landmarks in a flat landscape that point to a complex society of farmers, craftsmen and merchants with a religious and political upper class.

With the expansion of Sahelian kingdoms south to the rural areas in the savannas (inhabited by culturally or ethnically similar groups to those in the Sahel), the Sudano-Sahelian style was reserved for mosques, palaces, the houses of nobility or townsfolk (as is evident in the Gur-Voltaic style), whereas among commonfolk, there was a mix between either typically distinct Sudano-Sahelian styles for wealthier families, and older African roundhut styles for rural villages and family compounds.


An ancestral Hausa multi-storey townhouse exhibiting the Tubali/Hausa architectural style, Agadez, central Niger.

The Sudano-Sahelian architectural style itself can be broken down in to four smaller sub-styles that are typical of different ethnic groups in the region. The examples used here illustrate the construction of mosques as well as palaces, as the architectural style is concentrated around inland Muslim populations.

As with the people, many of these styles cross-pollinate and produce buildings with shared features. Any one of these styles is not exclusive to one particular modern countries borders, but are linked to the ethnicity of its builders or surrounding populations. For example, a Malian migrant community in traditionally Gur area may build in the style characteristic of their ancestral homeland, while neighbouring Gur buildings are built in the local style. These styles include:

Historic mosque of Kong, now in Cote d'Ivoire, 1892

See also


Further reading

External links

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