Mali's legendary earthen buildings in danger - UNESCO

UNESCO says Mali's World Heritage site, the Old Towns of Djenné, could disappear due to a lack of security.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Malian youths play soccer in front of the Great Mosque in Djenne, Mali. Image: Reuters/Yves Herman

A World Heritage site in central Mali that features elaborate pre-Islamic mud houses is in danger of deteriorating because it cannot be protected adequately in the face of insecurity, UNESCO said on Wednesday.

The Old Towns of Djenné, characterised by the extraordinary use of earth in their architecture, includes four archaeological sites with nearly 2,000 houses whose decorative facades have remained intact since the 3rd century BC.

The buildings are among the most famous in Mali, a country that also boasts the ancient town of Timbuktu.

Rooftops of traditional mud-brick houses are seen in Djenne, Mali. Image: Reuters/Joe Penney

UNESCO said that the 40th meeting of its World Heritage Committee in Istanbul decided to place the site on its list of world heritage in danger as insecurity was preventing measures to safeguard it against the deterioration of construction materials, urbanisation and erosion

UNESCO did not detail the nature of the security threats but Mali has been threatened for the last four years by militant groups such as Al Qaeda and Ansar Dine, as well as volatile separatist politics in the north.

"The Malian government is coping with a lot of challenges," said Edmond Moukala, head of UNESCO World Heritage in Africa, adding concerns were raised when a team visiting the site this year found signs of deterioration.

"What is needed right now is to ensure that institutions are in place and receive financial support," he said.

A woman walks by an Islamic institute in traditional Moorish style in Djenne, Mali. Image: Reuters/Joe Penney

A force led by French troops intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had hijacked an ethnic Tuareg uprising and seized Timbuktu and other towns in the north.

In 2012, militants linked to al Qaeda destroyed ancient shrines and tombs in the World Heritage site at Timbuktu.

Violence flared this week as the army opened fire on protesters in the northern city of Gao who opposed an interim authority intended to maintain stability in the desert region.

Djenné, a market centre and link in the trans-Saharan gold trade, were added to the World Heritage List in 1988.

A man recites Quranic verses handwritten on a piece of wood in front of the Grand Mosque of Djenne, Mali. Image: Reuters/Joe Penney

Timbuktu and an ancient tomb in Gao have been on the list of sites in danger since 2012.

The 49 properties on the list include archeological sites in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

TRTWorld and agencies