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The Sudano-Sahelian architecture (also Sudanese and the French style-Soudanais) covers an umbrella of similar architectural styles common to the Islamized peoples of the Sahel and Sudanian grassland (geographical) regions of West Africa, south of (and within) 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.
Difference between Savannah and Sahelian styles
The earthen architecture in the Sahel zone region is noticeably different to the building style in the neighboring savannah. The "old Sudanese" cultivators of the savannah built their compounds out of several cone-roofed houses. Here on the other hand 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.
Three Main Types
The Sudano-Sahelian architectural style itself can be broken down in to three smaller sub-styles that are typical of different ethnic groups in the region. The examples used here illustrate the construction of mosques, as the architectural style is concentrated around inland Muslim populations. These include:
- Malian - of the various Manden groups of southern and central Mali. Characterized by the Great Mosque of Djenne and the Kani-Kombole Mosque of Mali.
- Fortress style - of the Zarma peoples of northern Nigeria and Niger, the Kanuri people of Lake Chad, and Songhai of northeastern Mali. Military aspect to construction of high protective compound walls built around a central courtyard. Minaret is the only structure with support beams showing. Characterized by the Sankore Mosque of Timbuktu, the tomb of Askia in Gao Mali, and the Agadez mosque of northern Niger.
- Volta basin - of the Gur and Manden groups of Burkina Faso, northern Ghana and northern Cote d'Ivoire. The most conservative of the three styles. A single courtyard, characterized by high white and black painted walls, inward curved turrets supporting an exterior wall, and a larger turret nearer the center. Characterized by the Larabanga mosque of Ghana and the Bobo-Dioulasso Grand Mosque.
- Brass, Mike (1998), The Antiquity of Man: East & West African complex societies
- Aradeon, Suzan B. (1989), "Al-Sahili: the historian's myth of architectural technology transfer from North Africa", Journal des Africanistes 59: 99–131.
- Bourgeois, Jean-Louis; Pelos, Carollee (photographer); Davidson, Basil (historical essay) (1989), Spectacular vernacular : the adobe tradition, New York: Aperture Foundation, ISBN 0-89381-391-5. Second edition published in 1996.
- Prussin, Labelle (1986), Hatumere: Islamic design in West Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-03004-4.
- Schutyser, S. (photographer); Dethier, J.; Gruner, D. (2003), Banco, Adobe Mosques of the Inner Niger Delta, Milan: 5 Continents Editions, ISBN 88-7439-051-3.