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京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −167−

Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture :

Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

Oussouby SACKO

1. Purpose and Research Method

The aim of this paper is mainly to research what kind of cultural exchange has been done

during the Trans-Saharan Trade from the architectural and cultural perspective. In Mali,

the research was conducted in Djenné and Timbuctu, two historical cities, which have been

in the center of the Trans-Saharan Trade. In those cities, the field survey was focused on

spatial organization and their social meaning, specifically the courtyard and the vestibuleNote1.

For understanding the role and the spatial organization of the vestibule in the courtyard

houses, few pre-surveys and pre-analyses based on my previous researches and field

works were conducted. The pre-surveys were conducted in August and December 2007,

by measurement of plans, interview of households and household behaviors’ observation.

Different ethnic groups were chosen as subjects in the meaning of understanding the social

role of the vestibule in their social interaction.

In Mauritania, the surveys were conducted mainly in the Adrar RegionNote2, specifically

in the historical cities of Chingetti and Ouadane. In both cities, interview surveys were

conducted regarding their role and implication within the trans-Saharan trade. Focusing on

houses, I made measurements and observations of houses details. In those areas, particular

interest was put on the manuscripts, their role in cultural exchange, and conservation


2. Introduction of Mali and Mauritania

2.1 About Mali

(1) History and Geography

Mali is a landlocked country situated in the heart of West Africa. Mali was a French
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

colony for about hundred years and use to be

called the French Sudan. It became independent

in September 22nd, 1960. Mali is bordered on

the north by Algeria, on the east by Niger, and

Burkina Faso, on the south by Côte d’Ivoire

and Guinea, and on the west by Senegal, and

Mauritania. It is a relatively large country with

a surface area of 1,240,192 km², and the Sahara

Fig. 1 The Republic of Mali
desert covers 65% of its territoryRef. 1. Source:

Fig. 2 Tomb of Askia Fig. 3 Cliffs of Bandiagara (Sangha)

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2009. 09) Source: Oussouby SACKO (2009.08)

The Niger River and the Senegal River run respectively for 1700 km and 800 km through

the south and east of the country, while the northern region forms part of the Sahara Desert.

The seasons are divided broadly into dry and wet or rainy. The dry season starts from

around November to May, and the rainy season starts from around June to October. Rainfall,

extremely low in the desert areas to the north, exceeds 700 mm annually in the south due to

the tropical climate. The population is concentrated in central and southern areas, where the

climate is relatively mildRef. 2.

Mali has 4 World Cultural Heritages sites, three (Djenne (since 1988), Timbuktu(since

1988) and Tomb of Askia (since 2004)) as cultural heritages and one (Cliff of Bandiagara

(Land of the Dogons)(since 1989)) as mixed cultural heritageRef. 3.

(2) Population and Ethnical Structure

In 2008 the actual population was about 12.7 million (2008), mainly (90%) concentrated in

the southern parts, giving an average population density of about 10 people per km². Mali’s
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −169−

population consists of diverse Sub-Saharan ethnic groups (Bambara, Fulani, Soninké, Sénouf,

Songhai, Malinké, and Dogon), sharing similar historic, cultural, and religious traditions.

Exceptions are the TuaregsNote 3 and Moors, desert nomads, related to the North African

Berbers. Historically, good inter-ethnic relations throughout the rest of the country were

facilitated by easy mobility on the Niger River and across the country’s vast savannahs.

Each ethnic group was traditionally tied to a specific occupation, all working within close

proximity. The Bambara, Malinke, and Dogon are farmers; the Fulani, Moor, and Tuareg

are herders; the Soninkés or Saracolés are traders; while the Bozos are fishermen. In recent

years, this linkage has shifted as ethnic groups seek diverse, nontraditional sources of

incomeRef. 4. Although each ethnic group speaks a separate language, nearly 80% of Malians

communicate in Bambara, the common language of the marketplace.

2.2 About Mauritania

(1) History and Geography

Most of Mauritania is made up of low-lying

desert, which comprises part of the Sahara. Along

the Senegal River, the southwest is a semiarid Sahel

with some fertile alluvial soil. A wide sandstone

plateau (rising to c. 460 m) runs through the center

of the country from north to south. The country is

divided into 12 administrative regions.

The Hodh region (in the southern part of

Mauritania), which became desert only in the 11 th Fig. 4 Islamic Republic of Mauritania
century, was the center of the ancient empire of Mauritania-Map.gif
Ghana (700- 1200), whose capital, Kumbi-Saleh, located near the present-day border with

Mali, has been unearthed by archaeologists. Until the 13th century, Oualata, Awdaghost, and

Kumbi-Saleh, all in Mauritania, were major centers along the trans-Saharan caravan routes.

Until 1920, when it became a separate colony in French West Africa, Mauritania was

administrated as part of Senegal. Saint Louis, in Senegal, continued to be Mauritania’s

administrative center until 1957, when it was replaced by Nouakchott. In 1958, Mauritania

became an autonomous republic within the French Community and on November 28, 1960

Mauritania became fully independentRef. 5.

    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

Note 4
Mauritania’s four ancient cities known as the ksar (plural ksour) (World Heritage

sites since 1996) constitute exceptional examples of settlements built originally to serve the

important trade routes of the Sahara, which were witness to cultural, social and economic

contacts for many centuries. They are the only surviving places in Mauritania to have been

inhabited since the Middle Ages. Sited on the outskirts of a fertile valley or oasis, their

original function was to provide religious instruction, and so they developed around mosques,

accompanied by houses for teachers and students. Typically, houses with patios crowd along

narrow streets around a mosque with a square minaret. They illustrate a traditional way of

life centered on the nomadic culture of the people in the Western SaharaRef. 6.

(2) Population and Ethnical Structure

The majority of the population is made

up of nomadic and semi nomadic people of

Berber, Arab, Tuareg, and Fulani descent.

Those of Berber, Arab and mixed Berber-Arab

background are sometimes called Moors, Maurs,

or Maures. The remainder of the population

mostly belongs to the Tukolor, Soninke,

Bambara and Wolof ethnic and live as sedentary

agriculturalists near the Senegal River. The

great majority of Mauritanians use Hassaniya

Arabic Note 5, which along with Wolof are the

official language. Other erhnic languages such as

Pular and Soninke are also widely spoken. The

country has a complex social caste system from

the light-skinned Moors to the black Africans as

a social ladderRef. 7. Fig. 5 World Heritages Sites in Mauritania

Source: Okumura Satoshi (For the Maritania

3. The Trans-Saharan Trade and its impact on West African Culture

3.1 About the Trans-Saharan Trade

The Trans-Saharan trade Ref. 8

is the trade across the Sahara desert between
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −171−

Mediterranean countries and sub-

Saharan Africa. While existing from

prehistoric times, the peak of such

trade extended from the eighth century

until the late sixteenth century. No

one knows exactly when the trans-

Saharan trade first began. It may well

have begun 2000 years ago. The trans- Fig. 6 Historic Trans-Saharan Trade Routes, 8th to 19th centuries
Source: http://ericrossacademic.files.wordpress.
Saharan trade involved two regions, com/2011/01/historic-routes.jpg

North Africa and Western Sudan. Western Sudan is at present part of West Africa. The

northern traders were the Berbers of North Africa. In the 7th century AD the Muslim

Arabs conquered North AfricaRef. 9. The Arabs were great traders who were quick to see the

potential of the trans-Saharan trade.

3.2 West African History and the Impact of Trans-Saharan trade on its Culture

Small trade routes around the Nile

Valley have been used for millennia, but

travel across the Sahara prior to the

domestication of the camel was difficult.

The earliest evidence for domesticated

camels in the region dates from the third

century. Used by the Berber people, they

enabled more regular contact across the

entire width of the Sahara, but regular

trade routes did not develop until the

beginnings of the Islamic conversion of Fig. 7 Main Manuscript Repositories in Northern and Western Africa
West Africa in the seventh and eighth manuscripts.jpg
centuries. Two main trade routes developed. The first ran through the western desert from

modern Morocco to the Niger Bend, the second from modern Tunisia to the Lake Chad area.

These stretches were relatively short and had the essential network of occasional oases that

established the routing as inexorably as pins in a map. Further east, the area south of Libya

was impassable due to its lack of oases and fierce sandstorms. A route from the Niger Bend
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

to Egypt was abandoned in the tenth century due to its dangersRef. 10.

The rise of the Ghana Empire, centered on what is now southern Mauritania, paralleled

the increase in trans-Saharan trade. Mediterranean economies were short of gold but could

supply salt, where as West African countries had plenty of gold but desired salt. Several

trade routes became established; perhaps the most important terminating in Sijilmasa

and Ifriqua in what is now Morocco to the north. There, and in other North African cities,

Berber traders had increased contact with Islam, encouraging conversions, and by the

eighth century, Muslims were travelling to Ghana. Many in Ghana converted to Islam, and it

is likely that the Empire’s trade was privileged as a result.

Like Ghana, Mali was a Muslim Empire, and under it, the gold - salt trade continued.

It was under Mali that the great cities of the Niger bend —including Gao and Djenné—

prospered with Timbuktu in particular, becoming known across Europe for its great wealth.

Important trading centers in southern West Africa developed at the transitional zone

between the forest and the savanna. Western trade routes continued to be important, with

Ouadane, Oualata and Chinguetti being the major trade centers in what is now Mauritania,

while the Tuareg towns of Assodé and later Agadez grew around a more easterly route in

what is now NigerRef. 11.

The Portuguese journeys around the West African coast opened up new avenues for

trade between Europe and West Africa. By the early sixteenth century, European bases

were being established on the coast and trade with the now wealthier Europeans became of

prime importance. Although much reduced, trans-Saharan trade continued. But trade routes

to the West African coast became increasingly easy, particularly after the French invasion

of the Sahel in the 1890s and subsequent construction of railways to the interior. A railway

line from Dakar to Algier via the Niger bend was planned but never constructed. With the

independence of nations in the region in the 1960s, the north - south routes were severed by

national boundariesRef. 12.

4. Influence of Trans-Saharan trade on Mali :           

Role of Vestibule in Sudan Style Architecture

4.1 The purpose

The vestibule,“Bulow”in Bambara, used to be a gathering place, place for village council,
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −173−

or the meeting place for the Chief in ancient Mali Empire or Bambara Kingdom. Recently

it is rare to see a vestibule in houses in big cities like Bamako, but in the old and historical

cities such as Segou, Timbuktu or Djenne, more houses still have it. In Mali, layout of the

house differ among ethnic groups and its social meaning for each one is different. The

vestibule is used as shop, atelier, Koranic school, gathering place, and a place reserved for

the head of the family and his visitors. In this section, I will try to illustrate the influence

of the Trans-Saharan trade on local culture through architectural space and use of space.

On the other hand, I will try to understand and explain the social meaning of the vestibule,

the way it is used and its relation to the cohabitation between different ethnic groups, in

Timbuktu and Djenné.

4.2 About Sudan Style Architecture

(1) The Origin of the Sudan Style Architecture

The Sudano-Sahelian or Sudan Style Architecture is an architectural style common in the

Sahel. The style reached its height during the Mali and Songhay Empires in West Africa

during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Great Mosque of Djenné and Sankoré Mosque with

its accompanying university buildings in Timbuktu are the most famous examples of the

Sudanese style of architecture.

Fig. 8 Sudan Style Architecture (Djenne) Fig. 9 Diagram a Urban Courtyard House in Mali
Source: Oussouby SACKO (2011.02) Source: Oussouby SACKO [Doctoral Thesis, Kyoto University]

The Mali Empire gained direct control over the city of Timbuktu in 1324 during the

reign of Mansa Kankan Musa who embarked on a large building program, building mosques

and universities in Timbuktu and GAO. Upon returning from his famous Haji, Musa brought

the Granada architect Abu Ishaq es Saheli from Egypt to help build mosques and palaces

throughout the empire. He designed and saw the construction of one of Sankore’s first great
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

mosques and the Djinguereber Masajid in 1327Ref. 13.

(2) Outline of the conventional courtyard house in Cities of Mali

Housing styles in most cities in Mali originated from rural settlements, have been

influenced by the Sudanese style with courtyards that had been developed in such ancient

cities as Djenné and Timbuktu in the north part of Mali, and the colonial construction style

brought in by France. The process of urbanization accompanying modern conveniences gave

rise to changes in space and its usage. The resulting urban style houses have surrounding

walls, although while enlargement of the building inside the site is possible, spreading over

the boundary lines is limited. Various materials are used to build the houses such as mud

bricks, cement bricks and concrete blocksRef. 14.

Fig. 10 Different Type of Courtyard Houses in Mali

Source: Oussouby SACKO [Doctoral Thesis, Kyoto University] (2000.1)

Urban conventional courtyard housesNote 6 can be classified into four types. Among the

four types, three of them are influenced by the rural settlements and the Sudanese style

with the courtyard as its centre; the remaining type is influenced by the western- or 

colonial style with the living room as the center of living activities. The houses can be

named as follows. Houses with the bedroom directly facing the courtyard as“basic type”

(house type in most of the cities, Bamako, Segou, Djenne and others), the houses with

verandas as“veranda type”(house type in most of the cities, Bamako, Segou, Djenne and

others), and with terraces as“terrace type”(house type in most of the cities, Bamako, Segou,

Djenne and others) and the houses with living rooms as“villa type”(almost in Bamako).
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −175−

4.3 The Vestibule in the Sudan Style Houses

Fig. 11 Vestibule in Sudan Style House

Source: Trace based on Bernard Gardi, Pierre Maas, Geert
Mommersteeg, Bintou Sanankouaz, KIT , Publications, 1995, Pp. 86

In the Sudanese style house the vestibule is a space used as an entrance hall, located

between the street and the courtyard or the veranda. Usually there is a door which can

be opened and closed, and connects to the courtyard depending on the way the inhabitant

wishes to use it. In some cases the vestibule is divided into two spaces as it is possible with

the courtyard.

4.4 Case studies on the social meaning of the vestibule

(1) The case of Djenné

① The town and its Architecture

Inhabited since 250 B.C., Djenné (also Dienné

or Jenne) is a historically and commercially

important small city in the Niger Inland Delta of

central Mali. Djenné became a market center and

an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade.

From the 13th century, Djenné developed as the Fig. 12 Bird View of Djnenne (By Helicopter)
Source: Oussouby SACKO (2004.3)
distribution point for everyday commodities such

as rice and corn, and also as a center of arts,

learning and religion. In the middle of the old

city stands a great Sudanese-style mosque, built

Ref. 15
in 1220 and rebuilt in 1907 .

Djenné has an ethnically diverse population

of about 12,000 (in 1987). It became famous for its

mud brick (adobe) architecture. The inhabitants Fig. 13 The town of Djenne
Source: Terashima Yuriko (KSU Student, 2009.8)
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

of Djenné mostly speak a Songhay variety named Djenné Chiini, but the languages spoken

also reflect the diversity of the area. In the villages surrounding the city, Bozo, Fulfulde, or

Bambara are also spoken.

Fig. 14 Great Mosque of Djenne during Plastering Festival Fig. 15 Courtyard of the Great Mosque
Source: Oussouby SACKO (2004.3) Source: Oussouby SACKO (2011.2)

Fig. 16 Plan of the Mosque

Source: Trace based on Pierre MAAS et Geert MOMMERSTEEG
[DJENNE Chef D’Oeuvre Architectural] KIT Publications, 1992 Fig. 17 Interior of the Mosque
Source: Oussouby SACKO (2011.02)

Fig. 18 West Elevation of the Mosque

Source: Trace based on Pierre MAAS et Geert MOMMERSTEEG [DJENNE Chef D’Oeuvre
Architectural] KIT Publications, 1992
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② Interview of le chef de Village (Mr. MAIGA (85 Years Old)

 ◦ In Djenné, the vestibule is designated for the head of the household. He is the first

person to receive visitors coming into the house. The specific case in Djenné is that in

almost all the vestibules, there is a small room in it for the head to keep his precious

and secret objects.

 ◦ For the Marabout (Koran teachers), the vestibule serves as a learning space. For

artisans the vestibule is used as an atelier or shop. In those cases, there is another

small vestibule or veranda, in which the family members take their meal.

 ◦ Some nomadic ethnic groups (Fulani=Peulhs) have no houses and if they do, these

houses do not have vestibule.

 ◦ The courtyard is made for the housewife and her children with the vestibule playing

a very important role for socializing with people outside the family. In Djenné, houses

with two courtyards are rare, but houses without even a single vestibule would not

be considered as a house, because they do not contain all the necessary spaces for the


Fig. 19 A House in Djenne with Vestivule

Source: Trace based on Pierre MAAS et Geert MOMMERSTEEG [DJENNE Chef D'Oeuvre
Architectural] KIT Publications
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

Fig. 20 Vestibule in Djenné

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2007.12)

(2) The case of Timbuktu

① The town and its architecture

World Heritage site since 1988,

Timbuktu is thought to have been

founded towards the end of the 5th

century by a group of Imakcharen

Tuaregs. Quickly converted to

Islam, the market city of Timbuktu

Fig. 21 The Great Sankore Mosque
reached its apex under the reign of Source: Oussouby SACKO (2007.6)
the Askia (1493-1591). Timbuktu is home to the prestigious Sankore University and other

madrasas (Koran School), and was an intellectual and spiritual capital, and center for the

propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great

mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahya, recall Timbuktu’s golden age (with the

Sultan Kankan MoussaNote 7). Although continuously restored, these monuments are today

under threat from desertification. The current desertification of surrounding areas has seen

Timbuktu inscribed on the List of World Heritage in DangerRef.16.

京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −179−

Fig. 22 Sudan Style House in Timbuktu

Source: Above 2 pictures by S. MUNEMOTO (2007.8)
Left Picture by Oussouby SACKO (2007.12)

Songhay, Tuareg, Fulani, and MandéNote8

populated Timbuktu. It is also at the

intersection of an east-west and a north–

south Trans-Saharan trade across the Sahara

to Araouane. It was important historically (and still is today) as an entrepot for rock salt

from Taoudeni. The main language of Timbuktu is a Songhay language called Koyra Chiini,

spoken by over 80% of residents. Smaller groups, speak Hassaniya Arabic and Tamashek.

The 1998 census listed its population at 31,973, up.

② Interview of Mr. Kalil TOURE (64 Years Old), owner of a private museum in Timbuktu

 ◦ A great part of Timbuktu residents are descendant of Armans, Espano-marocan

origin people. They use to live in a cast system with their slaves and workers.

 ◦ Nomad’s ethnic groups, such as Touareg, Fulani or Tamasheck used to live outside of

the city, and in most of the cases, do not have houses but temporaly tents.

 ◦ As you can learn from history, the houses in Timbuktu are based on a style originated

from the Al-Andalusia region in the actual spain. However, now a days the houses of

Timbuktu are a great mix of culture themselves.

 ◦ The entrance of a house in Timbuktu is very important, Algaloune (in Arabic)

 ◦ Usually there are two vestibules, but only one in some cases. The first one is to

receive visitors from outside, or can be used as the work place of the household head.

A great part of the population in Timbuktu used to have a small artist shop or atelier.

The second vestibule is reserved for the housewife and her children. A place for them
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

to eat, talk or take a nap,

 ◦ In most cases, the house has two courtyards. The first one called, court of free people,

and the second was reserved for domestics and slaves. These two patios play a very

important role for ventilation.

 ◦ In houses with a second floor, the private room of the household head is located on

the second floor. Usually, there is a stairway, located in the first vestibule, which leads

the visitors directly to the household head’s private space.

 ◦ In Timbuktu, from outside of the house, you can’t make any difference between a rich

and a poor family. The only remark you can make is that the house of a slave or some

other lower cast of people does not have a vestibule.

Fig. 23 Vestibule in Timbuktu

Source: Above picture by S. Munemoto (2007.8)
Left 2 Pictures by Oussouby SACKO (2007.12)

③ Discussion and Remarks

As a result of this study, the vestibule is still found to be a very important space in

Sudanese style houses, even though the vestibule tends to disappear in the courtyard houses

in cities like Bamako. In Djenné, the vestibule is used as a Koranic school in most of the

Marabout’s houses, as an atelier in artisan’s houses, as a meeting place in the Chief’s house.

It is therefore clear that the role of the vestibule depends more to the household head’s

social status and occupation. In the case of Djenné, it is still difficult to say that the vestibule’

s role is relating to a particular ethnic group or race. Nevertheless, it plays a very important

role in socializing between different families in the community; therefore, it can be seen as a

key in the cohabitation between different ethnic groups.

As in Djenné, houses in Timbuktu use the vestibule as an atelier or work place for the
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −181−

household head, but it is used here more as a family and social space. In most houses as the

vestibule is used as a work place, a second vestibule exists and is used as the family space.

In contrast to Djenné’s residents, the inhabitants from Timbuktu spend more time in the

vestibule than in the courtyard, which is relatively small and hot. In Timbuktu, the entrance

plays a very important role as the family members’ privacy is directly in concern. Therefore,

in Timbuktu you can often see more doors half-open or even closed in some cases. It is

difficult at this point to say that the vestibule plays a role in socializing in Timbuktu, but

we can understand that the door’s design and materials reflect the social status of the

household head and at times, the family status as noble or slave descendant. Therefore, in

Timbuktu it is clearer to see that the vestibule can play or is playing an important role in

the cohabitation between different ethnic groups, races or families belonging to different

social backgrounds.

5. Influence of Trans-Saharan trade in Mauritania through   

Architecture Detail

5.1 Different type of house architecture in the Adrar Region of Mauritania

The architecture style in the Adrar region is very diverse but has been developed

around nomadic or semi-nomadic cultures. The Adrar region is controlled by the Moor

ethnic groupRef. 17, a people who are traditional nomads, The Moors’ life-style give the region a

special atmosphere. Everywhere, along the road or in the middle of the desert, you can find

them, living in nomad tents. Even in the towns and villages, many Moor people put their

tents between the houses or in their inner courtyard. The traditional tent is called khaima.

The tents have a very easy structure and are made by any available material. The tents

are built to be removed at anytime to erect in another place. In the region, there is another

type of tent house (Tikitt), for more sedentary use, which is also used to dry the dates fruits

after the GuetnaNote 9 season. These are made of palm trees and branches. They have a very
simple circular or rectangular form. They can be found around Oases and the palmerais

(palm trees).

The most common architectural form for settled communities is the negro-Berber

influenced dry-stone architecture. Its wall structure is composed of stone and mud mortar

joints and the roof of palm trees, mat and mud mortar.
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

Fig. 24 Tent Tikitt in the Adrar (Mauritania)

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)

Fig. 25 Tent Khaima in the Adrar (Mauritania)

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)

5.2 The Archives and Libraries in Chingetti

(1) The town and its architecture

After two centuries of decline, the city of Chinguetti was re-founded in the 13th century

as a fortified cross-Saharan caravan trading center connecting the Mediterranean with Sub-

Saharan Africa and a must stop over for pilgrims on their way to Mecca Note 10. Chinguetti

is a ksar, lying on the Adrar Plateau 80km east of Atar (480km from Nouakchott). It has a

population of 4700 according to the 2000 cencus (General Census of Population and Housing

Census (PHC)) (but it is said to have only 3000 or less people in 2010) Ref. 18. In spite of its

actual condition, this small, threatened city continues to attract visitors who admire its
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −183−

sparse architecture, exotic scenery and its ancient libraries.

The actual Chinguetti is divided into two centers, the old town, with traditional houses

and the new center with administrative buildings. The indigenous Saharan architecture

of the old town features reddish dry stone and mud-brick (banco) houses, with flat roofs

timbered from palms. Many of the older

houses feature hand-hewn doors cut from

massive ancient acacia treesNote 11 that have

long disappeared from the surroundings.

The key is made in wood with metal spikes.

Many houses are built around courtyards

or patios that crowd along narrow streets

leading to the central mosque. They are

ornamented with geometrically shaped

Fig. 26 Map of Chingetti (old town)
Source: Villes de Memoire-Anciens ksours de niches and wall dormers. Indoors or inside,
Mauritanie p.11

Fig. 27 Old town of Chinguetti

Source: Oussouby SACKO (i2010.2)

rooms are spread out around a central room, while stairs lead to terraces. A notable building

in the town is the Friday Mosque of Chinguetti, an ancient structure of dry stone featuring

a square minaret capped with five ostrich egg finials. The Friday Mosque of Chinguetti,

is widely considered by Mauritanians to be the national symbol of the country. The old

town narrow streets piled with sand, is seriously invaded by high sands and several houses

have been abandoned to the encroaching sand. The new town grew around the old colonial

fort and official buildings built when Mauritania was still under French control. Since the

marketplace and most shops are located there, people constantly cross the Wadi (from one
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

part of the town) to the otherRef. 19.

(2) The Libraries and Archives

The old center is home to old private medieval manuscript libraries and museums (the Al

Habot, the Al Ahmad Mahmoud, the Al Hamoni, and the Ould Ahmad Sherif). The Arabo-

Berber manuscripts are mainly scientific, Koran text and poems with many dating from the

middle age. It also became a center of Islamic religious and scientific scholarship in West

Africa. In addition to religious training, the schools of Chinguetti taught students rhetoric,

law, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. The most importants are the Al Habott (2000

manuscripts) and the Al Ahmad Mahmoud library (400 manuscripts and 1400 documents).

The Habott family owns books covering a dozen subjects such as the Koran and the

Hadith (the words of the Prophet), astronomy, mathematics, geometry, law and grammar.

The oldest tome, written on Chinese paper, dates from the 11th century. Four generations

Fig. 28 The Manuscripts in the Habott Library in Chinguetti

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)

have watched over the fine collection started by Sidi Ould Mohamed Habott in the 19th

century. Their ancestor travelled by camel to Mecca to find these treasures, following in

the footsteps of the scholars who handed down, exchanged and copied the books in the

course of their caravan journeys. Indeed, this is how Islam took root in Mauritania.“All the

scholars had their own library,”wrote the French ethnologist Odette du PuigaudeauRef. 20 as

she prescribed libraries in Chinguetti in 1937. On the other hand, the Habott family library

fittings are rudimentary, comprising metal cabinets, archive boxes and large jars of water in

the four corners of the room to release some moisture into this sandy worldRef. 21.
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −185−

(3) Conservation of Manuscripts in Chinguetti (Interview and Observation)

An article on the Manuscripts bad conservation appeared in the French News Paper“le

Monde”, on the 29th March 2010Ref. 22. It was quoted that“Out of more than 33,000 ancient

Arabic manuscripts identified at the end of the 1990s in Mauritania barely a tenth have

reached the museum. Most of the books are still in the hands of private owners.“We have

tried everything. We have offered to compensate the families or just look after the books

with a guarantee of property, but it makes no difference,”Abdi says.“It is a legacy from

their ancestors and an honour to keep them. Everyone does storing the books in trunks

or boxes. It is storage, not conservation.”Even a German-sponsored project to record the

manuscripts on microfilm ran into opposition.”

Fig. 29 The Manuscripts in the Al Mahmoud Library in Chinguetti

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)

I tried to understand the way and places the manuscripts are conserved. I made an

interview survey on the manager of Al Ahmad Mahmoud library, Saif Al-Islam, a school

teacher and story teller born in 1958. The library has about 400 manuscripts, 1400 documents

and many other objects, which prove the role of Chinguetti played during the trans-saharan

trade. The library was a newly renovated house by foreign fund. It has three blocks in two

levels. On the first level, there are the principal living room, women’s living room and boys

rooms, all around a courtyard. At the entrance, there is a vestibule, like the Soudan style
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

architecture. The kitchen is facing the courtyard. On the second floor, there are dry-style

toilets, girls’ room, and a guest room. There is a terrace which is connected to the date fruit

room, one of the main financial resources in this region. The architectural style is a Negro-

Berber style, and some of the decoration are similar to those of Dogon and Touareg signs.

The main building has an inside room accessible from a small hole on the bedroom wall, and

is said to be the secret room of the household’s head. After renovation, the first floor of the

main building and the annex are used for manuscripts conservation. One interesting thing in

this region’s house architecture is the passage of cats, a hole on the wall of the houses. The

cat presence was helping to reduce the rats. Some efforts were made for the conservation of

manuscripts, although the dust from outside and the building itself covered the collection.

Fig. 30 House Plan of Ahmed Mahmoud’s

Library based on field measurment
The Wall Dormers which are like Dogon and
Touareg Sign in Mali
Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −187−

5.3 The Archives and Libraries in Ouadane

(1) Brief introduction

Ouadane, or the city of the“two oueds”Note 12 is situated in northwestern Mauritania, lying

on the Adrar Plateau, 120km northeast of Chinguetti and 200km of Atar. It was founded in

1147 by the Berber tribe Idalwa el Hadji and soon became an important caravan and trading

center. A Portuguese trading post was established in 1487, but the town declined from the

sixteenth century. Between the 12th and the 16th century, there was noted a significant

flourish. The old town, a World Heritage Site since 1996 along with Chingetti, though in

ruins, is still substantially intact, while a small modern settlement lies outside its gate.

Ouadane use to be the most significant city in Mauritanian Sahara during the Trans-Saharan

Trade, with its rich palm plantations, seven mosques and large libraries. For camel caravans,

salt, dates and gold were the main merchandise. Ouadane reached its apogee and its decline

started with the massive diversion of the trade to the coasts by the Europeans towards the

end of the 17th century. Now it is almost abandoned and slowly being engulfed by sandRef. 23.

(2) The town and its architecture

Fig. 31 Map of Ouadane

Source: Villes de Memoire-Anciens ksours de
Mauritanie p.23

Ouadane offers exceptional landscapes

because of its geographical situation. With 800

years since its construction, Ouadane has some

of the most impressive ruins of Mauritania.

Ouadane attracts visitors by the architecture Fig. 32 The City of Ouadane

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

of its houses built in cliffs. The important places in Ouadane are, the old mosque, the palm

plantation and the old city. It is all set in the hillside, with buildings that blend in with the

rocks, both from colour and now, their crumbling structures. There is still a village there,

situated above the old one, and inhabited by the Idawalhajj tribe, of Berber origin. The

positioning of the whole village is strikingly beautiful, with an oasis, palmeraie, and sand

dunes. The old town is even more in ruins than that of Chinguetti but its positioning on a

cliff face is more spectacular. Of all the ruins, the old mosque and the Ksaru I-Klali stand out.

The architecture of these places is marked by a strong Islamic influence, but also with the

nomadic cultureRef. 24.

(3) Restoration project by Sidi Mohamed Ould Abidine Sidi (Interview and Observations)

Conservator and curator at the“Musee de Ouadane”(Ouadane Museum), Sidi Mohamed

Ould Adidine Sidi, whose family was one of the three that established Ouadane, was born in

1956 at Ouadane. He was trained as school teacher and served as primary school teacher for

almost 10years. He started to work on a fulltime basis as a private collector of manuscripts

and conservator of Ouadane Cultural Heritages in 1992. He owns more than 150 manuscripts

(mostly conserved badly) and some of them are dated back to 11th century. He had a

museum full of all kinds of things he had collected, or been given throughout his life time.

As part of his numerous works, he initiated and realized many renovation projects with

the help of foreign aid. He realized the renovation of the Maison des Armees of Ouadane as

a living library of manuscripts. He is the ideal guide in Ouadane and a tireless fighter for

the conservation of Ouadane’s cultural heritages. He is also the president of a local NGO,

«Fondation Abidine Sidi pour la Culture, le Savoir et la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine » (since

October 2007). Some TV personalities who visited Ouadane, like Elise Lucet of France3

in 1993, described it as the Sorbone du Desert and devote herself to the protection of the

cultural richness of MauritaniaRef. 25. In May 2002, a book titled“Bibliotheques du Desert”

was published by Attilio Gaudio and al.Ref. 26 about the importance of saving the manuscripts

of the Sahara.

In February 2010, when I visited Ouadane, he was undertaking a renovation of an old

house. The house used to be one of the biggest houses in Ouadane and home for four

families. The total surface of the site is 432 m2 with a courtyard of 165 m2. As you can see

from the pictures, the house was built in dry red stone joined by mud mortar. The roof,
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −189−

Fig. 33 Renovation projects in Ouadane Fig. 34 Renovation Sites

Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2), Trace based on Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)
Field Data
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

which was completely destroyed, was in palm

tree beams, covered with palm mats and mud

mortar. The project started in 2008 and was

suppose to finish in 2010, with a European

fund. The objective of Sidi Mohaoud Abidine’s

renovation project is to reproduce the house as

it was, by conserving the spatial organization,

to reproduce the decoration and to re-use the

Fig. 35 Sidi Mohamed Ould Abidine Sidi
building materials from the ruined house. By Source: Oussouby SACKO (2010.2)

rebuilding the ruined houses, you can make the old city livable again said Sidi Mohamoud


5.4 Discussion

There are few stone structures in Mauritania, where the villages consist mainly of huts,

tents and simple mud/concrete blocks. The architecture and mode of construction (a mixture

of stone held together with clay mined from deep underground) is interesting and perhaps

too easily overlooked. These towns are much smaller than Timbuctu. This might possibly

be due to the amount of time crossing the dunes (involved in getting there but, also because

neither has yet fallen prey to what UNESCO calls the brutal urbanization) of Timbuctu. In

both Chinguetti and Ouadane a new town has sprung up but, in both cases, is just separated

enough from the old.

I wish there were a way to either save or record these ancient books for posterity

before they are lost to the desert or to termites and time. Precious Arabic manuscripts

from western Africa are under threat as Mauritania’s desert libraries vanish. Handed down

from generation to generation the manuscripts, some of which date from the 10th century,

still belong to families and are dispersed around four main centres, Chinguetti, Ouadane,

Oulatane and Tichitt. The towns have been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1996.

6. Conclusion and Future research

The trans-Saharan trade was not only a great opportunity for Islamizing the western

part of Africa, but also a source of cultural exchange between those countries. You can find
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −191−

the cultural exchange aspect in many different areas, housing space and space use, interior

decoration, exterior decoration, and clothes.

In this discussion paper, I tried to point out some concrete examples of cultural space

research, historico-cultural exchange research in the aim of understanding whether or not

they can help in the preservation of specific cultures. In most countries and sites I did field

work, people were worried about the actual situation of their cultural heritages, but didn’t

have an idea how to take action to preserve them. Nor did they always understand what

those World Cultural Heritages can mean for others. As I mentioned in the introduction, one

problem is, the lack of education regarding these topics. Another issue is the lack of field

research for local scholars regarding the preservation of those cultural heritages. Further

collaboration is needed in those countries to help them understand the reality of the situation

and also having they own thought. This paper is without a conclusion as of yet. However,

I will continue to investigate, research, and design collaborations between Japan and those

countries, in order so that the findings of those researches can help both Design Education

and Cultural Preservation.


This research field survey was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion

of Science Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research Fee (Kakenhi) No. 21221011 (Principal

Investigator: Professor SHIMADA Yoshihito, Research Theme: Studies of the Afro-Eurasian

Inner Dryland Civilizations and their Actual Dynamics Pastoralism, Afro-Eurasian Inner

Dryland Civilizations). I would like also to thanks all the persons, salf SACKO and others

who have supported and contributed to my field researches on site or with logistics.


Note 1 A vestibule is a lobby, entrance hall, or passage between the entrance and the interior of a


Note 2 Adrar is a large region in Mauritania, named for the Adrar Plateau. Its capital is Atar. Other

major towns include Choum, Chinguetti and Ouadane. The Adrar is one of the most beautiful

sites in the countries with oasis and cliffs.

Note 3 The Tuareg (Touareg in French) people are of Berber descent, nomads of the Sahara. They

live in and between different coutries in the Sahara Desert and speak various languages
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

(Tamasheq, Arab, Berber).

Note 4 A Ksar (in Berber Language) is a term describing a Berber village consisting of generally

attached houses, often having collective granaries and other structures (mosque, bath, oven,

shops) widespread among the oasis populations of North Africa (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.

org/wiki/Ksar (2011.4) )

Note 5 Hassaniya (also known as Hassaniyya, Klem El Bithan, Hasanya, Hassani, Hassaniya) is

the variety of Arabic originally spoken by the Beni Hassān Bedouin tribes, who extended

their authority over most of Mauritania and the Western Sahara between the fifteenth and

seventeenth centuries. There are several dialects of Hassaniya. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.

org/wiki/Hassaniya_Arabic (2011.4))

Note 6 In Mali there is traditional courtyard which structure is the reflection of each ethnic groups.

But in the urban center, another type of courtyard housing, culturally different to the

countryside’s one has been developed

Note 7 Kanku Musa(the son of Kankou) (Mansa Musa) is the Emperor who rule the Mali Empire

between 1312 and 1337. He is well known by his trip to Mecca for the pilgrimage in 1324.

During his pilgrimage, his procession reported to include 60,000 men, 12,000 slaves, heralds

dressed in silks that bore gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags. He is known as the

one who’s action lead to the birth of Sudan Style Architecture

Note 8 Mandé or Manden is a large group of related ethnic groups in West Africa who speak any of

the many Mande languages spread throughout the region. The Mandé languages belong to a

divergent branch of the Niger-Congo family. (Wikipedia:

people (2011.4))z

Note 9 The date harvest season runs from the second half of June to the end of August, during the

hot summer days. It is called the Guetna season. The population abandons the towns to go to

the oasis. There, the owners of date palms sell branches which are literally collapsing under

the weight of the dates, and buyers can keep the dates until the end of the season. During the

Guetna season, a holiday atmosphere reigns over the palm groves. (Easy Voyage : http://www. (2011.4))

Note 10 Mecca (Makkah and in full: Makkat al-Mukarramah or Makkah) is a city in the Makkah

province of Saudi Arabia. Islamic tradition attributes the beginning of Mecca to Ishmael’

s descendants. In the 7th century, the Islamic prophet Muhammad proclaimed Islam in the

city which was by then an important trading center.(Wikipedia:

京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −193−


Note 11 Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family

Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1773. They are

pod-bearing, with sap and leaves typically bearing large amounts of tannins and condensed

tannins that historically in many species found use as pharmaceuticals and preservatives.

(Wikipedia: (2011.4))

Note 12 Oued is the French version of Wadi (in Arabic), which is traditionally referring to a valley. In

some cases, it may refer to a dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain

or simply an intermittent stream


Ref. 1 Mali Presidency web site:

Ref. 2 Mali Embassy in Japan web site: (2011.4)

Ref. 3 UNESCO web site : (2011. 04)

Joseph Brunet-Jailly [Djenne –D’hier a Demain-] Edition Donniya, 1999

Ref. 4 US Department of State (Countries and Regions) web site :

bgn/2828.htm (2011.4)

Institut National de la Statistique du Mali web site : (2011.4)

Ref. 5 US Department of State (Countries and Regions) web site :

bgn/2828.htm (2011.4)

Ref. 6 UNESCO web site : (2011. 04)

Ref. 7 Jean Bisson [Mythes et Realites d’un Desert Convoite – LE SAHARA-], l’Harmattan, 2006

Ref. 8 Bernard LUGAN [Atlas Historique de l’Afrique des origines a nos jours] Editions Rochers, 2004,

Pp. 73

Ref. 9 Document 54, p. 248 :carte raisonnée des axes d’explorations in Elikia M’BOKOLO (dir.), Afrique

Noire. Histoire et civilisations. Tome 2 : Du XIXe siècle à nos jours. Paris : HATIER, 2004

Ref. 10 GHISLAINE LYDON "Writing trans-Saharan history: methods, sources and interpretations

across the African divide," The Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 10, Issue 3/4 September

2005, Pp.293-324

Ref. 11 GHISLAINE LYDON [On Trans-Saharan trails: Islamic law, trade networks, and cross-cultural

exchange in nineteenth-century Western Africa. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University

Press, 2009
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade (7th-14th Century)]: (http://www. (2011.4)

Ref. 12 Pekka Masonen [Trans-Saharan Trade on the West Africa Discovery of the Mediterranean],

Paper from the 3rd Nordic Conference on the Middle East (Ethnic Encounter and Culture

Change) / Nordic Society for the Middle Eastern Studies, C. Hurst & Co(Publishers) Ltd.,1997,

Pp. 116 – 141

Ref. 13 Susan DENYER [African Traditional Architecture, An Historical and Geographical Perspective]


Suzanne P. BLIER [The Anatomy of Architecture, Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba

Architecture Expression] Cambridge University Press, 1987

Pierre MAAS et Geert MOMMERSTEEG [DJENNE Chef D’Oeuvre Architectural] KIT

Publications, 1992

Sergio DOMIAN[Architecture Soudanaise – Vitalite d’une Tradition urbaine et Monumentale-

Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana] l’Harmattan, 1989

Ref. 14 Oussouby SACKO (2000.1), Doctoral Dissertation: The Transition of Conventional Courtyard

Houses in Bamako into ["Collective Living" Houses] and Living Activities in the Courtyard, Kyoto

University 1999

Ref. 15 Berbard Gardi, Pierre Maas, Geert Mommersteeg, Bintou Sanankoua [Djenne, il ya cent ans],

KIT Publications, 1995

Ref. 16 UNESCO web site : (2011. 04)

Marie Aude Priez (Photographies de Thomas Renault) [Tombouctou et les villes du fleuve :

Segou, Djenne, Mopti]Editions ASA,1999

UNESCO / Republique du Mali, Ministere de la Culture [Plan de Concervation et de Gestion –

Vieille ville de Tombouctou (Annexes)- 2006-2010] Publie par le Ministere de la Culture, 2006

Ref. 17 Jean-Claude Klotchkoff [La Mauritanie Aujourd’hui]Les editions j.a., 1990

Lodge du Maure Bleu : (2011.4)

Ref. 18 STATISTIQUES DEMOGRAPHIQUES: Résultats du RGPH 2000 des Wilayas : http://www.

Ref. 19 Jaques Gandini [Piste de Mauritanie- a travers l’Histoire-] Extreme Sud – SERRE Editeur, 2008,


Ref. 20 Odette du Puigaudeau et Marion Senones [Memoire du Pays Maure – 1934 - 1960]Editions Ibis

Press, 2000
京都精華大学紀要 第三十九号 −195−

Ref. 21 Graziano Krätli [The Book and the Sand: Restoring and Preserving the Ancient Desert Libraries

of Mauritania — Part 1] World Libraries Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring 2004) World Libraries

Graziano Krätli [The Book and the Sand: Restoring and Preserving the Ancient Desert Libraries

of Mauritania — Part 2] World Libraries Vol. 14, No. 2 (Fall 2004) World Libraries

Ref. 22 Isabelle Mandraud [Les livres du sable] Journal Le Monde, Article publié le 06 Juillet 2010

Peace Newspaper [Mauritania’s hidden manuscripts] ( 29/03/2011) ( http://www.peacenewspaper.


Ref. 23 Jaques Gandini [Piste de Mauritanie- a travers l’Histoire-] Extreme Sud – SERRE Editeur, 2008,


Ref. 24 Travel & Culture Mauritania [Ouadane] web site :


Ref. 25 Elice Lucet [Titre:Les livres du desert] Pleine Vie, Fevrier 2001

CAZENAVE AGNES[SOS manuscrits du désert] - Publié le 20 mai 1999 - La Vie n°2803

Ref. 26 Jean Poirier [GAUDIO, Attilio, 2002, Les bibliothèques du Désert. Recherches et études sur un

millénaire d’écrits] Paris, L’Harmattan, 2005, p. 146-148

Other Sources (Maps)

Fig. 1 The Republic of Mali

United Nations Cartographic Department (2011.5)

Fig. 5 The Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Mappery Country Map (2011.5)

Fig. 5 World Heritages Sites in Mauritania

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (2011.5)

Fig. 6 Historic of Trans-Saharan Trade Routes, 8th to 19th Centuries

Eric Ross Academic (2011.5)
    Influences of Trans-Saharan Trade’s Cultural Exchanges on Architecture:Learning from Historical Cities and Cultural Heritages in Mali and Mauritania

Fig. 7 Main Manuscript Repositories in Northern and Western Africa

Eric Ross Academic (2011.5)

Fig. 26 Chinguetti Map

UNESCO(Centre du Patrimoine mondial) – Anciens Ksour de Mauritanie.

Projet“Sauvegarde et Valorisation du Patrimoine Culturel Mauritanien”, 2005, pp. 11

Fig. 31 Ouadane Map

UNESCO(Centre du Patrimoine mondial) – Anciens Ksour de Mauritanie.

Projet“Sauvegarde et Valorisation du Patrimoine Culturel Mauritanien”, 2005, pp. 23