Recently I made a tiny film clip to raise awareness about the pollution surrounding the Giza Pyramids. In the comment section of that post, one of my colleagues quipped that Egypt’s newly empowered islamists would probably destroy the iconic Pharaonic structures. He was perhaps responding to a rumor that was circulating on social media at the time.
Quite frankly, I thought he was being ridiculous, and I still doubt that the pyramids are at risk of destruction given their importance to the country’s identity and weakened economy. But in Timbuktu, hardline islamists have destroyed one of the country’s most important buildings – the Djingareyber Mosque.
Timbuktu’s Earthen Mosque
The Djingareyber Mosque designed by Abu Es Haq es Saheli (who received 200kg of gold for his efforts) in 1327 is a famous learning center in northern Mali.
Although less well-known to the international community than the Giza Pyramids, this extraordinary structure was constructed entirely out of fiber, straw and wood. As such it is an excellent example of the benefits and durability of earth construction.
It is also hugely important to Muslim followers and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Apart from a small facelift, the building remained almost completely intact until June, 2006, when researchers found that encroaching sand could potentially endanger the building. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture then conducted and financed a restoration plan.
But earlier this month, armed islamists from the group Ansar Dine (which means defenders of the faith), who consider the site to be idolatrous, destroyed enormously valuable burial sites on the western edge of the mosque.
Residents were outraged, but local imams encouraged everyone to keep the peace in order to avoid provoking the men who smashed the building with pickaxes and shovels.
“We see this as wise advice, because the youths here are unarmed,” one resident told Voices of America. “We’ve got the Sahara Desert on one side and the Niger River on the other – if clashes were to break out the people would have nowhere to run.”
Although the Taliban conducted similar raids on historic Buddhist monuments, and this destruction is not an isolated event, we have to think that the pyramids are safe. But that doesn’t keep us from mourning Timbuktu’s tragic loss.
UNESCO’s world heritage fund committee has discussed plans to help Mali conserve their natural heritage amid the conflict between Ansar Dine and Tuareg separatist rebels.