Towns and Villages in Mali

Travel pictures from Mali

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn

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Except in the biggest cities like Bamako, most buildings are mud brick construction. Mud built buildings have to be re-plastered every year after the rainy season ends. The wooden pegs that you see on a lot of mud buildings are used to climb up the building during the annual mud plastering.

The mud bricks are usually made right where they are needed. Villages usually have a mud hole next to them where the bricks for the village are made. These bricks have to be renewed constantly, especially after the rainy season.

Since I couldn't come up with a better ordering, I put the towns in the order in which I visited them.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn


The Dogon town Koro is close to the border with Burkina Faso. It is a sleepy little town, but has a beautiful mud built mosque.

mud brick mosqueThe mud brick mosque in Koro. (590k) mosque koroThe mosque in Koro. (531k) mosque koroThe mosque in Koro. (538k) closer view mosqueCloser view of the mosque in Koro. (623k) street koroStreet in Koro. (688k)


Songho is the area where, according to legend, the first Dogon settled. There were four couples that were looking for a place to settle, but couldn't find water. A crocodile showed them the way to water, so they settled here. Since then, the crocodile is sacred for the Dogon. The Dogon all descend from these first four families. The Dogon found the area inhabited by the Tellem people, who lived in the cliffs of the escarpment. According to Dogon legend, the Tellem left voluntarily, when the Dogon started cultivating the land in the plains below the cliffs. The Tellem where thought to be able to fly or be wizards, since it seemed impossible to get to the cliff dwellings otherwise.

According to archaeological evidence, the Dogon settled here probably in the 13th or 14th century. They came from the area of Kangaba in eastern Mali, where they left because of overcrowding and approaching Islamic Fulani.

view songhoView of Songho. (500k) songhoIn Songho. (565k) mosque songhoMosque in Songho. (492k) circumcision grotto womenCircumcision grotto. Women are not allowed to go there. New paintings are added every two years when the circumcision rites are performed. They are the signs for the different Dogon families. (639k) wall painting signsWall painting of signs of the original Dogon families in the circumcision grotto. (690k)
crocodile painting crocodileCrocodile painting. The crocodile is sacred for the Dogon. (631k) wall painting circumcisionWall painting in the circumcision grotto. (610k) wall painting circumcisionWall painting in the circumcision grotto. (641k) music instruments playedMusic instruments that are played after the circumcision rite. There are over 1000 of these instruments in this cave. They are used only once. (560k)


Sangha is a nice Dogon village on the plateau, close to the Bandiagara escarpment. It has a Muslim section, a Christian section, and an animist section. The three different religions seem to be getting along with each other (according to my guide).

On the way down to Ireli, we walked past the fox tables. These are sand beds surrounded with stones. During the night, the fox, an important Dogon spirit, walks across the sand. In the morning the wise men interpret the tracks and predict the future.

view sangha acrossView of Sangha from across the valley. (540k) view over sanghaView over Sangha. (533k) sanghaIn Sangha. (665k) council place roofCouncil place. The roof is so low that you cannot stand in there. If somebody gets angry during a meeting and stands up, they bang their head, which brings them back from their fury. (504k) house sanghaHouse in Sangha. (525k)
house shamanhealer animistHouse of the shaman/healer in the animist section of Sangha. (635k) village chief sanghaVillage chief of Sangha and his wife. This position is hereditary. The chief basically spends his whole life in his house. The village people bring him food, and everything he needs. (720k) village chief sanghaVillage chief of Sangha. (516k) village well sanghaVillage well in Sangha. (577k) huge african baobabHuge African Baobab (Adansonia digitata) in Sangha. (608k)
sangha morning mistSangha in the morning mist. (514k)

Tellem buildings

The Tellem lived in this area before the Dogon came in the 13th or 14th century. They lived in the cliffs of the Bandiagara escarpment, in seemingly impossible locations.

tellem cliff dwellingsTellem cliff dwellings above Ireli. (726k) closer view tellemCloser view of Tellem cliff dwellings. (504k) closeup tellem buildingCloseup of Tellem building. (488k) tellem cliff dwellingsTellem cliff dwellings above Banani. (778k) really wondered tellemI really wondered how the Tellem got up there. (649k)


Not much to say about this sleepy little town.

market douentzaMarket in Douentza. (452k) bela huts douentzaBela huts in Douentza. (457k) main street douentzaMain street in Douentza with small mosque. (444k) meeting place douentzaMeeting place in Douentza. (867k) street scene douentzaStreet scene in Douentza with street vendor grilling meat. (564k)

Tombouctou (Timbuktu)

Legend has it that the name Tombouctou comes from "Tom" place of a well, and "Bouctou", the name of the woman who found the first well, sometime in the 10th century. The city became an important trading post, especially for salt, on the way from the Sahara Desert into central Mali. It was also an important scholarly city with a university as early as the 13th century. In the 16th century, there were 100,000 people in Tombouctou, including 25,000 students of the university and some 180 Koranic schools.

At the end of the 16th century, Tombouctou was conquered by Morocco, and lost its autonomy, and soon its university. This led to the decline of Tombouctou. Europeans discovered Tombouctou in the first half of the 19th century. Toward the end of the 19th century, it was annexed by France.

touareg hut outskirtsTouareg hut on the outskirts of Tombouctou. (444k) nomad tents aroundNomad tents on around Tombouctou. (376k) view outside tombouctouView of the outside of Tombouctou with Nomad tents during my camel ride. (393k) moon over touaregThe moon over Touareg tents on the fringe of Tombouctou. (324k) market tombouctouMarket in Tombouctou. (674k)
leather touareg tentLeather Touareg tent in a small museum in Tombouctou. (458k) according legend firstAccording to legend, this is the first well in Tombouctou. (587k) house tombouctouHouse in Tombouctou. (624k) beautifully decorated entranceBeautifully decorated entrance door. (611k) window detailWindow detail. (737k)
mud brick constructionMud brick construction in Tombouctou. (698k) bela tents tombouctouBela tents in Tombouctou. (501k) street view breadStreet view with bread oven. People from Tombouctou say that if there is no sand in the bread, you are not in Tombouctou. I can attest to that, there definitely will be sand in the bread if you are in Tombouctou. (512k) bread oven streetBread oven in the street. (552k) old koran documentsOld Koran documents. (443k)
old koran documentsOld Koran documents. (416k) djingarey ber mosqueThe Djingarey Ber mosque (oldest mosque in Tombouctou from 1325). A few days after my visit during a religious celebration at this mosque, there was a stampede and 26 people were killed. (395k) close-up djingarey berClose-up of the Djingarey Ber mosque in Tombouctou. (339k) sidi yahiya mosqueSidi Yahiya mosque (from ~1400). (552k) sidi yahiya mosqueSidi Yahiya mosque. (606k)
sanikore mosque largestSanikore mosque, the largest mosque in Tombouctou. (421k) closer view sanikoreCloser view of the Sanikore mosque. (364k) closer view sanikoreCloser view of the Sanikore mosque. (438k) sunset over sandSunset over the sand dunes on the outskirts of Tombouctou. (285k)


Mopti was not overly interesting. The mosque is nice, the market was not very big. The most interesting part was the harbor and its surroundings. There are drainage ditches in most parts of the town, but they are almost all full of garbage.

outskirts moptiIn the outskirts of Mopti. (456k) street mopti drainageStreet in Mopti, with a drainage ditch full of garbage. (591k) market moptiMarket in Mopti. (655k) street scene moptiStreet scene in Mopti. (727k) even city peopleEven in the city, people have their goats. (639k)
young trees streetYoung trees on a street in Mopti, protected from goats and sheep by a mud brick enclosure. (762k) harbor moptiHarbor in Mopti. (525k) mosque moptiThe mosque in Mopti. (580k) view mosque moptiView of the mosque in Mopti. (478k) close-up view mosqueClose-up view of the mosque in Mopti. (665k)


Djenné is famous for its mosque, the largest mud brick structure in the world. It has interesting houses in the Moroccan part of the town.

street djennéStreet in Djenné. (540k) street scene djennéStreet scene in Djenné. (534k) street djennéOn the street in Djenné. (554k) fetching waterFetching water. (538k) well djennéAnother well in Djenné. (506k)
old part djennéIn the old part of Djenné. (486k) narrow lane djennéNarrow lane in Djenné. The waste water running along the street was smelly in places. (559k) moroccan style houseMoroccan style house. (525k) large moroccan styleLarge Moroccan style house. (460k) moroccan style houseMoroccan style house. (525k)
vegetable gardens djennéVegetable gardens in Djenné along the river. (514k) street djenné mosqueStreet in Djenné with the mosque in the background. (544k) mosque djennéThe mosque in Djenné. (536k) mosque djennéThe mosque in Djenné. (503k) close-up mosque djennéClose-up of the mosque in Djenné. (729k)

Ségou and Old Ségou

Ségou is the site of the Festival sur le Niger, an annual big music festival. It is one of the larger cities in Mali.

Old Ségou is the site of the palace of the Bambara King Biton Mamary Coulibaly. Old Ségou was first settled by Touaregs. In the 11th century Bambara replaced the Touareg. The oldest mosque in Old Ségou was built by the Touareg. The other mosque was built by Biton Mamary Coulibaly for his mother. He himself was animist, but his mother was Muslim, and he dedicated the mosque to her.

small mosque outsideSmall mosque outside of Ségou. (509k) street scene ségouStreet scene in Ségou. (758k) main stage festivalMain stage of the Festival sur le Niger. (586k) sign against hivSign against HIV (VIH in French) next to the main stage. (339k) car cart caravanCar and cart caravan of festival participants driving through Ségou. (516k)
street scene oldStreet scene in Old Ségou. (763k) street scene oldStreet scene in Old Ségou. (797k) granary old ségouGranary in Old Ségou. (691k) inside house villageInside the house of the village chief of Old Ségou. (599k) wood carved decorationsWood carved decorations in the house of the village chief. (408k)
old ségouOld Ségou. (697k) view over oldView over Old Ségou. (633k) palace biton mamaryPalace of Biton Mamary Coulibaly. (418k) close-up house oldClose-up of a house in Old Ségou. (683k) oldest mosque oldOldest mosque in Old Ségou. (372k)
tree outside oldTree outside the old mosque. (893k) mosque dedicated motherMosque dedicated to the mother of Biton Mamary Coulibaly. (691k) youngest mosque oldYoungest mosque in Old Ségou. (676k)


Bamako is the capital of Mali. It is the site of the only university in Mali. It is much like any big city, lots of traffic congestion. It has a big market, and a nice museum about the history of Mali.

endless string bigAn endless string of big trucks heading into Bamako. (339k) street scene bamakoStreet scene in Bamako. (534k) dining area hotelThe dining area of my hotel in Bamako was above the Niger River. (486k) morning mist nigerMorning mist on the Niger River in Bamako. (219k)


Kayes (pronounced Kai) is a little town in the far western parts of Mali. It has a bunch of French colonial buildings. Outside the city is the Fort de Médine, a fort from French colonial times on the Senegal River, from 1855, with a nice old train station. The first school in the area is there, built in 1870. There is the site of a former a slave market next to the fort. The French abolished slavery in 1848, but still practiced it in Mali. Slaves were sold to Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria.

The Tour de Guet is said to have held gold in World War II to hide it from the Germans.

A little further south is a series of waterfalls, the Chutes de Felou (see Mali Nature).

french colonial buildingFrench colonial building in Kayes. (642k) market kayesMarket in Kayes. (563k) vegetable gardens kayesVegetable gardens in Kayes. (441k) school next fortSchool next to the Fort de Médine. (549k) fort de médineFort de Médine outside of Kayes. (554k)
main building fortMain building in the fort. (364k) machine gun fortA machine gun in the fort. This gun and guns like it were the main reason the French could win against the Bambara. (478k) site former slaveSite of the former slave market. (410k) old train stationOld train station. (456k) tour de guetTour de Guet. (471k)

Small villages and camps

fulani camp usualFulani camp. As usual, the kids come running to have a look at the strangers. (720k) fulani huts cattleFulani huts and cattle. (749k) dogon villageDogon village. (676k) dogon granaryDogon granary. (814k) mosque dogon villageMosque in a Dogon village. (643k)
dogon villageDogon village. (708k) view village bandiagaraView of a village on the Bandiagara escarpment. (701k) view dogon villageView of the Dogon village Ireli from the top of the Bandiagara escarpment. This was the path we took to get from the plateau down into the plains. (630k) view dogon villageView of the Dogon village Ireli. (683k) council place ireliCouncil place in Ireli. (647k)
view banani topView of Banani from the top of the Bandiagara escarpment. This is where the road climbs up the escarpment. (638k) view dogon villageView of Dogon village Konoudou. (510k) view dogon villageView of Dogon village Konoudou. (499k) dogon village yondoumaDogon village Yondouma. (868k) dogon village damassongoDogon village Damassongo. (836k)
bela campBela camp. (450k) bambara villageBambara village. (451k) bambara village mosqueBambara village with mosque. (464k) christian church bambaraChristian church in a Bambara village. (488k) granary bambara villageGranary in a Bambara village. (474k)
bobo village moptiBobo village near Mopti. (542k) bozo settlement nigerBozo settlement on the Niger River. (408k) bozo village nigerBozo village on the Niger River. (502k)

Houses, construction, signs, etc.

houses dogon villageHouses in a Dogon village. (572k) tent house ignedjetebaneTent house in Ignedjetebane, near the Gourma reserve. (682k) inside houseInside the house. (693k) tree trunk stairsTree trunk as stairs. (627k) wood carved pillarWood carved pillar on the council place. (671k)
sign sanghaSign in Sangha. (646k) water tower dogonWater tower in a Dogon village. Some villages had running water like that, but mostly the villages had a village well for water. (574k) wood carved decorationWood carved decoration. (783k) hotel rooms simpleOne of the hotel rooms. They were simple but relatively clean. (294k) sleeping quarters campsThis was my sleeping quarters in one of the camps, a mat on the floor. Fortunately I had a mosquito net and a sleeping bag. (517k)
mud brick factoryMud brick factory next to a village. (560k) mud brick fabricationMud brick fabrication. (486k) mud brick fabricationMud brick fabrication along the Niger River. (480k) mud plastering wallMud plastering a wall. As frequently seen, one or two people were working, the others were watching. (631k) quarry building stonesQuarry for building stones. (725k)
advertising mosquito netsAdvertising for mosquito nets. (529k) advertising testing hivAdvertising for testing for HIV (VIH in French). (398k) field covered ubiquitousField covered with the ubiquitous plastic bags. They are a real scourge around the villages. (769k)

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All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn

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