The Grand Mosque of Agadez, the World’s Tallest Mud-Brick Building

Agadez Grand Mosque

photography by: Dan Lundberg/ Flickr

Serving as a gateway to the mighty Saharan Desert, Agadez, Niger’s fifth largest city, is well-renowned for its muddy architecture, originally erected by the region’s largest indigenous empire. While the city’s brownish-hued buildings alongside the surrounding desert are remarkably intriguing, what truly sets Agadez apart from other cities across the area is its magnificent Grand Mosque, made entirely of local clay bricks.

Well before the modern-day country of Niger was created by French colonialists, the Sahel region was home to dozens of local nomadic tribes. Around the mid-15th century, several Tuareg groups merged into a multi-tribal confederation. Better known as the Sultanate of Aïr, this desert empire spanned across the vast reaches of the Sahara, with its epicenter being the city of Agadez, located at the southern tip of the Aïr Massif. Less than a century later, the Tuareg empire was forced out by another regional superpower, the Songhai Empire.

 

Under the Songhai, the city was transformed into a trading hub, where merchants stopped over on their way in and from North Africa. It was also around that time (1515), when the city’s most significant monument, Agadez Grand Mosque, was originally built. Dictated by the scarcity of most building materials, the massive mosque was constructed using a local type of mudbricks, aka “Banco”. Mass-produced by mixing mud, gravel and straw, the bricks were then laid to bask under the scorching Saharan sun, eventually becoming dry and ready to use.

 

Featuring tens of wooden beams throughout its frontage, the mosque along with the entire city were recaptured by the Sultanate of Aïr in the late 16th century. Over time, the building has descended into ruin, pommeled by the desert’s unforgiving elements. It wasn’t until 1844, when the mosque was restored to its former glory. At the height of 27 meters, it is not only the tallest structure in Agadez, but apparently, also the tallest mud-brick building on Earth, earning it a coveted Guinness record as well as a UNESCO world heritage site status.

The mosque, conspicuously towering over the city’s muddy buildings

photography by: Vincent van Zeijst/ Wikimedia Commons


Standing tall amid the city’s mudbrick walls, the Grand Mosque of Agadez

photography by: Vincent van Zeijst/ Wikimedia Commons


Rebuilt in the mid-19th century, the mosque is 27 meter tall

photography by: A. A. van Achterberg Collection/ Wikimedia Commons


The looming minaret as seen from one of Agadez’s narrow alleyways

photography by: USAFRICOM/ Wikimedia Commons


The mosque along with the city itself were listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013

photography by: Aminucrus/ Wikimedia Commons


The town’s narrow streets as viewed from the minaret

photography by: Dan Lundberg/ Flickr