Mali : Tomb of Askia

Tomb of Askia © CRA-terre

The dramatic 17m pyramidal structure of the Tomb of Askia was built by Askia Mohamed, the Emperor of Songhai, in 1495 in his capital Gao.  It bears testimony to the power and riches of the empire that flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries through its control of the trans-Saharan trade, notably in salt and gold. It is also a fine example of the monumental mud-building traditions of the West African Sahel. The complex,  including the pyramidal tomb, two flat-roofed mosque buildings,  the  mosque cemetery and the open-air  assembly ground, was built when Gao became the capital  of the Songhai Empire and after Askia Mohamed had returned  from Mecca and made Islam the official religion of the empire.

The Tomb of Askia is a magnificent example of how the local traditions have adapted to the exigences of Islam in creating an architectural structure unique across the West African Sahel. The Tomb is the most important and best conserved vestige of the powerful and rich Songhai Empire that extended  through West  Africa in the XV and XVI centuries.  Its value is also invested in its architectural tomb/minaret shape, its prayer rooms, its cemetery and its assembly space that have survived and are still in use. From the architectural perspective, the Tomb of Askia is an eminent example of Sudano-Sahelian style, characterized by rounded forms resulting in the regular  renewal  of  the  layer of  plaster  eroded each  winter  by  the  rare  but  violent  rains.  The pyramidal  form  of  the  tomb,  its  function  as  central   minaret   as   well   as   the   length   and  shape  of  the  pieces  of  wood  comprising  the permanent scaffolding, give the Tomb of Askia its distinctive and unique architectural characteristics.

 The Tomb of Askia was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004.

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