Bridging Two Worlds
Despite the different aesthetic traditions that influence a mosque's exterior, part of the function of the exterior facade is to conceal the mosque's interior from outsiders. The mosque's entryway bridges these two worlds. The relative splendor of a mosque's entry is to some extent a reflection of the community's wealth, or that of the mosque's patrons, but it is also a focus of vernacular architectural traditions.
Mosque, Village of Sengaben
Although the entry (upper left) into the mosque's low-walled courtyard is quite plain, the community of Sengaben has lavished a great deal of attention upon the entryway into the mosque's prayer hall. Resembling the "Three-Tower" type mosque built at a more monumental scale at Djenné and Mopti, the entryway facade is dominated by a large, toron-studded central tower flanked by two smaller towers that also buttress the edifice. These towers are not built above the mosque's mihrab, which is found on the opposite wall, but in echoing its arrangement, the towers lends additional symmetry to the mosque's overall design. Buttress-like pilasters break up the vertical space between these towers, while bands of square and triangular niches and orderly rows of toron add a decorative horizontal element to the facade. The paired doorways are simple post-and-lintel arrangements.
Sidi Yahia Mosque and Madrasah, Timbuktu
Likely dating to the 15th century, Sidi Yahia (upper left) is one of a trio of ancient stone and mud-brick mosques in Timbuktu. Instead of a trio of towers there is a trio of pointed arch doorways. The central doorway, the largest of the three, is topped by a triangular pediment and flanked by pilasters that echo the pediment's triangular shape. Ornate wooden doors fill each of the arched openings.
Greats Mosques of Djenné and Mopti
The entryways of the Great Mosques of both Djenné and Mopti (center left) enter the mosque's prayer hall at an angle perpendicular to the qibla wall. In both cases, the entryway is composed of three massive mud-brick pilasters that support a parapet with rows of toron and projecting conical pinnacles. This style of entryway is not limited to sacred buildings, but is echoed in the principal facades of elite residences in the city of Djenné itself.
Great Mosque at Kotaka
The entryway of the Great Mosque at Kotaka (lower left) resembles the entryway of the Sengaben mosque realized on a monumental scale. Like the Sengaben mosque, the mosque at Kotaka reflects something of the three-tower type facade common in many parts of Mali, although Kotaka has five towers on its entryway facade if we include the two tower-like corner buttresses. And also like Sengaben, this facade in fact mirrors the architectural arrangement of the mosque's qibla wall at the opposite end of the building, adding an additional element of symmetry to the overall design. Yet where the towers of mosques like Djenné are box-like, the towers of Kotaka's Great Mosque are narrow cylinders studded with toron and topped with conical pinnacles. The vertical spaces between towers are broken up by buttress-like pilasters while its horizontal rows of toron cover the entire facade. Ornate window covers fill the facade's numerous window openings, illuminating the mosque's interior. The post-and-lintel doorway visible in this image is framed by a horseshoe arch with a rounded crown.