Towers of Mud Brick
A mosque's tower or minaret serves as the structure's principal vertical element. The minaret or minarets are the site where the muezzin or, more recently, a loudspeaker, can announce to call to prayer, but it also serves as a landmark within the city or neighborhood. Beyond this function, the actual form of the minaret varies extensively throughout the Muslim world. Even within Mali, the shape and number of minarets can vary from region to region and town to town. While many minarets in the Muslim world are freestanding, the mud-brick minarets of Mali's mosques are typically heavily buttressed and associated with one of the mosque's courtyard walls or prayer hall facades.
Mosque in the Village of Kara
The minaret in the community mosque of Kara (upper left), a town near the Niger River, is four-sided, but also retains something of the conical shape of Mali's many pre-Islamic eathen shrines. The mud-brick structure has been built with a number of protruding palm-wood beams (toron) and covered in a layer of wet earth plaster (banco). The minaret probably has been built over the mosque's mihrab, or prayer niche, and serves as the mosque's qibla wall, indicating the direction of Mecca.
Mosque in the Village of Sengaben
The minaret in the rural community of Sengaben (upper left), a Dogon community east of the Bandiagara Escarpment region, is similarly built above the mosque's mihrab on its qibla facade. The pyramidal minaret, with its evenly-spaced toron, appears to have been restored in the relatively recent past at the time the photograph was taken.
Djingareyber and Sankore Mosques, Timbuktu
The minarets of the Djingareyber and Sankore mosques (center left), from the city of Timbuktu, are much more evidently built on a four-sided in plan, although the Sankore mosque is more pyramidal in shape. Both of these large towers are thoroughly studded with toron, with some effort to arrange the exposed beams into regularly-space rows. Neither minaret has been built over the mosque's mihrab. The Djingareber's minaret once occupied the northwest corner of the mosque, only to be engulfed by later additions to the structure. It is reached by an internal stair from a small, enclosed courtyard located on the north end of the mosque compound. The heavily buttressed Sankore minaret forms part of the southern wall of the mosque. Its inner face looks down upon the mosque's colonnaded courtyard or sahn.
Great Mosque at Djenné
The minarets of the Great Mosque at Djenné (lower left) are completely associated with the mosque's qibla wall, the wall oriented in the direction of Mecca. Djenné's great mosque appears to have three mihrab on this wall, and the walls of the prayer hall have been extended outward to accommodate the prayer niches inside. Each of these projecting wall sections also serves as the base for a corresponding minaret. Internal stairways are said to lead up the roof of each of box-like towers.