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Niger: Agadez Big Mosque

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Agadez Big Mosque | Niger | Africa

[Visited: November 2015]

Since visiting the Aïr Mountains and the Teneré Desert has become a little more complicated in recent years due to the security situation, the main reason to come to Agadez was its famous early 16th century adobe mosque. After arriving just before midnight, a motorbike driver takes me to my hotel for the next couple of nights right in the old town. The old adobe building with local decorations on the walls immediately gives me a taste of Niger as it has been for centuries. When I wake up the next day, I climb to the roof, and my first sight is the minaret of the famous mosque. After a short walk through the old town, I arrive at a wide square, at the end of which the mosque reveals itself to my eyes. It is early morning, and there is nearly no one around, so I walk around the minaret which proudly stands in the middle of the mosque, as a pinnacle landmark that cannot be ignored by anyone. The minaret is square, and the closer you get, the clearer it is that the tower is handmade - literally. The lines are shaky, the wooden spikes are irregular, as are the openings, and the top. It only makes the minaret more convincing, and I would not know how not to fall in love with this masterpiece.

Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): The landmark view of Agadez: the spiked adobe minaret of the Big Mosque

Designed and built in 1515, it is the fruit of the Muslim saint Zakarya. Two earlier attempts to build a similar mosque elsewhere had failed, after which Zakarya asked the sultan not to use forced labour for its construction, nor take anything from the poor for its funding. Its adobe structure means that it must be maintained regularly to keep the building standing and to make it survive attacks from its worst enemy - rain. The mosque we see today supposedly is as close as can be to the original from the late Middle Ages. During my stay in Agadez, I come back to the Big Mosque again and again, meet friends, watch the curious building in the early morning, during the day, and in the late afternoon. I have timed my visit to Agadez so I can see Friday prayers, and I am happy I did. Coming from the Old Town, I am running late, and have to squeeze myself past the crowd preparing for prayer as I walk into the adjacent hotel which has a terrace offering the best views in town. Below me, a huge crowd stands on the square, and fills the streets all around the mosque.

Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): Opening the door of the Great Mosque of Agadez in the late afternoon

It feels strange to be all alone on the roof in view of everyone when the call for prayer is there. All the men below me stand up, almost all of them wearing the traditional dress of the region with long robes. As they kneel simultaneously in silence, a sound stirs the air which I have not heard before: the movement squeezes out the air of thousands of robes everywhere, and then their knees hit the ground, resulting in a soft knock on the dusty street. This ritual is repeated, and the effect is mesmerizing. Before I know it, prayer is over, people relax, roll up their prayer mats, chat with each other, and go their own way, just as they must have been doing ever since the Middle Ages. The next afternoon, I find the warden who opens the blue door for me, guides me through the Big Mosque with its thick walls, and lets me climb the minaret with an uneven staircase that gets narrower the higher I get. The views over the Old Town of Agadez are magnificent, and when I get down again, I am just in time to see the last sunset over the adobe structure, which makes the shadows of the wooden sticks longer, and which sets the earth colours of the minaret on fire while Tuaregs in their long robes pass by.

Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): Spiked minaret rising high above the Big Mosque with blue door
Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): Big Mosque of Agadez with spiked minaret and passer-by
Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): Prayer outside the Big Mosque of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): Wall of the Big Mosque of Agadez with spiked minaret
Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): Inside the big mosque of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): The minaret of the Big Mosque basking in the late afternoon sunlight
Picture of Agadez Big Mosque (Niger): View of the spiked minaret in the late afternoon

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