The Tomb of Askia, in Gao, Mali, is believed to be the burial place of Askia Mohammad I, one of the Songhai Empire’s most prolific emperors. It was built at the end of the fifteenth century and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tomb of Askia is a secular monument that shares both the cultural and religious heritage of Mali.
The pyramid-shaped tomb also functions as a Mosque and is located in the northern town of Gao.
The archaeological site was built by Askia Mohammad I, a famous emperor of Songhai who reigned between the 15th and 16th century.
It is known as the Tomb of Askia, as a mosque, because Askia himself is buried here. Many of his sons, grandchildren, daughters are buried here. At least I know more than 27 of his descendants, daughters and sons who are buried here.
It is his burial place as Mohamed Soumaïlou Traoré, a cultural animator explains. “It is known as the Tomb of Askia, as a mosque, because Askia himself is buried here. Many of his sons, grandchildren, daughters are buried here. At least I know more than 27 of his descendants, daughters and sons who are buried here.”
UNESCO describes the tomb as a fine example of the monumental mud-building traditions of the West African Sahel. The complex includes the pyramidal tomb, two mosques, a cemetery and an assembly ground. At 17 metres in height it is the largest pre-colonial architectural monument in the region. It is the first example of an Islamic architectural style that later spread throughout the region.
Its architectural design is similar to that of the pyramids in Egypt, that were built in ancient times for pharaohs.
“The architect was Egyptian and Askia knew him from Egypt. The pyramid shape you see in the middle of the mosque, is a pyramidal tomb because when Askia went to Mecca, he passed through Egypt, and visited the tombs of the pharaohs”, Traoré said.
Built in 1495, maintenance works is carried out periodically to keep up the flare at the Tomb of Askia
Ibrahim Maïga has been the custodian of the site.
“The piece of wood that you see serves as scaffolding, that is to say, during the days of plastering, the masons climb to the top using the wood. Every two or three years, there is maintenance. It has original woods from which the pyramid was built since 1495 when Askia left Saudi Arabia”.
However, the monument nearly collapsed after the 2012 insurgency in Gao, when the region was in control of Tuereg rebels who clashed with the Malian government.
But three years later, renovation works resumed to restore its glory.
The Tomb of Askia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.