Near to Mole Park in northern Ghana is the small town of Larabanga, and this has what is said to be Ghana's oldest mosque, and possibly oldest building still standing, possibly built well before white people visited the country.
This whitewashed mud built Sahelian Mosque contains an ancient copy of the Qur'an and is said to date from near the same date. I have read that the structure is Sudanese architecture.
Locals say that it was constructed in 1421, but a national museum in Accra puts the construction date as 1643-75 by Imam Bramah. No one really knows, the Accra dating is said to be based upon dating the copy of the Qur'an.
It was probably built at the height of the trans-Saharan trade. There are ancient mud built mosques along a trade route running through northern Ghana, that survive, no date is known for them either.
According to locals the founder was passing through the area, and decided to throw his spear into the air and sleep where it fell, I didn't ask why?, in the night he had a dream or vision, and found the foundations already in place the following morning, and that while being built it also masterly increased in height each night, the suggestion is that Allah helped to build it. The founder of the mosque is reputed to have been buried next to one of the entrances and be where the large baobad tree now stands. At a point in the year they eat the levees that grow on this tree.
It has four entrances each with small doors, and each for a different type of person a) men, b) women, c) chief and Eman, d) Mula. It has a limited number of seats and when services are held here on Fridays most gather around the outside and hear the proceedings over a loudspeaker. I was told that 200 could get inside, and that 4,000, made up of 12 clans gather around. I cannot see how you could get 200 people inside this structure.
Every year in the rains, part of the mosque is washed away and then has to be reconstructed and repainted.
Reports vary from visitors having a great experience, to being highly intimidated by groups of would be guides. So I have reservations in suggesting that people visit, unless they have a guide or local driver with them.
I visited, having stayed the night before at Mole Park, although you can stay in this town in local accommodation, and had a driver/guide with me who knew who he was looking for to be the guide and negotiated a fee with the guide and the Imam, a very old man, this ended up being 2 GHS to the guide and 1 to the Iman. I then got the guided tour, and to take photos, you don't go inside or see the Qur'an. There was mention of a development programme and signing a visitors book that some have reported, where they have been encouraged to make very large donations, but my guide wanting to buy some Yams, and a number of the local girls vying to sell to him, took away the attention from this. I also took photos of some of the people. Some did ask for money while others were telling them not to, but it was more light-hearted than intimidating. I didn't feel at any time intimidated, and would nave no hesitation returning with other photographers, although having seen what others have written I would not go without a driver of guide with me.
The mystery stone is not far away.
There is a move to develop more tourism here, and it is said the most southerly town with mud huts with flat roofs, so that you can stay in and sleep on the roof. It is also said to put on drumming and dancing displays in the evenings as well as providing bicycle hire. I haven't verified any of this.
We have a fuller and more varied set of photographs in the Larabanga Mosque Photo Gallery
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