Founded in 1250 on the Bani River, Djenne (pronounced jen-AY) claims to be the oldest city in West Africa. In its day, it was as important as Timbuktu. Reflective of its past glory is the Great Mosque, which was built in the early 20th century on the site of earlier structures. This enormous, otherworldly landmark, built from smooth, beige mud, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the largest mud structure in the world, and it has to be repaired every time it rains. Tourists are sometimes not allowed inside the mosque—you'll increase your chances of getting in if you are modestly dressed and inquire politely.

Visit Djenne on Monday, when the town fills with the various local tribes going to shop at the weekly market. Look for the handmade mud cloth, dyed with natural materials, for which Djenne is famous.

Be sure to take a stroll around town: The streets are narrow and the walls of the mud houses are high, making the walk cool and shady. Djenne is particularly lovely during the rainy season (June-September), when the city turns into an island surrounded by a moat of water. Plan to spend two nights in Djenne or see it as a day trip from Mopti.

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