The mosque in Larabanga - one of the oldest mosques in Western Africa

This mosque was built solely with local materials over the course of hundreds of years. It has required constant protection, since rains and winds have weakened the structure and insects have infested the wooden elements. For a divine creation - built, according to legend, under the cover of night - it has had many worldly problems, but thankfully it hasn’t been forgotten.

This whitewashed mosque is situated in the village of Larabanga in Northern Ghana. The construction date of this famous mosque has been estimated from local legends and scientific studies. The most frequently provided date is 1421, but there are also sources which mention the twelfth and seventeenth centuries (the most recent studies), when Europeans arrived here. Regardless of the actual date, this is one of the oldest mosques in Western Africa and a very holy place for African Muslims.

The architectural style of this building is a mixture of local influences and a style known as "Western Sudanese". Local artisans used pyramidal towers, wooden buttresses and trianguar perforations over entrance portals. Similar buildings were later constructed in Mali which, like the mosque in Larabanga, were situated near trade routes in Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to legend, the mosque wasn't built by human hands. One version of the legend is that a local warrior thrust a spear into the sky in order to find out where God willed him to spend the night. The warrior spent the night in the spot where the spear fell. A second version of the legend - slightly less sophisticated - tells of a trader named Ayuba who decided to spend the night here (without tossing anything into the sky). Both the warrior and Ayuba the trader had a dream while they slept in which a white mosque in the shape of a pyramid appeared. In the morning, Ayuba saw that the mosque's foundations were already in place. He proceeded to work on the mosque's construction every night until it was finished. The crowning achievement of the building and proof of its status as a holy place for Muslims was the placing of the Quran in the mosque. This is said to have resulted from a local imam named Yidan Barimah Bramah praying to Allah to bring one of the seven holy tomes from Mecca to Larabanga. This is why many devout Muslims think of the mosque in Larabanga as the "Mecca of Western Africa".

Built from mud and reeds, the mosque has two pyramidal towers. One of the minarets is in the mosque’s northeast corner, while the other minaret forms the Mihrab - a place of prayer, facing towards Mecca. The walls have been reinforced with wood in order to preserve the building's form due to the weak quality of the building materials. The mosque is relatively small, even in relation to other buildings of this type in Western Africa - its length and width are barely 8 metres, and the minarets are 6 metres high.

Paradoxically, the most catastrophic era for the building was the 20th century. In the 1970s, a decision was made to strengthen the walls with a mixture of cement and sand. This turned out to be disastrous. Moisture became trapped inside the building, which helped termites to thrive. The termite infestation weakened the mosque’s wooden support beams. As a result, one of the minarets collapsed.

In 2002, the Larabanga mosque came under the care of World Monuments Watch, which began careful reconstruction work. The cement was removed from the walls and the collapsed minaret and mihrab were rebuilt. All of the reconstruction work made use of traditional building techniques and local materials, and the mosque regained its former splendour and unique shape.