Since the 14th century, Djenné in Mali has been distinguished by its impressive mud-based architecture, where the town’s over 200 historic homes and its central towering mosque are all formed from bricks and plaster of mud.

Last month, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s African Voices Focus Gallery opened an exhibition called Mud Masons of Mali that highlights this architectural tradition through archival and contemporary photographs as well as antique engravings that show the evolution and continuation of the craft as it’s incorporated more modern building materials and persisted in the recently volatile atmosphere in Mali. Since 2012, with the political upheaval, declining tourism, and a persistent drought, the annual re-plastering of the town’s mosque and regular reforming of its houses has been in danger. Mud architecture is a skill passed down from generation to generation (you can "meet" five generations of the mud masons on the Smithsonian site), and it’s only through the dedication of local builders that the architecture is surviving.

Djenné was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. Click through for a full photographic tour of this city of mud, where the material has an unexpected beauty in its baked color and forms molded by generations of human hands:

The Magnificent Mud Architecture of Mali on Atlas Obscura