Bandiagara Escarpment

La Falaise de Bandiagara


Useful Information

photography
Falaise de Bandiagara, Mali. Public Domain.
photography
Falaise de Bandiagara, Mali. Public Domain.
Location: Mopti Region
(14.382372, -3.352265)
Open: no restrictions.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: ExplainEscarpments SubterraneaCave Houses
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=200 km, H=500 m.
Guided tours: tours with local guides
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Leo Frobenius (1911): Auf dem Wege nach Atlantis, Expeditionsbericht der Zweiten Deutschen Inner-Afrika-Expedition (1907-09). online
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History

14th cty arrival of the Dogon.
1985 declare a national monument.
1989 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Description

photography
Frobenius 1911, Falaise de Bandiagara, Mali. Public Domain.
photography
Frobenius 1911, Falaise de Bandiagara, Mali. Public Domain.
photography
Frobenius 1911, Falaise de Bandiagara, Mali. Public Domain.

The Bandiagara Escarpment, as the name says, is an escarpment, a 500 m high sandstone cliff which is about 150 km long. Located in the Dogon country of Mali, the Sandstone cliffs were used to build Dogon villages into the overhanging cliff faces. Local guides escort tourist groups along the escarpment to visit Dogon villages. There are trails along the cliffs, and hostels in each village. On one side the growing tourism provides income for the village through the hostels and through tourist tax. On the other side the tourism is putting pressure on local, traditional cultures, which will increase with the construction of a new highway along the ridge. However, since the 2012 war in Mali, the area has become quite dangerous and is frequented by terrorists. In March 2018 a hotel visited by UN staff was attacked by an armed group and there were numerous injured and dead. As a result currently the Malian security forces turn back any tourists who try to visit the area. However, with Corona tourism ended anyway. Hopefully this situation will change in the future.

Before the caves were inhabited by the Dogon, they were used by the Tellem and Toloy peoples. The Tellem left a lot of structures, they especially buried their dead high up, far from the frequent flash floods of the area. Also numerous cave castles were built by them and are now abandoned. They were pushed out by the arrival of the Dogons during the 14th century.

The land was a French colony since the late 19th century. According to local lore the Dogon were relatively undisturbed by French colonial powers due to natural tunnels through the Bandiagara Escarpment. They were able to use them to ambush and repel them through the secret tunnels. While the existence of small caves in sandstone is possible, a bigger number or long caves are quite unlikely from the geological point of view. This is most likely some kind of hoax, probably they told the stories to make the French search for nonexistent caves.

The area was explored by the Deutsche Innerafrikanische Forschungsexpedition (German Central Africa Expedition) between 1908 and 1910. The head of the expedition, Leo Frobenius, wrote a report in 1911 titled Auf dem Weg nach Atlantis (On the way to Atlantis). We are not sure if this was a joke or if he really thought Atlantis could be in central Africa. However, he made a lot of fotographs and described the cliff dwellings and the cave burials. His book is out of copyright and available from archive.org.

The Cliffs of Bandiagara are the southeastern side of a sandstone plateau. The escarpment is a result of tectonic activity and extends over 200 km. There are numerous overhanging cliffs and shelters along the foot of the escarpment. However, the Dogon villages today are built in the plain in front of the escarpment. The cave dwellings are mostly abandoned.