The West African country of Mali claims four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and as of Wednesday, three of them were on the List of World Heritage in Danger—which runs only 54 items long. The Old Towns of Djenné and its 2,000 mud houses, which have been inhabited since the third century BC and a World Heritage site since 1988, joined the list due to "insecurity" in the region, according to a press release. Islamist militant groups have plagued Mali, Time reports, and there were political clashes in the north as recently as this week. Reuters reports troops fired at protesters in the city of Gao, whose Tomb of Askia is also an endangered World Heritage Site (as is the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu).
In Djenné, UNESCO says, "This situation is preventing safeguarding measures from addressing issues," with Pravda reporting the flow of building materials used to combat deterioration and erosion has been hampered. The area once served as an "important link" in the gold trade, UNESCO notes. Later, in the 15th and 16th centuries, it operated as a center for the spread of Islam. A testament to that is the Great Mosque of Djenné. A comparatively new structure—built in 1907 at the site that formerly held a mosque built around the 13th century, the New York Times reported in 2012—it is the largest mud brick building in the world, according to Time. The Times noted that Mali's persistent dry spells, interrupted by huge downpours, exacerbate fissures in the mud-brick architecture, and the plastering that repairs it accumulates into layers that can weaken it. (Read more Mali stories.)