Cliffs of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons), Mali


Cliffs of Bandiagara (Land of the Dragons) is a World Heritage Site in Mali located at 14°00'-14°45'N, 3°00'-3°50'W.

Geographical Location

The village of Sangha (Sanga or Songo), on the crest of the Bandiagara escarpment, lies at the center of the sanctuary. It overlooks the village of Banani at the base of the escarpment, 44 kilometers (km) north-east of Bandiagara Town and 107 km east of Mopti, in the fifth administrative and economic region of Mopti. 14°00'-14°45'N, 3°00'-3°50'W

Date and History of Establishment

caption Town at base of Bandiagara escarpment. (Source: University of Iowa)

Existing legal provisions relate only to the sanctuary's cultural heritage and include the following: Ordinance No. 52 of 3 October 1969 regulating the export of objects of art, Law No. 85-40/AN-RM of 26 July 1985 dealing with the protection and promotion of the national cultural heritage and Decree No. 275/PG-RM of 4 November 1985 regulating archaeological excavations. Both Law No. 86-61/AN-RM of 26 July 1986 and Decree No. 299/PG-RM of 19 September 1986 specifically control excavations, commerce and the export of cultural objects. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1989.


400,000 hectares (ha).

Land Tenure

Some land is privately owned by Sangha residents, the rest is state-owned.


Ranges from 518 meters (m) near Sangha to 777 m at Mount Bamba in the north-east.

Physical Features

The area exhibits three distinctive geomorphological features: Bandiagara plateau, Bandiagara escarpment and the plaine du Séno. The escarpment and plateau extend beyond the sanctuary to the Mossi Massif, which separates the Séno plain from the low-lying wetlands of the inner delta of the Niger. The site consists of an ancient eroded terrain of flat tablelands, messa and sandstone buttes. Rocks are predominantly upper sandstone of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, horizontally bedded and characterized by a great variety of facies. Exposed horizontal strata periodically result in rock polygonation. In some areas the plateau is crowned by a hard layer of laterite, ironstone shield or impervious conglomerates. Bandiagara plateau comprises sandstone, with rock slabs riddled with holes, faults and caves that link up with springlines along the base of the cliffs. At low levels the ravines are blocked by immense detached blocks of rock. The escarpment extends over 150 km in a south-west to north-east direction from Douentza in the north to Ouo in the south, and varies in height from 100 m in the south to over 500 m in the north. The escarpment has been shaped into numerous irregularities, indentations, and promontories, and is pierced by thalweg ravines, gorges, and rocky passages connecting the plain and plateau. It is noted for the abrupt escarpment near Sangha-Bongo. Thalwegs feature a humid and shaded microclimate which supports dense vegetation. Water is also retained in rock fissures, resulting in seasonally boggy areas on horizontal or gently sloping rock strata.


Average rainfall for 1994 was 600 millimeters (mm), with 849.4mm falling in 59 days at Bandiagara and 715.4 mm in 54 days at Sangha. Droughts last for up to eight months of the year. Rain falls irregularly mainly from June to September. Shade temperatures in May are reported to be some of the highest in the Sahel region.


Sudano-Sahelian vegetation encircles Bandiagara and Sangha, dominated by open savanna and steppe with scattered Acacia raddiana, A. albida, Balanites aegyptiaca and Cenchrus ciliaris. The plateau of Bandiagara is covered in a typically Sudanian savanna flora, including communities of Daniellia oliveri in association with Butyrospermum parkii, Parkia biglobosa, Terminalia macroptera, Khaya senegalensis, Vitex cienkowskii, Prosopis africana and brush species such as Combretum micranthum, Heeria insignis and Guiera senegalensis. Along the edge of the plateau, where the terrain is rocky, characteristic species are Caralluma dalziellii, Euphorbia balsamifera and Senecio cliffordianus. Open scattered vegetation includes xerophytes, cryptograms and deep-rooted trees in rock fissures where they are protected from fire. Cliff and ravine vegetation is often very diverse and dense; the chasmophytic flora includes Cissus quadrangularis, Ficus lecardii, Boscia angustifolia, Euphorbia sudanica, Lannea microcarpa and Combretum lecardii. In rainy seasons the horizontal rock strata contain water, creating boggy areas which act as refugia for species such as Cyanotis rubescens and Bulbostylis sp. The humid microclimate of the escarpment thalwegs supports Combretum along with Stereospermum kunthianum, Gloriosa simplex, Cissus populnea, Acacia ataxacantha and A. sieberiana. Notable hygrophilic species include Celtis integrifolia, Pachystela pobeguiniana and Diospyros mespiliformis, as well as Selaginella sp., Begonia rostrata, Fleurya aestuans and Ceratopteris cornuta. At the foot of the escarpment, in the plain of Douentza, there is a preponderance of Sahelian species such as Acacia albida, A. raddiana, Dalbergia melanoxylon, Combretum aculeatum and Tamarindus indica. The Sangha rock pool depressions support aquatic plants such as Nymphaea maculata, Najas graminea, Ottelia ulvaefolia, Cyperus sp., Sacciolepis sp. and Melochia corchorifolia. Other shallow water vegetation includes floating carpets of Pistia stratiotes, Neptunia oleracea, Ipomoea reptans and Najas graminea.


The diverse vegetation communities support a notable resident and migratory bird fauna, including cliff species such as fox-kestrel Falco alopex, Gabar goshawk Melierax gabar, yellow-billed shrike Corvinella corvina scarlet-chested sunbird Chalcomitra senegalensis,, rose-ringed parakeet Psittacula krameri, cliff chat Thamnolea cinnamomeiventris (abundant) and rock dove Columbia livia. The pools are a haven for Egyptian plover Pluvianus aegyptius and grey-headed kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala, whilst tree, shrub and savanna species include bustard Eupodotis senegalensis, stone partridge Ptilopachus petrosus and laughing dove Streptopelia senegalensis. Species abundant around villages include grey-headed sparrow Passer griseus and hooded vulture Necrosytres monachus. Mammals which occur in the region and probably exist in the vicinity of Bandiagara escarpment include rock hyrax Procavia capensis, porcupine Hystrix spp, common jackal Canis aureus and pale fox Vulpes pallida. Dorcas gazelle Gazella dorcas, dama gazelle G. dama and wild dog Lycaon pictus are no longer found in the area.

Cultural Heritage

caption Dogon rock paintings. (Source: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art)

The region is one of the main centers for the Dogon culture, rich in ancient traditions and rituals, art culture and folklore. The village of Sangha is celebrated for its triennial circumcision ceremonies and its rock carvings. Archaeological evidence suggests human occupancy of the cliffs for at least the last 1,000 years, although the Dogons themselves did not arrive until the 15th and 16th centuries. Traditionally, they consisted of four tribes, the Dyon, Ono, Arou and Domno which migrated from the land of Mandé. The present-day local Dogon population is divided into small village communities, each Dogon member having a village surname shared by every inhabitant. Village communities are divided into the inneomo and innepuru, living men and dead man respectively, which exist in symbiotic union with each other. In some cases secret languages have developed. Symbolic relationships exist with respect to the environment, such as with the pale fox and jackal, and the development of elaborate masks and head dresses. Semi-domestic crocodiles are kept as sacred protectors of Bandiagara Village and its ancient founder, Nangabanou Tembèly. They are also revered in ritual rain dances. The Bandiagara features an unique architecture, ranging from thatched flat-roofed huts to distinctive tapering granaries each capped with thatch. Bandiagara escarpment abounds in a whole series of cliff cemeteries reached by Dogon-style ladders.

Local Human Population

The resident population consists of desert-edge subsistence farmers who inhabit the plateau area. According to the 1986-1987 census, there were 199,291 Dogon inhabitants in Bandiagara and 20,940 in Sangha, representing a significant proportion of the estimated 701,460 Dogons in Mali. Subsistence crops include millet and also sorghum, calabash and cassava. Rice is grown in cultivated rock pools and gardens are found on horizontal sections of the cliffs. Dogons rely for permanent water on springlines along the base of Bandiagara escarpment.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

There is a small airfield at Bandiagara and another at Mopti. Rest houses are located at Sangha and Bandiagara. Mopti is a center of tourism and a hotel has been constructed. The Mali Office of Tourism publicizes the historic sites of the Bandiagara region.

Scientific Research and Facilities

The Division de la Recherche Forestière et Hydrobiologique of the Ministère de l'Elevage et des Eaux et Forêts maintains a hydrological laboratory at Mopti. The laboratory carries out research on fish systematics and biology. Work on the botany of the area was initiated between 1950-1952 by G. Dieterlenand followed by Jaeger and Winkoun in the 1960s for the Institut Français d'Afrique Noir. A herbarium collection of 300 species was made from the region of Sangha. A fauna and flora survey is currently being undertaken on behalf of the "cantonnements forestiers".

Conservation Value

These cliffs protect architectural structures which for centuries, have been the soul of traditional, secular Dogon culture. The Bandiagara plateau is one of the most impressive geological and landscape features in West Africa.

Conservation Management

The government is conserving the site because of its exceptional architectural structures and the interaction between man and the natural environment. One of the key management aims is the maintenance of the Dogon culture and associated houses, granaries, ritual sanctuaries and "toguna". Also of importance are the surrounding natural features and landscape. Bandiagara plateau near Sangha-Bongo has been described as one of the most impressive geological and landscape features in West Africa. The botany of the region is of great phytogeographic interest. The escarpment supports important refugial biotopes rich in relict species and vegetation types otherwise felled or burnt by man's activities in more accessible localities. The Sangha flora communities represent an interface between different phytogeographic regions (Sudano-Sahelian and Sahelian) and consist of relict ravine vegetation (ancient humid flora) in an otherwise arid Sahelian climate. Species with restricted distributions include the localized endemic Acridocarpus monodii (R) found in the Bandiagara escarpment at Kikara.

Responsibility for cultural heritage management belongs to the Ministry of Culture and Communications, with local management under the authority of Cultural Mission. The chief of the Cultural Mission is charged with conserving the cultural heritage of the region.

Management Constraints

The greatest threats to the area include drought and desertification. Uncontrolled tourism is affecting the economic structure and menacing the basis of the Dogon culture. The savanna vegetation has been profoundly degraded by fire and scrub clearance, most notably in the vicinity of village communities. Insufficient funding means that the site is inadequately patrolled.


A total of three.


Five million CFA per annum from the government (US$10,000).

IUCN Management Category

  • III (Natural Monument)
  • Natural/Cultural World Heritage Site - Natural Criterion iii/Cultural Criterion v

Further Reading

  • Calame-Griaule, G. (1955). Notes sur l'habitation du plateau central nigérian. Bulletin de l'Institut français d'Afrique noire 27(B): 481-485.
  • Diakite, S. (1988). Sanctuaire Naturel et Culturel de la Falaise de Bandiagara. Proposition d'Inscription sur la Liste du Patrimoine Mondial Soumise par le Mali. Ministère des Sports, des Arts et de la Culture Letter No. 101889/MSAC-DNAC, 13 December 1988.
  • Dieterlen, G. (1952). Classification des Végétaux chez les Dogon. Journal de la Société des Africanistes 22: 115-158.
  • FAO (1985). Aménagement de la faune, des Parcs et Réserves. FAO, Rome. Report No. TA2698. 19 pp.
  • Griaule, M. (1941). Les Mammifères dans la religion des Dogons (Soudan fr.). Mammalia 5: 104-109.
  • Jaeger, P. and Winkoun, D. (1962). Premier contact avec la flore et la végétation du plateau de Bandiagara. Bulletin de l'Institut français de l'Afrique noire 24A: 69-111.
  • Laude, J. (1973). African art of the Dogon, the myths of the cliff dwellers. The Brooklyn Museum, New York. ISBN: 0670109282
  • Paulme, D. (1973). La divination par les chacals chez les Dogon de Sangha. Journal de la Société des Africanistes 7: 1-13.
  • Pern, S. (1985). The Dogon of Mali, existing on the edge. World Magazine 17: 40-47.
  • Rousselot, R. (1939). Notes sur la faune ornithologique du cercle de Mopti, Soudan Français. Bulletin de l'Institut français de l'Afrique Noire 1: 1-88.
  • Sayer, J.A. (1977). Conservation of large mammals in the Republic of Mali. Biological Conservation 12: 245-263.
  • Yaro, J. and Diko, S. (1940). A propos des crocodiles sacrés de Bandiagara. Bulletin de l'Institut français de l'Afrique noire 2: 211-216

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2009). Cliffs of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons), Mali. Retrieved from


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