As part of a continuing series, ArchitectureRichmond will document the cities that comprise our five active Sister City partnerships, in order to learn more about similar urban environments throughout the world as a point of reference for our own development.
Situated on the Niger River in Mali, Ségou is the fifth largest city in the country and the capital of the Ségou region. With a population of just over 130,000, the city was the first capital of the Bambara Kingdom which flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite, or maybe because of, Ségou’s lengthy history, it has struggled with modernization.
While it is probably the most different sister city from Richmond in cultural and aesthetic terms, it does bear many commonalities. For instance, its vital location on the Niger River gives the city a very active waterfront, and brings a diverse group of inhabitants to the semi-nomadic metropolitan region. Like Richmond and Washington DC’s relationship, Ségou benefits from the nearby commercial centers of Djenné and Timbuktu. It’s economy is dependent on fishing, pottery and trading markets, with its most popular goods of production being sugar, rice, cotton and crafts.
The architecture of Ségou is known for its French Colonial and Sudanese styles. While this gives Ségou a unique identity, the materials Sudanese monuments and religious buildings are made from (usually mudbricks, adobe plaster and wooden logs) require a good deal of maintenance and preservation, as do many of our city’s historic structures. The mosque in the old town of Ségou-Koro is perhaps the greatest architectural achievement of the city and a perfect example of this predicament. The Ségou Municipality Building is the most well known example of its French Colonial architecture, with other civic structures exhibiting the popular style of the 1930s when the French colonial administration established an office in the city.
It is the newest Sister City of Richmond, with the partnership formed in 2009, but shares a very active dialogue with our city, according to Sister Cities Commission chairwoman Dr. Pat Cummins. After a visit from the Ségou mayor in 2005 and an official Sister City designation soon after, the cities have enjoyed a musician exchange between their respective folk festivals, an integration of Mali history into the Richmond Public Schools’ curriculum and a general education of women’s health in Mali, Cummins notes. The organization Virginia Friends of Mali was founded to support and encourage the partnership between the two sister cities and provides a public forum and resource for those interested to learn more.