Fouta Djallon consists mainly of rolling grasslands, at an average elevation of about 900m (3,000ft). The highest point, Mount Loura, rises to 1,515m (4,970ft). The plateau consists of thick sandstone formations which overlie granitic basement rock. Erosion by rain and rivers has carved deep jungle canyons and valleys into the sandstone.
It receives a great deal of rainfall, and the headwaters of three major rivers, the Niger River, the Gambia River and the Senegal River, have their sources on it. It is thus sometimes called the watertower (chateau d'eau in French literature) of West Africa. Some authors also refer to Fouta Jallon as the Switzerland of West Africa.
The population consists predominantly of Fula or Fulani people (who call themselves Fulɓe [sing. Pullo] and are known in French as Peul). In Fuuta-Jaloo their language is called Pular, which is a dialect of Fula like Pulaar in Senegambia and Fulfulde further east in West Africa, but with some particular characteristics.
Since the 18th century it has been a stronghold of Islam, when in 1725, the first jihad against the animists was launched. After the battle of Talansan, which was won by the Muslims, the theocratic empire of Futa Jallon was founded under one ruler ("Almamy" from Arabic Al Imami) and eight Almamy ruling over the nine provinces (Diiwe) of Futa Jallon. Several succession crises weakened the central power located in Timbo until 1896, when the last Almamy, Bubakar Biro, was defeated by the French army in the battle of Poredaka.
The Fulɓe of Fouta Djallon spearheaded the expansion of Islam in Guinea. Fulɓe Muslim scholars developed an indigenous literature using the Arabic alphabet. Known as Ajamiyya, this literary achievement is represented by such great poet-theologians as Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya, Tierno Saadu Dalen, Tierno Aliou Boubha Ndyan, Tierno Jaawo Pellel etc. In its heyday, Fuuta-Jaloo was "a magnet of learning, attracting students from Kankan to the Gambia, and featuring Jakhanke clerics at Tuba as well as Fulbhe teachers. It acted as the nerve center for trading caravans heading in every direction. The more enterprising commercial lineages, of whatever ethnic origin, established colonies in the Futanke hills and along the principal routes. It served their interests to send their sons to Futanke schools, to support the graduates who came out to teach, and in general to extend the vast pattern of influence that radiated from Futa Jalon" Amadou Hampâté Bâ has called Fuuta-Jaloo "the Tibet of West Africa" in homage to the spiritual and mystic (Sufi) tradition of its clerics.
The main field crop is fonio, although rice is grown in richer soils. Most soils degrade quickly and are highly acidic with aluminum toxicity, which limits the kind of crops that can be grown without significant soil management. A traditional system of gardening, notably women's or kitchen gardens called cuntuuje (sing. suntuure) in Pular or tapades in French, involves addition of various organic inputs (kitchen scraps, harvest residues, mulching, manure). These produce a significant quantity and variety of agricultural products. The gardens are always fenced-in to protect against free-grazing animals.