"The M'Zab, a unique location." Wilaya de Ghardaia by JLBG
Wilaya de Ghardaia Travel Guide: 72 reviews and 163 photos
The M'Zab is a district in the south of Algeria, 600 km south from Algiers, with strong peculiarities. It includes 7 oasis. Five are very close to one another and constitute a cluster of five settlements, a pentapolis, as it is often called, perched atop hills dominating the sinuous M'zab valley. This area is sometimes qualified as the "chebka of the M'zab". "Chebka" means web and refers to the network of small and larger ouadi/wadi (plural for oued/wad", dry river bed) that cuts the plateau.
The pentapolis includes :
Ghardaïa, named Tagherdayt in Berber, which means the small oasis. It was founded in 1048.
Mélika, the Queen, named Atemlichet in Berber, founded in 1350. It is a Holy city with the tomb of Sidi Aïssa and his family.
Béni Isguen, the Holy, named At Isgen in Berber, founded in 1347.
Bou Noura, the Shining, named At Bounour in Berber, founded in 1046
El Ateuf, named Tajnint, founded in 1012, is the oldest city of the Mzab.
Beriane, Named Ait Iberguen in Berber, founded in 1690 is 39 km north to the pentapolis.
Guerrara, named Iguraren in Berber, founded in 1631, 16 75 km north east to the pentapolis.
The M'Zab is a part of the Wilaya of Ghardaïa, which includes other districts. Metlili Chaamba, 38 km south to Ghardaïa is a city inhabited by the Chaambas, Sunnite Moslem of Arab origin who have long been the enemies of the inhabitants of the M'Zab, Kharedjite Moslem of Berber origin.
The inhabitants of the M'Zab are the Mozabites. First of all, they are a religious community, the Kharedjites that practice the Ibadite rule. Kharedjism was the oldest schism in the Islam. Long ago, in the Maghreb, Berbers all belonged to Kharedjism, in the faith of which they fought Arabs. The Arabs vanquished their Empire and the Kharedjites were chased from Kairouan and lost Ifriqiyya (Tunisia). They built a new Empire around Tihert from where they were again chased by the Arabs. Some of them found shelter in Djerba, where they still live. Others went deeper into the Sahara and founded in the 10th, near Ouargla, a new capital called Sedrata. They were soon chased by the Arabs and found shelter in a very inhospitable land, the Chebka of the M'zab. Since then, they live as a strongly bound religious community that observes strict rules. They are considered as the Protestants of Islam, as the Puritans of Islam. It is not possible to give here the rules that lead the Mozabite group but Mozabites are characterized by a high level of moral probity, a strong cohesion of the group and high level of egalitarism and democracy. Though this is very slowly changing, they practice an exclusive endogamy, which has lead to a characteristic look. I quote from DABOUZ Hammou 2004 (M'Zab) : "they are short, often fat, at least for sedentaries shop keepers, with a round head, fat lips and strong nose". I can add that many of them are strongly near-sighted and wear thick glasses.
They speak both Arab and Zenatiya, a Berber dialect. In the Mzab, most shopkeepers speak also French and sometimes other languages such as Italian, German or English. Mozabites are excellent traders and shopkeepers and in Algeria, most groceries are owned by Mozabites families. This is also the case in France and especially in Paris where many local groceries, challenged by supermarkets, have closed. Some of them have been bought by Mozabites and as the whole family is working in the shop, they are often open from dawn till late at night. One does not say "I am going to the grocery" but "I am going to the Mozabite's"
The photos of this page have been taken on the occasion of six visits from 1973 to 1988.
The Mzab Valley was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, as an intact example of traditional human habitat perfectly adapted to its environment.
Berriane, named Ait Iberguen in Berber, was founded in 1690. It is 39 km north to the pentapolis. It has much less... more travel advice
If you enlarge the first photo, you might wonder what is this landscape with scattered tuft and stones. The stones do... more travel advice
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