"Door to the desert" Ghardaia by kokoryko
Ghardaia Travel Guide: 32 reviews and 54 photos
M' Zab, is a region of Algeria located 600 km South of Algiers.
A rocky limestone plateau with an average elevation of 700 m , cut by a net of deep valleys characterises this arid region.
The plateau was marked by strong river erosion during the quaternary period (it was not an arid region at the time) , giving its actual landscape of flat-topped hills and flat-bottomed alluvial valleys; the wadis (oued) flow very raely today and are invaded in many places by eolian sands (dunes). The Oued M’zab, oriented from North West to South East, is the spine of the valleys net , where early human settlements took place . Nowadyas this region is very arid with very low pluviometry and the rivers are rarely flowing. Water is supplied today by several thousands (thousands!) of wells , generally dug at shallow depths. Some recent wells drilled with drilling rigs reach 5àà m depth.
The area is affected by strong sand winds between March and May, causing invasion of fields, wells, houses, by tons and tons of sand, making life here very diffcult, added to climatic extremes (0°C at nights in winter and 50°C during day in summer).
The people living here are the M’zabites usually called Mozabites, a berberic group, who adopted Islamic faith in the 10th-11th centuries.
Today geographers tell about the “Pentapole du M’zab”, the M’zab pentapolis: five cities located in or near the main M’zab valley, represent most of the population of the M’zab.
Beside Ghardaia, the capital of the Wilaya (administrative unit, corresponding to a departement), the other cities are: El Ateuf, Bou Noura, Beni Isguen and Melika. The M’zab count about 300000 inhabitants.
The M’zab Valley has been classified World Heritage by the UNESCO in 1982.
From the 18th century, Ghardaia was on the roads of caravans travelling from Morocco to tunisia and Lybia; many Mozabites became shop-keepers, traders and with the disappearance of the traditional trade with caravans, the Mozabite traders became shop keepers in Tunis, Algiers, other North African cities and France. Today, in Algiers you go shopping at the Mozabite’s (shop), and Mozabite has even become a common word designating a shop-keeper in many big cities North and south of the Mediterranean sea.
Like in most muslim countries, the religion is present in every aspects of civil life and it is everywhere, in architecture, social organisation, schools, resources (water) management, etc. . . . I felt islam here quite tolerant (with the Roumi, the unfaithful foreigner, do not know about the muslims themmselves. . . ), and it has a very austerous, simple, expression which can be found in the buildings, the clothes of women, the general attitude of people.
Ghardaia: Daia’s cave, because of a cave located on the hill where women come to pray Lalla Saliha,”the Lady who makes things easy”.
Melika, the queen, is surrounded by fortification walls ; it was formerly a holy city in the Mzab ;the graves of Sidi Aïssa (a mozabite scholar) and his family are at the Melika cemetery .
Beni Isguen, the most traditionalist, with a rigid conception of Islam ; the legend says the angels helped the inhabitanys to build the city within one night ;photography is difficult and foreigners are not allowed to stay at night within the walls surrounding the city.
Bou Noura , the bright, (noor, light in arabic) was the place of a big battle between the upper and lower parts of the city ; nowadays, there is a separation between lower and upper parts of this city build on hillside.
El Ateuf, the oldest was build in 1010 on a meander of the Oued M’zab;it is the only city with two mosquees one inside the walls, one outside.
Notice: most of the pictures are “old”, coming from travels in 1991, have been scanned ; they are not very sharp, but, finally give a good impression of desertic ambiance and architecture.
Second notice: if you spot some women on the pics (except when I tell there are), let me know; half of the humanity is hidden here. . . .
I recently found one of my pictures somewhere on the web where it has nothing to do.
It arrived there without permission.
My pictures are far from being works of art, but be kind and ask if you want to use.
Unless otherwise marked, I am the author of the pictures.
The best to get to Ghardaia is by car, hired, or own car. Drive from Algiers across the Atlas and the High Plateau, and... more travel advice
The walks in the oasis lead you to some surprises, like this barley field (I do not think they brew beer in the M’zab;... more travel advice
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