Website Category: Fortified Towns of the Trans-Sahara Trading Route
Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition (iv) icon of an era (v) interaction with the environment
Location and Values: The ancient Ksour (fortified villages) of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata were developed between the 12th and 16th centuries to serve a key trade route which cuts through the western edge of the Sahara in Mauritania. Ouadane, at the north-western end of the route is approximately 1,000 km from Oualata at the other end. Each village is centred on a mosque with a square minaret, and the houses cluster along narrow streets, the entire ensemble surrounded by some kind of walled fortification. The materials used for construction of each village reflect local availability, with Ouadane and Chinguetti constructed mainly of stone, while Oualata is made largely of earthen materials. The villages were all established in fertile river valleys or oases, and served a key role in religious education, becoming important centres of Islamic culture.
Today, with the demise of the traditional trade routes, they have lost much of their historical importance, and are largely depopulated as the streets are progressively engulfed in sand and the inhabitants have moved out to seek a better life elsewhere. They provide, nevertheless, fascinating insights into the prosperity and culture that developed centuries ago around the trans-Sahara trade routes.
Slideshow of the Ancient Ksour Of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt And Oualata: The first 18 of the 71 photos in this collection show the town of Ouadane, a crumbling ruin of rock-built structures clinging to the hillside, its narrow sand-filled streets abandoned to the goats and hyraxes. There is then a short sequence of photos from Chinguetti, perhaps the most accessible and vibrant of the Ksour. Here, ancient Islamic documents are carefully maintained by their traditional custodians, and the mosque remains the vibrant centre of community life. The remaining part of the slideshow is devoted to Oualata, a remote town in the extreme south-eastern corner of Mauritania that retains a stunning sense of its former grandeur, with beautiful bas-relief decoration on many of the house walls as well as some highly elaborate studded door-ways. In its day the town’s fame equalled that of Timbuktu and Djenne, as all manner of goods – skins, ivory, slaves, gold and kola nuts – were traded through to Arab markets in North Africa.
Slideshow of the Ancient Ksour Of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt And Oualata:
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Chinguetti old town on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. From Chinguetti it should be possible to pan across to Ouadane, about 100 km to the north-east, and follow the ancient caravan route to the southeast via Tichit to Oualata.