Website Category: Fortified Towns of the Trans-Sahara Trading Routes
Area: 40 km2
Criteria: (ii) interchange of values (iii) cultural tradition (v) interaction with the environment
Location and Values: The M’Zab Valley is a deep, narrow oasis valley in the Sahara about 600 km south of Algiers. Along its length the five towns of Ghardaia, Melika, Beni Isguen, Bou Noura and El Atteuf are each built on a knoll, their pastel-coloured box-like buildings packed tightly together in concentric circles between an outer fortification and the summit of the hill where a fortified mosque with a slim, turreted minaret, arsenal and adjoining granary is located. Buildings are tightly packed, with narrow alleyways and covered passages winding between them.
The five towns are spread along the valley over a distance of about 10 km, and were established by a break-away Islamic sect, the Ibadites, between 1013 and 1355. They were designed for communal living, within a remarkably egalitarian social structure which respects the privacy of the family. Perfectly adapted to the environment, these towns have provided inspiration to contemporary urban planners and architects and are still vibrant commercial centres.
Slideshow of the M’zab Valley:
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the M’Zab Valley 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. This view is centred on the town of Beni Isguen, from where you can pan to the left, following the M’Zab valley to Melika (on the north bank) and Ghardaia (on the south bank). Panning to the right, you can see Bou Noura and (much further down) El Affeuf. The quality of the images is superb, so it is well worth taking this Google Earth tour!
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details