Website Category: Trans-Sahara Trading Routes
Area: approx 0.8 km2
Criteria: (ii) interchange of values over time
(iii) testimony to a cultural tradition
Location and Values: Agadez is a small town on the fringes of the Sahara Desert in the Air region of northern Niger. Its historic centre dates from the 15th and 16th centuries when the Sultanate of Air was established here, encouraging the consolidation of Tuareg tribes and the development of trans-Saharan economic and cultural exchanges. It remains an important ‘gateway to the desert’ in northern Niger, located on one of the few trans-Saharan roads connecting into Algeria and the Mediterranean coast.
The world heritage site covers an area of private dwellings, ancient mosques and palatial buildings constructed in traditional mud-brick. Its most iconic structure is the 27-metre tall pyramidal minaret of the Grand Mosque, reckoned to be the tallest minaret ever built entirely out of mud-brick. The street layout follows the boundaries of the original encampments of the Tuareg tribes as they were when the process of settlement began, with 11 irregularly-shaped ‘quarters’. Within this area, a group of 18 major sites has been identified as being of particular historical and cultural significance. These include the Grand Mosque, the nearby Palace of the Sultan of Air, several ancient squares and noteworthy private residences, as well as three further mosques.
Slideshow of the historic centre of Agadez:
Slideshow Description: The slideshow begins at the Grand Mosque, with views of the iconic minaret. A tight staircase within the minaret enables visitors to climb to the top for some superb views of the historic centre of the town, showing the layout of the streets and the traditional flat-roofed mud-brick architecture. The following slides provide a detailed study of one of the best-preserved and beautifully decorated houses in the city – the Maison du Boulanger. This baker’s house is built around an internal courtyard, and looks out across the flat roof-tops of adjacent buildings. A number of street scenes provide a strong sense of the historic centre, including the 1959 house and butchers shop of Ati Sakin Fawa. The camel market retains its traditional role in the economic life of the city. Also within the historic centre is the modest mud-brick house (now a small museum) where the first European explorer (Heinrich Barth) stayed when he passed through Agadez in 1850. The slideshow finishes with further street views of the area around the Grand Mosque where local children enjoy football and life moves slowly towards the 21st century.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Agadez 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. The window opens onto the centre of the town, the most prominent feature being the dark shadow of the minaret of the Grand Mosque cast across the adjacent square. The nature of the tightly-packed flat-roofed mud-brick houses and the traditional subdivision of the town into its historic quarters can be clearly seen.
Further information: A (french language) brochure describing aspects of the history of Agadez, and justification for the town's inclusion on the world heritage list, produced by the national authorities prior to its official listing can be downloaded by clicking here.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details