The world heritage includes the five fortified oasis settlements founded in the 11th century in the valley of M’zab, where the Mozabites of the Ibadite community, a strict form of Islam, still live today. The center of the valley is Ghardaïa, once the center of the Trans-Saharan trade.
Valley of M’zab: Facts
|Official title:||Valley of M’zab|
|Cultural monument||The place of residence of the Beni M’Zab, Mozabites, for whom the Koran comprehensively determines their faith and everyday life; Pentapolis protected by walls in the valley of the Oued M’Zab with Ghardaïa, once the center of the Trans-Saharan trade, with Melika, known as “the Queen”, with the “Holy City” of Beni Isguen, whose two gates are closed at night and where no stranger is allowed to spend the night, with Bou Noura, called “the shining one”, and with El Atteuf; the mosque of Ghardaïa inspiration for Le Corbusier’s design of the pilgrimage chapel of Ronchamp|
|country||Algeria, Northern Sahara|
|location||Ghardaïa, Melika, Beni Isguen, Bou Noura and El Atteuf, south of Algiers|
|meaning||functional urban structure in the Sahara that is adapted to the environment|
Valley of M’zab: History
|777 or 779||As a result of an Islamic schism, the “Kingdom of God” was founded in Tahert near Tiaret by devout Ibadhites|
|911||Expulsion of the Ibadhites by the Fatimids and settlement in Sedrata near Ouargla|
|1014||Creation of El Atteuf|
|1018 or 1124||Foundation of Melika|
|1046||Creation of Bou Noura|
|1048||Creation of Ghardaïa|
|1347||Establishment of Beni Isguen|
|1830||Entry of the French army into Algiers|
|1881||Journey of the French writer Guy de Maupassant to the Oued M’Zab|
|1962||End of the French colonization of Algeria|
The country in the country
After the capture of Algiers, the French colonial rulers immediately set about exploring their new lands. According to ebizdir, it quickly became apparent that inhabited Algeria did not end at the Atlas Mountains, as people had known for centuries how to make the Sahara their habitat. The commander Coÿne also wanted to get an idea of the conquered areas and went to the Chebka mountain range south of Algiers. In his notes he wrote impressedly about this excursion: »In the center of Chebka there is a kind of circle of limestone rocks that slope steeply towards the inside. (…) Who would not be astonished to climb these rocks and see five inhabited cities in the basin, surrounded by lush gardens, the green of which reflects the stony bed of the Oued M ‘ Zab overshadowed? Around the rocks nothing but naked desert and death. And life at her feet. Proof enough for a far advanced civilization. ”
The Pentapolis, a group of cities, in the Oued M’Zab goes back to the third century after the Higra, the emigration of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. The descendants of devout Muslims, who settled in the region as early as 42 after the Higra, came under increasing pressure from the Berber peoples of North Africa in the city of Sedrata, which they founded. The valley of M’Zab seemed made for new and safer settlements. The cities were built on five hills within the basin: El Atteuf, Bou Noura, Ghardaïa, Beni Isguen and Melika.
The “ideal city” of the Mozabites, as the residents of the M’Zab were called from then on, always followed the same pattern in the individual places: the mosque with its peculiar conical minaret marks the highest point of the Ksar, the fortified city. The house of prayer is the seat of religious power, watchtower and powder storage at the same time. From there, streets and buildings spread out in a circle downwards; the less defensible they are, the closer they are to the city wall that surrounds the cities at the foot of the hill. The box-shaped residential buildings with roof terraces follow a general development plan. The uniform building height preserves the privacy of the neighbors. No one hides the other’s sunlight. Each ksar has gardens outside the walls. The plantations in the shade of a total of 300,000 date palms provide food for the population and, in summer, provide relaxation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The artificial oases, in which lush green sprouts, are fed by deep wells and from the ponds created in rock hollows, in which rainwater is collected.
The French writer Guy de Maupassant was the first European to study life in the Pentapolis in detail at the end of the 19th century. “The Mozabites control all of North Africa’s trade,” he reported. “Those who have earned enough return to M’Zab, where they rejoin public life after a kind of religious cleansing.” Everyday life is strictly governed by the rules of the Koran. Because this is what Khaidjism demands, a puritanic movement of Islam from the 7th century, to which the Mozabites still follow today. All believers are fundamentally the same in their religious duties, but also in their everyday rights. Coexistence is directed independently of the religious institutions by a city assembly to which each family clan sends its representative.
“M’Zab is a republic, or more precisely a commune as the revolutionaries of Paris aspired to in 1871,” are Maupassant’s overly enthusiastic lines about a desert valley that has retained its independence and religious seclusion to this day. The writer completely overlooked one thing: equality only applies to men – and that is still the case today. The women in the M’Zab rarely leave the house, and if they do, then only in Ghardaïa – veiled from head to toe so that only one eye is free, and when accompanied by men – the house. If they encounter strange men on the way, which is inevitable, the women have to avoid the stranger and change the side of the street. In the “holy city” of Beni Isguen, whose gates close at night, women are banned from public life entirely. They are not even allowed to visit the mosque.