M’zab Valley

The M’zab Valley is an oasis in the Sahara desert. Located about 500 kilometers south of Algiers in the Ghardaia province of Algeria, the 10-kilometer-long valley. The M’zab Valley has been inhabited since 1012, when M’zabite Berbers, a fiercely independent group of Ibadiyy Muslims, moved to the region in an attempt to escape robbers and persecutors. The M’zabites settled in the valley because it could be easily defended. The Mzab Valley was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, as an intact example of traditional human habitat perfectly adapted to the environment

There are five qsur “walled villages” (ksour) located on rocky outcrops along the Wəd Mzab collectively known as the Pentapolis. They are Ghardaïa Tagherdayt, the principal settlement today; Beni Isguen At Isjen; Melika At Mlishet; Bounoura At Bunur; and El-Ateuf Tajnint. Adding the more recent settlements of Bérianne and El Guerara, the Mzab Heptapolis is completed. The combination of the functional purism of the Ibaḍi faith with the oasian way of life has led to a strict organization of land and space. Each citadel has a fortress-like mosque, whose minaret served as a watchtower. Houses of standard size and type were constructed in concentric circles around the mosque. The architecture of the M’zab settlements was designed for egalitarian communal living, with respect for family privacy. The Mzab building style is of Libyan-Phoenician type, more specifically of Berber style and has been replicated in other parts of the Sahara.

Visitors may not remain in a ksar after sunset unless accompanied by a resident, and non-Muslims are not allowed to stay overnight in Beni Isguen, the valley’s religious center. However, there are hotels and restaurants in Ghardaia, which serves as the regional base for tourism.

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