Sahara Territory


Algeria map.

Total population: +/- 36,5 millions.
Saharan population: +/- 4 millions (11%).
Total population density: 15,3 hab/km2.
Saharan population density: 1,86 hab/km2.
Ethnics: 99% arabs and berbers, 1% europeans.
Languages: Arabic, french and berber.
Religions: 99% islamic and 1% christian.
Life expectancy: 74 years.

Algeria is a country of the Maghreb.

The great size of Algeria makes this country able to connect the mediterranean Africa with the black Africa. Two important transaharan routes go through Algeria, one crossing the Tanezrouft towards the legendary Tombouctou and another crossing the Ahaggar towards Agadez. This last route goes through Tamanrasset, the capital of the touareg in Algeria.

The berbers have occupied the algerian territory since remote times. Along the history, they would see the invasion of succesive foreign peoples, such as the carthaginians, romans, vandals, byzantines, arabs and ottomans.
Algerian prosperity is high for african standards. Many resources are present in the country; petroleum, methane, iron, coal, phosphates, manganese, uranium, zinc, plumb and copper. The tourism was a promising industry but in the recent years it suffers from the insecurity relative to islamist terrorism.

The image below shows the architecture of an oasis village near El-Oued, in the region known as the Souf. The mosque and dwellings, covered with domes distinct from the algerian plain roofs, show a tunisian influence. The palm trees show upon the enclosure of dunes that surround them. In this region, the terrain is excavated so the palm trees can be planted closer to the underground water and therefore they would not need further irrigation during their life.

The architecture in the Souf region. The palm trees inside their enclosures excavated in the sand.

A woman covered in the traditional haik. A woman covered in the traditional white mantle, called haik. Arabian domination made higabs, shadors and other kind of covering mantles present throughout northern Africa, where berber women usually had their faces uncovered and weared ostentatious jewelry. The haik has been traditional in the Maghreb and this tradition still remains in places such as the town of Ghardaia, where the muslim cult of the ibadis imposes the married women to cover their face leaving only one eye uncovered.

Ghardaia is an ancient town with a population around 100000 inhabitants, founded thousand years ago by the mozabites or ibadis in the Mzab valley. It is a fortified town divided into three walled sectors. At the centre lies the historical mzabite area, with an arcaded square and a mosque with a pyramidal minaret. Distinctive white, pink and red houses, made of sand, clay and gypsum, rise in terraces and arcades. The unique layout of the town is dictated by the rocky terrain of the region, with the mosque at the top of the hill and the houses laid in a maze of alleys, with a large market centre. All the houses are oriented in such a way that they can receive sunlight and their chimneys are also set in such a way that it doesn't encroach their neighbours comfort. The residents have preserved the original medieval architecture remarkably well and the valley is inscribed as a World Heritage Site.

Ghardaia possesses a close-knit society where all aspects of economy and social customs are dictated by the community and where begging and theft are non existent. This community led by the mozabites, which have a patriarchal system of social inheritance, follow the rules of governance diligently and also contribute to the maintenance and care of the community. They practice a different form of islamism, separated from the majoritary sunnism and shi'ism. Here, wasting water, and more generally any gift of land, is considered a sin. It is also noticeable how the street life and particularly the market is dominated by male presence while only a minority of women covered with their haiks are visible. This shows a curious cultural contrast when compared with the towns in Chad, where women wearing fancy printed dresses are left alone with the task of trading in the markets.

View of the town of Ghardaia. View of the town of Ghardaia.

The market square in Ghardaia. Palace of mozabite style in Ghardaia.

Timimoun is a town with a population of about 50000 inhabitants, located in the northern border of the Tademait plateau, next to a wide palm garden and salt lakes, peering towards the first reddish sands of the Grand Erg Occidental.

Timimoun is characteristic by its architecture built in red ochre adobe, which is an example of the sudanese architecture from southern Mali (since Mali was called Sudan in the time of the french colonization). In the sudanese architecture, buildings are made of the same clay that forms the ground, so roads and buildings look seamlessly connected, as if buildings had just risen out of the ground. Instead of using bricks to assemble the walls, the clay is attached around a structure made from wooden trunks and then modelled in the same way that a statuette or a pot would be. The philosophy of this architecture is to be an extension of nature, giving the buildings an organic look.

The reddish architecture in Timimoun. The reddish architecture in Timimoun.

The ruined ksar in Timimoun.

The Sebiba festival takes place in the town of Djanet. Both men and women wear their best touareg outfits for the occasion. The women accompany with their music and chants the dance of the men, who are dressed as warriors with their decorated helmets, their turbans and tagelmoust dyed with indigo, and their takouba swords.

The Sebiba festival in Djanet. The Sebiba festival in Djanet.

In Algeria, the Ahaggar and Tassili mountains are the home of the touareg, a distinctive subculture within the berbers. In the past the most humble castes of them were nomad herders, searching for pastures in the wilderness, while the higher castes settled in the oases where they possessed crops maintained by subsaharan slaves, since the nobles despised the agricultural work. They would instead be dedicated to commerce activities, hiring people to manage their caravans. Beyond these two archetypes, any touareg would be dedicated to any task that could help to better prosper in the scarcity of the desert. So many humble touareg combined their pastoral life with a sedentary life in an oasis where they themselves would attend their own crops and date palms. Others would settle in a major town, where they could work as artisans, selling their works in the markets, while being hired to conduct the caravans in their seasonal travels would be a chance to earn some extra profit. Specially in periods of scarcity, some others would engage in activities of pillage, acting as mere bandits or organized in hordes of raiders that would be able to target caravans and towns.

In modern times, the touareg life is obviously not the same. With the arrival of the french colonization, their agressive manners of raiding and kidnapping slaves and women were severely cut down. The distinctions between social castes were diluted as well with the arrival of the new colonial governors, the newly created states and their new laws. The camel caravans were displaced by trucks and so this way of life was also lost. Today the immense majority of the touareg in Algeria live in the towns of the southern region, such as Tamanrasset, a town that has doubled its population in the last two decades, or Djanet, a small and traditional oasis town. They work in modern labours, such as oil extraction or touristic guidance, a task where they can take advantage of their inherited knowledge on wilderness life.

The touareg of the Ahaggar. Touareg woman from Tamanrasset.

Algeria Geography


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