Sahara Territory


Algeria map.

Total area: +/- 2381000 km2.
Saharan area: +/- 2250000 km2 (94%).
Lowest point: -40 meters (Chott Melrhir).
Highest point: 2918 meters (Mount Tahat).

Algeria is a country of the Maghreb.

Algeria became the biggest african country after the sudanese secession. Around 90% of the huge algerian territory belongs to the desert, so Algeria has a bigger portion of the Sahara than any other country. The Sahara has desecated the southern Atlas mountains, precisely called the Saharan Atlas, while the northern Atlas, called Tell Atlas, remains in the influence area of the mediterranean climate. The algerian Sahara is generally quite flat, an area dominated by great ergs (Grand Erg Oriental, Grand Erg Occidental, Iguidi and Chech) and rocky plateaus (Tinhert, Tademait , Ahaggar and Tassili). In the south-eastern part of Algeria emerge the highest mountains in Algeria, in a region called the Tassili-n-Ahaggar, composed by two subregions that traditionally have been the home of two targui confederations: Ahaggar in the western area, the home of the Kel Ahaggar confederation, and Ajjer in the eastern area, the home of the Kel Ajjer confederation. Wide parts of both the Ahaggar and Ajjer regions are protected ecological areas included in the Tassili and Ahaggar National Park.

Chott Melrhir is a salt lake whose bottom is the lowest geographical point in Algeria. This lake is the westernmost of a serie of depressions that run from the Gulf of Gabes to the west. In the image below Chott Melrhir is visible to the west, in comparison with the bigger Chott El Djerid, located in Tunisia.

Satellite view of Chott Melrhir and Chott El Djerid.

Left image: Chott Ech Chergui is a salt lake located in the arid plateau that lies north of the Saharan Atlas, covering a surface area of about 2800 km2.

Right image: the landscape of the Saharan Atlas as seen from Jebel Aissa (2236 meters). The mountains of the Saharan Atlas have a wetter climate than the arid plateau located north of them; the highest altitudes are covered with a relatively abundant vegetation and snow is habitual in the summits.

The flat and desolate landscape of Chott Ech Chergui. The landscape of the Saharan Atlas seen from Jebel Aissa.

The Grand Erg Occidental (left image) and the Grand Erg Oriental (right image) are two great seas of dunes covering an area of about 220000 km2 the first one and 120000 km the second one. These seas of sand are made of a reddish sand that is modelled in complex star dunes and seifs by the wind. These ergs are similar to the libyan ergs of Awbari and Marzuq in their sand color and dunes structure. North of the Grand Erg Oriental, Ouargla and Hassi Messaoud are important centers of oil extraction. Hassi Messaoud was a simple village that started to grow fast after a refinery was built there in 1956. At the present the town has a population of around 60000 inhabitants and possesses an international airport.

Sunset near El Golea, in the Grand Erg Occidental. The reddish sand of the Grand Erg Oriental.

The Tademait is a large gravel plateau and volcanic field covering an area of around 100000 km2, located in the geographical center of Algeria. The surface is a mixture of small sharp stones and the finest, most irritating dust imaginable, where vegetation is almost inexistent. Sandstone and limestone formations are present in the area as well as stunningly flat surfaces.

Landscape in the Tademait plateau. Landscape in the Tademait plateau.

In the road El Golea - In Salah. In the road El Golea - In Salah.

The Tanezrouft region, known as the "Land of Terror" or "The nothing in the nothing", is an hyper-arid region located west of the Ahaggar mountains, known for being one of the most harsh environments on the Sahara, a place where water, landmarks and vegetation are practically inexistent. In the year 1809 were found here the corpses of 2000 caravaneers and 1800 camels; it is more probable to get lost in a desert that lacks landmarks and this was in the past a real danger for the caravans. Today a transaharan motor route crosses the Tanezrouft from Reggane to Tessalit in Mali. A stop on this route is Poste Maurice Cortier, also known as Bidon 5 because it was signaled with a number 5 upon a bidon, for this was the fifth beacon in the road between Reggane and Tessalit. In this place, there are only the remainings of an abandoned gas station for airplanes that travelled to the southern colonies in the times of french colonialism. It feels strange that this place is still marked as a village in the maps, a place where nothing useful could be found. And yet, in contradiction with all of this desolation, it seems that deep under the surface of the Tanezrouft lies a vast water-bearing stratum, maybe more than 1000 meters below the surface.

Below to the left, the satellite image shows a detail view of Sebkha Mekerghene area in the north-eastern Tanezrouft, north of Tanezrouft-n-Ahenet, where deflation by the wind exposes shallow periclinal synclinal basins in Palaeozoic rocks. The rest of the Tanezrouft area is a plain surface where sand is not very abundant and spread in isolated and irregular dune fields. To the north-west the Tanezrouft borders with the seif dunes of the Erg Chech and to the south it ends in the Adrar des Iforas massif.

Satellite detail view of Sebkha Mekerghene. The landscape in the Tanezrouft desert.

The landscape in the Tanezrouft desert. The landscape in the Tanezrouft desert.

The Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau is referred by the touareg as the "plateau of rivers". It covers an area of about 90000 km2 in the south-eastern corner of Algeria and its highest elevation is Jebel n'Isser (2254 meters), a mountain that watches upon the Erg Admer from the north. Tassili-n-Ajjer is renowned by its impressive landscape full of diversity and its huge collection of petroglyphs. In the oued Tamrit still survive the last saharan cypresses with an age of thousands years.

The satellite images below show oued valleys where sand and vegetation live together, oueds where numerous gueltas are present, being permanent many of them, such as the ones found in the valley of Iherir, and strange fields of rocks that seem to be ordered in a grid, along with many other rock formations which at ground level would show a wide repertory of capricious forms, such as arches, needles and mushrooms.

Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Satellite detail view in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

The Erg Admer (left image) and the Erg Tin Merzouga (right image) flank the southern mountain range of the Tassili-n-Ajjer, from the west and from the east respectively. The area of Tin Merzouga is also known as Tadrart, an area full of heavily eroded sandstones that emerge from a sea of reddish sand.

Landscape in the Erg Admer. Landscape in the Erg Tin Merzouga.

Tassili-n-Ajjer is all the deserts in one single desert; sandstone rocks, volcanic rocks, valleys, canyons, mountains, plateaus, cliffs, caves, palm groves and gueltas, unique flora species... all of this surrounded by reddish and vanilla sands. And when the night comes... a field of countless stars watches over the desert while thermal erosion starts its never-ending work.

The landscape in Tassili-n-Ajjer. The landscape in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

The landscape in Tassili-n-Ajjer. The landscape in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

The magical night in the desert, in Tassili-n-Ajjer.

Next to Tassili-n-Ajjer to the west, lies the Ahaggar massif, also known as the Hoggar. This mountainous massif covers an area of about 100000 km2 and on its center is located the Atakor, a volcanic area that takes its name from the pommel of a touareg sword. The Atakor covers an area of about 1600 Km2 and has the highest elevations in Algeria, which include the Mount Tahat (2918 meters).

The landscape inside the Ahaggar massif is generally rocky. Sand dunes are present only in the borders of the massif, which is instead covered by fields of regs and barren terrains.

The landscape in the Ahaggar. The landscape in the Ahaggar.

The landscape in the Ahaggar. The landscape in the Ahaggar.

The landscape in the Ahaggar. The landscape in the Ahaggar.

The Atakor, a volcanic field where basaltic spires and pipe organ structures emerge in a lunar landscape, is easily distinguishable in a satellite view because of its dark color. However, after a rainy season, some small vegetation appears, as seen on the left image.

The landscape in the Atakor. A basaltic spire in the Atakor.

The night in the Atakor.

Algeria Ethnography


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