Sahara Territory


Niger map.

Total area: +/- 1267000 km2.
Saharan area: +/- 850000 km2 (67%).
Lowest point: 200 meters (Niger River at nigerian border).
Highest point: 2000 meters (Mount Baguezane).

The northern and central regions of Niger are totally desertic, while the southern region contains the sahelian steppe where nomads move their herds and a small fertile area in the south-western region that can support permanent crops. Most of the eastern part of Niger is occupied by the scorching Erg of Tenere. In the northern end lies the plateau of Djado and west of the Tenere are located the Air mountains, a volcanic massif that contains the highest elevations in the country. The Air mountains form together with the Erg of Tenere the Air and Tenere Natural Reserve, a protected area of ecological interest. The south-eastern corner contains the basin of the Lake Chad. Today this basin is desertized and the Lake Chad has only a marginal size, but during the Neolithic Subpluvial the basin was covered with water and the Tenere was a fertile area.

The Djado plateau is located in the northern end of Niger, between the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau and the Tibesti massif. It occupies a surface area of about 125000 km2 but its highest mountains marginally surpass 1000 meters above sea level. This plateau includes many yardang formations and basalt structures. The region that extends to the east of the Djado plateau is geologically impressive; a flood volcanic field that spreads with countless plateaus joins massive yardang formations while groups of barchan dunes are aligned by the north-easterly wind. Part of these formations are inside libyan territory and a runway exists in the very nigerien-libyan border, in a region that is practically unoccupied.

Basalt cones in the Djado plateau. Rock formation in the Djado plateau.

Landscape in the Djado plateau. Landscape in the Djado plateau.

The Erg of Ténéré is one of the greatest ergs in the Sahara, covering an area of about 450000 km2, enclosed within the Tassili-n-Ahaggar plateau, The Djado plateau, the Bodélé depression, the Lake Chad, the Sahel and the Air mountains. Tenere is a word in targui language that means "desert", being its plural form tinariwen. The touareg refer the Ténéré as the "desert of deserts", the desert that they cross every year with their salt caravans. The Ténéré includes within it subregions as the Ténéré of Tafassaset and the Erg of Bilma. Big part of the Ténéré is included in the Lake Chad basin, an area that was fertile during the Neolithic Subpluvial period. The present arid climate of the region has preserved many remains of its ancient dwellers.

The landscape of the Ténéré. The landscape of the Ténéré.

The dunes of the Ténéré. The dunes of the Ténéré.

Left image: the Kaouar-tal is a quite straight formation of cliffs aligned in a south-northerly axis in the middle of the Ténéré. Many towns of the Ténéré, such as Bilma and Dirkou, are located near these cliffs.

Right image: the Kaouar-tal cliffs overlook the oasis at Bilma, town of the Ténéré that is a prime point for the salt commerce. In the past, huge salt caravans with thousands of camels led by the touareg, returned to Agadez from this town, loaded with tons of salt blocks. Before arriving to Agadez, they would stop to get water in the well next to the "Tenere Tree", acclaimed as the loneliest tree in the world. This tree survived until 1973, when a truck surprisingly broke it. After that, it was replaced by an unsightly metal structure that doesn't looks much like a tree.

The Kaouar-Tal cliffs near Bilma. The oasis at Bilma.

The Air mountains are a massif of dark granitic and basaltic rocks of volcanic origin that occupies an area of about 60000 km2 west of the Ténéré. One of these mountains is Mount Baguezane, which is the highest elevation in Niger, with an altitude of 2000 meters. The terrain in this region is largely covered with stones and gravels, the roads are mere tracks and only some oases are inhabited, such as Timia and Iferouane. Timia's gardens are specially renowned, because of the vineyards and fruit trees that are grown there. The touareg have inhabited these mountains for centuries, traditionally reunited in the Kel Air confederation that gave name to these mountains.

Landscape in the Air mountains. Landscape in the Air mountains.

Landscape in the Air mountains. The palm gardens at Timia oasis.

The oasis village of Timia.

Niger Ethnography


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