A true model and source of inspiration for all urban planners today, the fortified towns of the M’zab valley are simple, functional and perfectly adapted to the environment. The M’zab Valley is a deep and narrow valley located in the heart of the Sahara, 600 km south of the city of Algiers . Along this valley and over a distance of about 10 km, there are five fortified villages dating from the 11th century! These fortified villages form a set of rare homogeneity and are still today the reflection of a sedentary civilization, bearer of an extraordinary culture, and which has even known through the centuries to preserve its cohesion and its original state. .
These villages seem to have remained intact, as if frozen in time. Designed by Mozabite Berbers, each of the five towns, Ghardaia, Beni Isquen, Melika, Bou Noura and El Atteuf , are built on a hill and surrounded by a tangle of pastel-colored houses. Houses grouped together in a concentric circle around a central mosque still built on the top of the hill.
Based in the center of towns and high up, the mosques were designed as veritable fortresses and also served as watchtowers.
As for the houses, they were designed to live in community, however, each of them respects the privacy of the family. An ingenious system in the heart of narrow streets and winding passages!
These five cities although they are built in a similar way, each of them has an identity. Ghardaïa is the main town and capital of the M’zab, El-Ateuf hosts the oldest settlement in the region and Beni Isquen remains the most enigmatic of all the towns in the valley. Considered holy, Beni Isquen has long been closed and fenced at nightfall… Although today this is no longer the case, this city remains despite everything the one with the most traditional settlement in the entire M’ region. Zab.
The women here are very camera shy, as Jonathan Oakes explains in his travel guide to Algeria:“Here you will see that all the women follow the tradition and wear the haik, a large cloth that is wrapped around the body and face, allowing only one eye to be seen. Before marriage, young women are allowed to show their faces, but after marriage only one eye can be shown and uncovered. When you meet the gaze of one of these women, you will notice that they will close the fabric that covers their face more and leave only one small hole to see. In the past, it was customary for women to face the wall when strangers passed; although this is no longer the case, you will find that these women will always do their best to avoid your gaze and will systematically change their path, if you cross their path. These women are gloriously photogenic but taking a picture of them is strictly prohibited and will result in outrage. »
Between tradition and religion, all the fortified towns of the M’zab valley are remarkable. Despite the years and centuries that have passed, the communities have been able to preserve their original state and culture. This identity, which remained intact in the face of the outside world, enabled all of these towns to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 1982.