"MʾZab is a deep, narrow oasis valley located within the Sahara, consisting of five walled towns, about 600 km south of Algiers, the capital of Algeria."
"600km south of the capital Algiers is one of Algeria's most unique group of towns in a ancient man-made oasis - the M'Zab Valley. Tourists can learn about the distinct local culture, defined by the desrt climate and isolated Ibadi muslim sect, as well as venture out into the Sahara desert..."
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Past to Present
The M’zab Valley defines a north-south trade route through the Sahara. People have moved through it for a very long time, with evidence of rock drawings from the Bronze Age. A Berber group was converted to Islam by the Ibadites, the first sect to split off from Islam. Suffering persecution, they came to the M’zab Valley in the 10th century and settled, planning and building a series of walled towns and way of life that is still maintained through a federated council that keeps Islamic and civil laws, as well as through its isolation by geography and preference.
A mosque resides at the heart of each of the five original walled towns (ksour). The marketplace is also the town center, and the merchants are usually men. Homes circle out from this center and are built in similar sizes and configurations, which reflect an attitude of equality. These homes are where women spend their time, especially in the roofed courtyards that provide privacy and a play area for children. Traditionally, women are covered when leaving the home for family errands or visits. They walk through unmarked alleyways that wind like footpaths, wearing long white cloaks with only the left eye showing. The homes are decorated with elaborately patterned rugs and carpets, usually the only ornament in the house. Even their clothing and cemeteries have minimal ornamentation, creating a harmonious feeling.
Ghardaia is the largest town, or ksar; four other towns each with their own character. Together they are known as the Pentapolis (five cites, all constructed between 1012 and 1350. A.D.) The average temperature in July is around 36.3 degrees Celsius (97.3 F), with a maximum of 48 degrees Celsius (118 F). This area has little rainfall, but frequent sandstorms.
The ksar (town) illustrates the social order. The townscapes are situated on rocky peaks, with houses huddled together harmoniously and set out in terraces. At the highest point, the soaring minaret announces the presence of the town from afar and acts as its protector and its nervous system. Due to its orderliness and its compact appearance, the town expresses the cohesion of the society, as a coherent, orderly town in which everything comes together to form a unified whole.