Ghardaia - A Masterpiece of Medieval Architecture
Ghardaia is a town and wilaya (province) located in eastern Algeria. It is situated in the heart of the Mezab valley, which is the home of the Ibadi Muslim sect in Algeria. Ghardaia is truly a sight to see as the entire city is mostly made up of original medieval architecture that has been preserved remarkably well. The M'zab valley wherein Ghardaia lies is part of an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city is actually a cluster of five settlements that are built on the five highest hills of the M'zab valley. Each hilltop is crowned by a lone towering minaret and the buildings seem to span out from them in narrow concentric circles. The majority of the houses on the sides of these hills are two stories high and each has its own courtyard, terraces and yards. The streets and houses seemed to be carved into the hillside in a way that makes them blend into the landscape. The whitewashed houses stand out against the blue sky and the reddish brown desert soil. Ghardaia is a perfect example of how homes can be built without defacing the beauty of nature.
Just on the other side of a wadi (dried river bed) lies Shibam. Quite the opposite of Ghardaia, Shibam is an exquisite display of quadrangular buildings and the fortified walls of day’s gone-by. Each building is unique and this stops the general scene from becoming monotonous. Buildings are made from adobe bricks and the roof is topped with lime for waterproofing. These buildings can tower up to 30 meters high! Despite their size, they are not designed to be ostentatious but rather to provide adequate housing for more than one family. Many of them are over five hundred years old. Shibam also has interesting mosques that are worth seeing.