Fortified Settlements of the M’Zab Valley

The five fortified settlements of the M’zab Valley in Algeria – Ghardaïa, Bounoura, El-Atteuf, Melika and Beni-Isguen – are valued both locally and internationally for their cultural and historical significance, and as such were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1982. Referred to locally as qsur, or ksour, the five walled villages are strategically located on rocky outcrops allowing a view of the surrounding valley and are occupied primarily by followers of the Ibadhi form of Islam.

Dating back to the 11th century, these villages of the M’zab Valley are notable for having preserved their original culture and cohesion between the communities throughout the years, virtually untouched by the outside world. Surrounded by palm groves, the white-washed buildings are designed to provide protection from the searing desert heat. Each of the five settlements is centered on a mosque, with a minaret standing above the surrounding buildings serving as a watchtower. Each mosque is designed as a fortress within the fortress-type setting of the ksour, and includes provisions necessary to prevail as a stronghold in the event of a siege. Houses are arranged around the mosque in concentric circles spreading out to the ramparts of the ksour. In the summer months, the communities move to the surrounding palm groves, with individual homes being fortified and watchtowers providing protection.

The description of the M’Zab Valley by the UNESCO World Heritage committee notes that the primary reason for the Ibadis selecting the valley as a place to settle was that its geographical features offered the community the opportunity to preserve its cultural identity, albeit at the expense of being isolated from the outside world.