Tamanghasset and the Tuareg – Algeria

Tamanghasset is a town of about 40,000 located in the southern part of Algeria that is also the administrative capital of Tamanghasset province, the largest province in the country. Large it may be, but vast areas of Tamanghasset province are virtually uninhabited. One might say that Tamanghasset is the “poster child” for desert oasis’ everywhere. Outside the dusty but well-ordered town of Tamanghasset with its signature red houses, desert wastes of the magnificent Sahara stretch for miles in any direction. It is for this reason that Tamanghasset has long been a vital rest stop for ancient caravans, desert traders and even patrols of the French Foreign Legion, who named the town Fort Laperrine. The town’s importance to Algeria was demonstrated by the fact that the paved Trans-Sahara Highway goes through Tamanghasset and travelers on the north-south route often stop at the town.

Contrary to most people’s impressions, the Sahara is much more than a great sea of sand dunes – although it has those in abundance. One of the Earth’s largest dune fields, the Grand Erg, stretches for many miles to the east and west of Tamanghasset. Immense waves of shifting sand with crests up to 15 feet high march across the desert under a baking sun. Tourists who visit the area are forewarned to bring sunscreen, protective clothing, and of course a supply of drinking water when they set out to explore the dunes. Temperatures in and around Tamanghasset are among the highest in the world, often exceeding 100 degrees in the shade. Thirsty travelers who reach Tamanghasset after a long, sun-baked journey certainly appreciate the fresh fruit, breads and well water available in the town!

The majority ethnic group in and around Tamanghasset are the Tuareg, a mainly nomadic people who have learned to survive, even thrive, in the harsh conditions of the Sahara. Masters of the camel and caravan, the Tuareg still seek to maintain their ancient culture and nomadic ways in the face of the modern influences of the 21st century. As such, the population of Tamanghasset fluctuates according to the season. When rains moisten the thin soils of the rugged Ahaggar and Tademait plateaus, Tuareg tribesmen and their families graze goats and camels on the fields of grass, then return to Tamanghasset with milk, cheese and meat to trade in the marketplace or Casbah. Visitors to Tamanghasset will find the people to be friendly and accommodating, though the pride they take in their culture and customs is obvious.