The Aurès Mountains of Algeria
As an extension of the Atlas Mountains, the Aurès Mountains are located to the east of the Saharan Atlas, stretching from eastern Algeria into northwestern Tunisia. The highest peak of the Aurès Mountains, Djebel Chélia, measures 2,328 meters and is found in Algeria’s Kenchela Province. The Aurès has rugged cliffs to the north, and fertile valleys to the south, with the highest peaks dusted with snow in the winter months. While not being as tall as Morocco’s Grand Atlas Mountains, the Aurès Mountains are more prominent than the Tell Atlas Mountains which run parallel to the coastline.
This relatively undeveloped area is home to Amazigh speaking tribes, most notably the Shawia people, also referred to as Chaouis. Being second in numbers only to the Kabyle people, the Shawia people speak their own language. Until recently, Shawia was exclusively a spoken language in the Aurès rural areas of Batna, Setif, Khenchela, Souk Ahras, Tebessa, Biskra, Kasserine and Oum El Bouaghi, where the majority of Shawia people live. However, thanks to cultural and political movements in Algeria, this ancient language is starting to gain wider recognition, along with Kabylian Berber.
From a historic viewpoint, the Aurès was a refuge and base of resistance for Berber tribes against invading Romans, Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs. Moreover, it was in the Aurès that Berber freedom fighters started the Algerian War for Independence which took place from 1962 to 1974. Today, the Shawia population in the area grows primarily sorghum, as well as other grains and vegetables in stone terraces along the mountainside. Following the traditional practice of transhumance, with the change of season they move their livestock to warmer areas in lowland valleys where they live in temporary shelters through the winter.
With its Mediterranean-type vegetation of dense forests of pines, oaks and ancient cedar trees to the north, and desert-type terrain to the south, the Abiod Valley of the Aurès massif has been listed as one of the Natural Wonders of the World by the renowned Readers Digest magazine. The valley also has a number of oases, including the village of Ghoufi in the wilaya of Batna, which is a popular tourist destination.