The Hidden Wonders of Beni Isguen
The fortified city of Beni Isguen is not only an oasis in the Sahara Desert in Algeria, but it is a religious city that has been left untouched by the modernization of the world. The community of Beni Isguen consists mostly of shop keepers and those who tend to the agricultural needs of the city. With a total population of approximately 6 800 residents, they live strictly according to the Islamic religion and form a crucial part of the heritage of Algeria.
This magnificent oasis, in the heart of the Sahara Desert was constructed in the 10th century. The skill and technical abilities of the time are remarkable when looking at how they controlled water and the cultivation of trees such as lemon trees, olive trees, date palms, fig trees and vines. Its council of religious affairs, known as the halka azzaba, consists of twelve men who are key members of the community. Men in the city still wear their traditional outfits and the women are covered from head to toe, with only a small hole being left open in their headdress to be able to see from. The community also finds it offensive if photos are taken of them.
To be able to visit Beni Isguen, visitors will have to find a guide who is authorized to enter the city. Visitors are not permitted to enter the city without being accompanied by a guide or a member of the community. The picture that is painted on the wall outside the city reminds visitors that no dogs are allowed within the city and that no photos are permitted. There is also a strict dress code to abide by. Visitors wearing short clothing will not be allowed to enter, as legs and arms are required to be covered. Strangers to the city are required to leave the city by nightfall, therefore there is no accommodation available here for visitors. In previous years, the gates to the city were closed at night, and even though the policy to close the gates has fallen away, visitors are still not allowed here at night.
Visitors cannot explore some parts of the city, but guides will safely lead you through the maze of corridors and roads to noteworthy sights, such as the watchtower and the mosque. If lucky, visitors will be able to catch a glimpse at the detailed pottery pieces and the breathtaking carpets, jewelry and brass ware that the community is known for. A visit to the Beni Isguen oasis will definitely be a unique and unmatched experience. Their tolerance for visitors has opened a window of opportunity for their lifestyle to be viewed that would otherwise remain hidden behind the great walls of the city.