The Magic of Tassili N’Ajjer

Pre-historic cave art tells us volumes about our ancestors, and about the glorious and deep past of a nation. Though Algeria is a strife-torn nation today, mired in poor governance and fundamentalism, Tassili N’Ajjer tells us of its cultural greatness, a height to which everyone would hope it will return soon. The paintings date back to more than 6 thousand years before the birth of Christ, and they depict the ecological truth of prosperous living in a desert in most remarkable form.

The topography of the land which surrounds Tassili N’Ajjer is as majestic and wondrous as the cave paintings themselves. Large blocks of sandstone have been carved in to such mysterious features, that in the absence of habitation and modern trappings, the panorama which greets the eye is as if from another planet!

The cave paintings constitute strong evidence of how much the desert has advanced over the centuries. It is apparent that the communities who lived here some 5 thousand years ago had abundant vegetation, an abundance of water, and many more animals than the snakes and scorpions which remain.

Violence and insecurity have isolated Tassili N’Ajjer from the routes of most tourists, which may not be an entirely bad thing from a conservation view point. There is a land route from Tunisia, apart from the one from Algiers, and the surrounding countryside is calm and peaceful.

Tassili N’Ajjer is about 500 meters above the level of the desert, and the caves are part of a large plateau. Visitors have to make the climb on foot, using donkeys for camping materials and other essentials. There is no road which automobiles can use as yet. Extreme diurnal temperature variations and the absence of basic amenities make a visit possible only for the young and hardy. Nevertheless, the beautiful story telling of the paintings and the stark landscape make the experience one which lasts for a lifetime.

UNESCO has accorded Tassili N’Ajjer the status of a World Heritage Center, but much more needs to be done to regulate growing tourist interest in the area, and to map the caves and the rocks in more detail.