Visit the Oasis Town of Timimoun

With its red mud houses leaning up against one another and its palm-lined main street, Timimoun is a picturesque oasis town that lies between lush palm groves and a large salt lake on the edge of the imposing Grand Erg Occidental in south-central Algeria. In between the houses are narrow streets and alleyways, most of which are covered with large sheets of cloth for protection from the unrelenting sunshine, while the oasis palmeraie offers a lovely shaded area that is pleasant to walk through and relax in. Although the newer section of the town, some of which was built by the French, is architecturally similar to the old ‘ksour’, it is different enough to note that the town is divided in two parts – old and new.

The inhabitants of Timimoun have varied ancestry and include Zenata Berbers, Haratine Berbers, Cha’amba Arabs and Black Africans, the latter who were brought here with the slave trade that flourished between the 16th and 19th century. Zenata Berbers have an ancient history and were the founders of a number of Berber kingdoms, empires and princedoms in the North African countries of Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. 14th century North African historian Ibn Khaldun asserts that the Zenata, Senhaja and Masmuda were the three main branches of Berbers from medieval times. Concentrated in the area he referred to as ‘Middle Maghreb’ Zenata tribes were both nomadic and sedentary, with the latter building towns and cities where they settled. The Cha’amba, a Sulaymi Arab tribe from Algeria’s northern Sahara, were traditionally nomads, but over the past century or so have settled in oasis towns such as Timimoun.

Timimoun is a perfectly situated as base for travelers wanting to experience the harsh, but beautiful terrain of the Grand Erg Occidental. While many envision the Sahara as a vast expanse of soft, shifting sands, which is indeed true of large areas, there are also literally thousands of miles of rocks and pebbles – altogether an area impossible to inhabit if it were not for oases such as Timimoun, El-Golea, Taghit and Beni Abbes. Excursions from these towns into the Sahara are an unforgettable experience.