Visit the Towns of Saharan Algeria

Stretching from the Atlantic Coast of North Africa to the Red Sea on the east coast, the Sahara Desert is the hottest desert in the world and is listed as the planet’s third largest desert, with Antarctica and the Arctic topping the list. As the largest country in Africa, up to eighty percent of Algeria consists of desert and the towns and settlements in this arid region are well adapted to dealing with the often harsh climactic conditions, relying on oases as their water sources. Towns in this region of Algeria include Ghardaia, Timimoun, Tindouf and Touggourt.

Located in the spectacular M’zab Valley, Ghardaia consists primarily of well-preserved medieval architecture – an absolute treasure trove of history and culture. Not only is the town well worth visiting, the M’zab Valley itself is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with Bounoura, El-Atteuf, Melika and Beni-Isguen, Ghardaia forms a pentapolis – five fortified cities.

Surrounded by ever-shifting sand-dunes, the oasis town of Timimoun is located in the heart of the desert, with thriving palm groves to one side and a salt lake to the other. The water source of the oasis allows this relatively small town to thrive and it is often used as the base for visitors exploring the magnificent Grand Erg Occidental. The palmeraie is typical of oasis towns, providing shelter from the relentless heat of the sun. In the older part of town, red mud buildings line narrow streets draped with large sheets of cloth to provide shade.

Although Tindouf was built by members of the Sahrawi Tajakant tribe in 1852, it remained uninhabited after being sacked by Reguibat Sahrawis in 1895 until the French arrived in 1934. Following the independence of Algeria in 1962, Tindouf has grown considerably, mostly due to the fact than it is the settlement closest to the border of Morocco, Mauritania and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The area is home to camps housing refugees from Western Sahara.

The oasis city of Touggourt has extensive palm groves, which are a major attraction for visitors, with the export of dates being one of the driving forces of the economy, along with cereals, vegetables and carpets. The city’s fortress mosque is a pilgrimage site and home to the tombs of the Beni Djellab kings. Up to fourteen sultans ruled successively over Touggourt, until French colonial authorities abolished the sultanate dynasty. Remnants of this history are reflected in the architecture and culture of this Saharan Algeria city.