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Psst…Do you want to buy a carpet? Before you answer, take a look at these vibrant coloured, hand woven beauties in the market of Ghardaïa – Algeria’s hub of carpet making activity. Even if you don’t, there is plenty more to allure you to this bustling desert town.
Or rather towns. Ghardaïa is a collection of sand-coloured settlements on the edge of the Sahara and by the river Wadi M’zab. They stand in the M’zab Valley, in the province of the same name. The five walled villages (called ksours), which sit on spectacular rocky outcrops, are collectively known as the Pentapolis. This ancient ensemble has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status for the outstanding way its architecture is designed for community living.
In the M’zab Valley, little has changed in way of life since the 11th century. Islam is rigorously enforced here; local women are draped in white from head to toe and men wear a traditional saroual loubia (baggy trousers) and chéchia (head scarf). Besides their skills in carpet weaving, the people of the M’zab Valley are admired for maintaining their traditional architecture, which is as much to do with scant change in need as anything else.Read more
Simone de Beauvoir described Ghardaïa as "a Cubist painting beautifully constructed". Each of the ksours is identical in layout. The mosques were conceived as a fortress and grain store, in case of siege, and also function as a watchtower. Around the mosques, simple whitewashed houses are built in concentric layouts that wind up the ramparts. All dwellings are cubic in shape and are the same size; denoting a society that was built on the pillars of egalitarianism and community. Unusually for the Maghreb, homes are oriented to let in as much sunlight as possible and chimneys are set in such a way so as not to encroach on their neighbour’s space. Wandering around these ancient habitats, it’s easy to see why Ghardaïa continues to inspire architects and urban planners the world over.