The M’zab Valley
First broadcast date
Listed World Heritage Site, the M’zab valley consists of five villages (Ksours), that were created by the Ibadites during the 10th century.
The valley constitutes an urban web which remains, a thousand years later, intact, simple and perfectly adapted to the environment. Its architecture has been designed for life in community.
The M'zab valley is an oasis which is the fame of Ghardaia.
EPTV - Canal Algérie
Society and way of life
- Tourism and cultural sites / Urbanism and cities
Credits / Cast
- Boulemaali Radia - Speaker
- Algeria - M'Zab - Ghardaia
The valley of the M’Zab
Made in 2007, the news report shows the rich architectural and urban heritage of the Mzab valley, now classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Situated 600 kilometres south of Algiers, in the heart of the Sahara, the five ksour (fortified villages) of El-Atteuf, Bounoura, Melika, Ghardaïa and Béni-Isguen and their palm groves form, in the valley of the Mzab, a pentapolis strongly linked to history and to Ibadite traditions. Forced out of their capital Tahert in 909, the Ibadites, strict followers of a rigorous Islam settled in this hostile, desert environment and built, between 1012 and 1350 a uniform group of small towns with a specific architecture and urbanisation, with three recurring elements: the ksar (fortified village), the cemetery and the palm grove
To make the towns easier to defend, the Ibadites built the towns on rocky outcrops, protected by a wall and dominated by a mosque whose minaret doubled as a watch-tower.The mosque was also conceived as a fortress, with an arsenal and a grain silo, last bastion of resistance in case of siege. The rampart of Beni-Isguen, which was the first monument to be classified in M'zab, the rampart of Ghardaia, the front of the ksar Bounoura, the watch towers and the entrance gates of the cities are silent witnesses to this ancient form of defence. Apart from military need, the Ibadites also adapted themselves to a semi-desert environment thanks to an ingenious system of collecting and distributing water. Near the ksars they created the palm groves which have numerous hydraulic structures, dams, underground galleries, wells and artificial rivers or little canals, without forgetting a permanent monitoring system for flooding, so as to avoid flood damage and make sure the water was evenly distributed. From the end of the 19th century these oases became real summer cities where visitors could take advantage of the relative coolness of the palm trees and the presence of water. Simple and functional, the organisation of these cities and the architecture of the M'zab valley correspond as well to the religious, social and moral ideals of these people who bellieved in a strict interpretation of Islam. Around the mosque, the centre of community life, there are houses arranged in concentric circles right up to the ramparts. Each house is a cube of a standard design, sign of an egalitarian social organisation based on the respect of family structure in which a sense of intimacy and autonomy is preserved. There is the same thinking in the cemetery where only the graves of wise men and a few small mosques stand out. Finally in the palm grove the system of irrigation is based on fair shares for all. Through its order and compactness the town expresses the coherence and cohesion of the people who live there.
A sign of the sedentary and urban civilisation, the Ibadites maintained the same ways of living and the same building techniques right up to the 20th century. Their design for the standard house has become a model and had a considerable influence on 20th century architects and urbanists, both Arab and European, such as Le Corbusier, Fernand Pouillon and above all André Ravéreau. Nevertheless the discovery of oil and gas in the region and the huge changes within Algeria have greatly altered the social and economic organisation of the society, overturning the ancient traditions. The increased wealth of some, the arrival of migrants, the demographic growth, urbanisation, an Algerian secular education system and military service, the influence of television have all changed the landscape and the traditional way of life. Conscious of these changes, the representatives of the Algerian state want to preserve this old cultural and architectural heritage. As from 1972, the M'zab valley was classified as a national heritage. Since 1982 it has also been classified by UNESCO on the list of world heritage sites. At the moment the management and protection of M'zab's sites are in the hands of one organisation: The Office de protection et de promotion de la vallée du M'Zab (OPPVM).
- Ben Youcef B., Le Mzab, espace et société, Imp. Aboudaoui, 1992, 292 p.
- Ravéreau A., Le Mzab, une leçon d’architecture, Ed. Sindbad, Hommes et Sociétés, Paris, 1981, 282 p.
- Roche M., Le M’zab. Cités millénaires du Sahara, Etudes et Communication Edition, Paris, rééd 2003, 120 p.