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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Algeria: Authentic, Beguiling, Captivating - Page 2

Written by Yong Chee Weng
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Ghardaia – Northern gateway to the Sahara, a thriving desert pentapolis, home to the world’s remaining Ibadite Muslim sect

Ghardaia Just 600km south of Algiers is a totally different world altogether.

Ghardaia, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is another facet of Algeria’s jewel, easily accessible by road or flight (€7/$10 by public bus / €13/$18 by shared taxi / €48/$67 by internal flight). Located in the M’Zab valley, the five ancient cities of Ghardaia, El-Atteuf, Beni Isguen, Melika and Bou Noura are built on hills with the characteristic spiked mosque minarets at the peak.






The first city founded by the Ibadites in 1013 while fleeing from their persecutors. The harsh desert proved to be a safe haven. It’s amazing how they managed to adapt and flourish here.







BeniIsguenBeni Isguen


Practicing traditional Ibadite customs, a conservative form of Islam, married women are clad entirely in white with only one-eye exposed when in public. The Mozabites are the world’s only remaining Ibadites.




The mystical tomb of Sidi Aissa where local women still gather to pray, seeking divine help. At the back is the simple Ibadite cemetery. Instead of tomb stones, they mark their graves with family pottery.

“How do you survive in a place where temperatures soar to 45oC (113 Fahrenheit) without air-conditioning?” one may ask. The answer lies in the thousand year-old unique architectural designs. Tightly built houses with TraditionalGuesthouseshadowed alleys, low ceiling interiors, usage of palm trunks and desert plaster, and natural ventilation system help to keep the houses cool and fresh in summer and warm and cosy in winter. There are a few traditional guesthouses set amidst the oasis that allow visitors to experience firsthand these homes, complete with home-cooked Mozabite food and traditional life. In the night, do what these desert people have done for a thousand years – stare peacefully at the starry sky and contemplate life.


A mystical sight, somewhat eerie, is the beguiling one-eye women of Beni Isguen. Practicing traditional Ibadite customs, a conservative form of Islam, married women are clad entirely in white with only one-eye exposed when in public, and men wear grey baggy pants. Bajou, a Mozabite, will marry his fiancée next year. “Mozabite women normally marry at 19, and men at 23, all within the Mozabite clans,” he explains. “If a man marries a non-Mozabite woman, then one Mozabite woman will be left without a husband. So we must marry only within our own clans.” Known as astute businessmen all over Algeria, Mozabites are also very hospitable and friendly. You will certainly feel very welcomed here.


Traditional Oasis Dam


Traditional oasis irrigational dam

One can tell whose farm is getting water by looking at which spike on top of the dam is in water.



Mozabite carpets

Brightly colourful, each pattern on the carpets symbolizes something such as life, love, etc.



DesertDatesDesert Dates



So sweet you’ll be forgiven if you thought they were soaked in sugar. It’s all 100% natural.

















Solidified milk

Before the invention of refrigeration, milk was solidified in order to store it. It is still used today by nomads and travelers. The solid milk is crushed and mixed with hot water.












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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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