The trading centers, founded between the 12th and 16th centuries, were once important crossroads for the Sahara caravans. Today there is little to remind us of their importance back then. In Oualata there are houses plastered with red clay with facade paintings.
Caravan cities in the Sahara: facts
|Official title:||Caravan cities of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata in the Sahara|
|Cultural monument:||Trading centers in the Sahara with only partially preserved city complexes from the 12th to 16th centuries, one to two-story houses with red clay plaster with pronounced facade decoration as in Oualata, there among others. brown-red wall paintings in the form of richly decorated crosses and abstract oil lamp figures as well as motifs such as “mother of the hips” or “little man”; As in today’s ruined city of Ouadane, the cities were built around a defense and escape bastion, the Ksar el Khali, or – as in Chinguetti – around mosques|
|Location:||Chinguetti, northeast of Nouakchott; Ouadane, northeast of Chinguetti; Tichitt, southeast of Chinguetti; Oualata, southeast of Nouakchott|
|Meaning:||Crossing points of the intra-Saharan caravan routes and evidence of a traditional way of life in the Western Sahara|
Caravan Cities in the Sahara: History
|6th century||Origin of Oualata|
|11th century||Oualata is an important caravan base|
|11./12. Century||Foundation of Chinguetti|
|around 1150||Foundation of Tichitt|
|12th century||Founding of Ouadane|
|13th century||Chinguetti is an important Islamic center with 11 mosques|
|1909-12||Conquest by French colonial troops|
Gold, salt and learning
According to legends, the four ksur were created between the 8th and 14th centuries as stages on the caravan routes between Morocco and the black African kingdoms. But it was not until the end of the 16th century that they developed into flourishing small trading towns with an educated class of merchants and into centers of Arab-Moorish culture in hostile surroundings. With the end of the caravan trade came the decline of the Ksur, which hardly any European had ever set foot on. When the French conquered Mauritania, the narrow streets were piled with desert sand and the rubble of derelict houses. Where there used to be a few thousand people, there were now only a few hundred.
Chinguetti, with its many mosques and Koran schools, where scholars passed on their knowledge, was considered by the Moors to be the seventh holiest city in Islam. From here the pilgrims set out for Mecca and made their homeland so famous in the Orient that the Western Sahara was called “Chinguetti Land” there. And Chinguetti mystics brought Islam and the Arabic language to black Africa. Of the eleven legendary mosques, only one remains today. Its square minaret with the turrets crowned with ostrich eggs has become a symbol of all of Mauritania. Many of the 10,000 Moorish manuscripts – mainly from the 19th century – are in Chinguetti, Ouadane and Oualata: in addition to valuable Koran editions, above all legal commentaries and treatises on mysticism and theology, but also poetry and works on mathematics and astronomy, some of them in the handy “travel paperback format” for nomads. Dust and termites threaten these treasures, which are often still in private hands.
Two to three caravan day trips from Chinguetti is Ouadane. Anyone who climbs through the ruins on the slope today can hardly imagine that this was once an important trading center and Chinguetti’s competition, where gold dust, ostrich feathers, ebony and slaves from sub-Saharan Africa to the north, salt, textiles, jewelry and other manufactured goods were sold North Africa and Europe were sold to the south. In order to secure the routes of travel, the merchants paid tribute to the predatory warrior tribes. Ouadane even walled them up. The impression of inhospitableness that forces itself in Ouadane also dominates the remote oasis of Tichitt, reinforced by the sand winds that blow 200 days a year and are so violent that they sand the horns of the antelopes, as the Sahara researcher Monod wrote. Parts of the old town are in ruins, but the mosque with the massive minaret has already been restored. The buildings that have been preserved show the typical construction of the northern Ksur: walls made of mortar-free, light rubble stones with attractive niche decorations in the form of triangles, rhombuses or trapezoids, which are formed here from shimmering green slate. Oualata, on the other hand, is already clearly shaped by the Black African south, a friendly place whose plastered clay box houses glow in warm pastel tones from afar. It is older than Chinguetti and, with its numerous schools and libraries, is on a par with this place in terms of cultural tradition. In the Ksar, finely chased fittings made of copper and iron, small suns or flowers on the heavy wooden doors, but especially the artfully decorated house entrances, are fascinating. Courtyards and interiors. Exclusively women make these curved, symmetrical ornaments: medallions, rosettes and arabesques with recurring symbolic motifs: outside white on a reddish-brown or ocher-colored wall, inside the other way round and in more abundance.