Travel to Chinguetti – Ancient Trans-Saharan Ksar
Located on the Adrar Plateau in northern Mauritania and threatened by the encroaching sands of the Sahara, the famous ksar of Chinguetti was once a medieval trading centre. Founded in the 13th century, as the centre of several trans-Saharan trade routes, this tiny city continues to attract a growing number of adventurous travellers who admire its architecture, exotic scenery and ancient libraries.
Chinguetti was originally founded in 777, and by the 11th century had become a trading centre for a confederation of Berber tribes known as the Sanhadja Confederation. Soon after settling Chinguetti, the Sanhadja first interacted with, and eventually melded with, the Almoravids, the founders of the Moorish Empire which stretched from present-day Senegal to Spain. The city’s stark unadorned architecture reflects the strict religious beliefs of the Almoravids, who spread the Malikite rite of Sunni Islam throughout the Western Maghrib.
After two centuries of decline, the city was effectively re-founded in the 13th century as a fortified trans-Saharan caravan trading centre connecting the Mediterranean with Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the walls of the original fortification disappeared centuries ago, many of the buildings in the old section of the city still date from this period.
See the indigenous Saharan architecture of older sectors of the city which feature reddish dry stone and mud-brick houses, with flat roofs timbered from palms. Many of the older houses feature hand-hewn doors cut from massive ancient acacia tress that have long disappeared from the surroundings. Many homes include courtyards or patios that crowd along narrow streets leading to the central mosque.
Although largely abandoned to the desert, the city also features a series of medieval manuscript libraries, and the area around the Rue des Savants was once famous as a gathering place for scholars to debate the finer points of Islamic law.
Camel trekking in the region is a popular activity. Dune boarding and ‘skiing’ is also growing in popularity as tourism continues to grow.
Chinguetti has a handful of peaceful auberges – quiet and shady havens for relaxation and sleep. Auberge du Maure Bleu is a particular favourite.
Private transport in a 4×4 vehicle with driver and knowledgeable local guide is essential for visiting Chinguetti due to the ever-changing nature of sand tracks and desert trails.
- See the Friday Mosque of Chinguetti – widely considered by Mauritanians to be the national symbol of the country.
- Climb nearby sand dunes for views of Chinguetti’s old mosque, complete with ostrich eggs atop a minaret.
- Appreciate the stark beauty of the Western Sahara set against the ruins of an ancient trans-Saharan trading centre.