El-Oued Souf, ALGERIA
- Keywords: Algeria oases, Great Eastern Sand Sea oases, El Oued, Oued Suf, Chott, Melhir, Merouane, ghot
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
The Oued Souf Oasis is mentioned in the “Tentative List of UNESCO” (Oued Souf) with date of submission: 30/12/2002, criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v), and category: cultural. Also the Chotts Melrhir & Merouane Complex, which are in the same area, are in the “List of Wetlands of International importance” (2013) edited by RAMSAR.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
El-Oued is the centre of a number of oases (the biggest town, and by far the most picturesque), called Souf, located in El Oued Province, which is in the amazing Great Eastern Sand Sea (French: Grand Erg Oriental). The oases of El-Oued Souf show definitely an unique sample of interaction between human being and nature. In general, oases are considered by UNESCO and Med-O-Med as sample of the human genius in action. Skills, and particularly traditional know-how in coping with a hostile environment that is scarce in resources, appeared in the development of techniques enabling water (and land) to be used more judiciously, whether available permanently or cyclically. On account of the arid climate of the Sahara, it was the groundwater reserves which made up the main source of oases. The actual location of oases took account of the possible combination of three factors, namely the level of the groundwater and the method of drawing on it, the presence of cultivable alluvial soils and protection against the wind and heat. Oued Souf Oasis has a particularity: its origin is artificial, man-made, and its cultivated lands are literally stolen soil to the dunes of the desert. Basis on the UNESCO definition of Cultural Landscape (UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Article 1, 1972, Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, 2008), considering this region as a result of “the combined works of nature and of man”, Med-O-Med resolve to value this site as a Cultural Landscape because of: -Its Natural heritage components: Oued Province is in the Great Eastern Sand Sea. It is is a large erg or “field of sand dunes” in the Sahara desert that covers an area some 600 km wide by 200 km north to south that represent the pure beauty of the desert. There are also some saline lakes (called Chotts) classified by RAMSAR as special sites because of their botanical and ecological interest. The Chott Melrhir is 65 km long and has a mean width of 29 km. It contains extensive areas of humid sand and its land surface descends to 36 m below sea level. It is separated from Chott Merouane to the south, by a narrow corridor of permanently dry land, only 4 km wide in places. The northern part of Chott Merouane lies 40 m below sea level. A series of small seasonally flooded wetlands extends eastwards, almost continuously from the southeastern extremity of Chott Melrhir into Tunisia. These are, from west to east, the Chotts es Setal, el Aquila, Djerabaa, Zebabir, Zhilhif, Aslaudi and Khalla. The last named chott crosses the national border and lies in the same depression as the Chott el Rharsa in Tunisia. The lowest parts of the depressions are permanently flooded, and the system is saline and endorheic, since although the depression continues eastwards, it tends to drain back into Chott Melrhir. The area is comparatively inaccessible and hunting is more or less confined to the zones along the road which runs between the two major chotts. Other places of natural interest are the lakes of Mrara,Tendla, and Ayata. The Oasis is also wonderful site where nature and human activity are mixed. People there practice a particular style of agriculture, the Geldof technique. This style of farming produces the “Ghitanes” or palm fields of souf, where the palms are planted directly on the water, with the roots into the deep underground, in spots that are protected of the dunes, called “ghots” (see pictures in point 7). Barriers are constructed by people to stop the wind incidende and the natural movement of the dunes. Management of crops cannot be stopped. -Its Cultural heritage components: El-Oued is the centre of a number of oases, called Souf, but it is El-Oued, affectionately named the “City of a Thousand Domes”, certainly the most picturesque town in a region more renowned as being an endless sea of sand. In this part of the world, any oasis or “souf” is worth its weight in gold. And the town of El-Oued was lucky to build itself around on of the most prosperous oases in the region. As a means of shielding itself from the unrelenting summer heat, most of the buildings have domes. One thousand years later, this unique form of desert architecture enables El-Oued to stand out from other towns in the region. They are also interesting the old cities of Guemar, Ketf, Oughlana and Temerna, Maghaier and Djamaa, some of them surrounded by ancient ksour. Sufism has a lot of influence in the region. There are differents ṭuruq, tariqa, or “orders”—congregations formed around a master (as an example: At-tariqa at-tadjania)-. It has a big influence on the culture of the site.
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination El-Oued Souf, Oued Souf.
- Current denomination El-Oued Souf, Oued Souf.
- Original denomination El-Oued Souf, Oued Souf.
- Popular denomination El-Oued Souf, Oued Souf.
- Address: Sahara oriental, South of the Chott Melrhir. The city of El-Oued or Oued Souf, is located 700 km south to Argel, 100 km to the Tunician border 100 km, 200 km away from Biskra and 90 km from Toughourte.
- Geographical coordinates: Latitude/ longitude: 33°27′20″N 7°11′0″E Altitude: 76 m
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: El Oued province is at NE of Algeria, in the Great Eastern Sand Sea. The Erg covers an area some 600 km wide by 200 km north to southand. The province is surrounded by: Tebessa et Khenchela to the N, Biskra to the NW, Djelfa to the W, Ouargla to the S and SE, and Tunisia to the E. 15 Km to the West of El Oued is the Oued Ourmes oasis. Chott El Melghir is a saline lake (36m below sea level) that is located in Hamraia, to the North of the capital of the province, along the National road nº 48.
- Access and transport facilities: The N16 highway connects El Oued to Touggourt to the southwest and Tebessa to the northeast. The N48 connects El Oued to the town of Still to the north, from which the N3 may be used to reach Biskra. El Oued lies about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of Guemar Airport.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Oued Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: Oued Governorate.
- Legal protection: Even though the Chotts Melrhir & Merouane Complex are in the "List of Wetlands of International importance" (2013) edited by RAMSAR, they are Unprotected.
There are some ancient remains that show that the region was inhabited in the Neolithic. Berber and Getules were into the south with a nomadic lifesyle until the arabian conquerors arrives under the mandate of Okba Bnou Nafi. Romans discoverel El Souf in I century of Christian era.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: High Mountain
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: Generally, In Ageria, falls increase on the seaward slopes of the coastal mountains, but rainfall decreases quickly in moving inland across the High Plateau to the Saharan Atlas. South of this latter range rainfall is unreliable and most of the interior receives less than 100 mm/yr, with stations in the central south receiving less than 20 mm/yr. Stations in the desert may be completely rainless for several years on end. El Oued province, has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh), with very hot summers and mild winters. Rainfall is light and sporadic, and summers are particularly dry. The highest temperatura is in august: 49.0, and the lowest in March: -5,4 The precipitation of the area is: 75,2 mm/year.
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: The Great Eastern Sand Sea is a desert region receiving very little rainfall. It is the largest Erg in Algeria, the next in size being the much smaller (the Western Sand Sea). The Great Eastern Sand Sea used to be associated with the Wadi Igharghar, a mostly dry and buried river with a sizable network of tributaries which, should it possess any water, would flow north into the erg from the Ahaggar mountains of the central Sahara. Yet such dry, anciently-made river beds, lying seemingly useless beneath the desert sands, can preserve the infrequent rain water, by carrying it off underground and so rescue the moisture from an otherwise "intense and almost instantaneous" evaporation. To the north of the erg, the Aurès mountains provide abundant runoff. These waters feed the artesian aquifer of the Jerid, despite its surface covering of salt lakes. These conditions lie adjacent to the grand erg. Here grow "the finest dates of all the Maghrib". In winter, winds blow from the northwest and the north. The erg "appears to have been pushed forward on the east and southeast slopes" toward Ghadames at the Libyan border. Winds over time will sweep desert sand into heaps which, given enough sand, form into a series of hills. In some types of dunes the slope on the windward side is gradual, on the leeward steep, and such dunes may "roll" forward being blown in the direction of the wind. Vegetation does not survive in such spreads of hot dry sand. Only in rare areas where moisture can endure is there life. Common in the Sahara desert are seif dunes: here the air currents form sand dunes parallel to the prevailing direction of the wind. There are other types of dunes, as well as "complex" dunes. Saharan winds are also known to clear an area of sand altogether, leaving bare rock (hamada) or gravel (reg). El Oued or Oued Souf is a city in El Oued Province that is watered by an underground river, hence its name, which enables date palm cultivation and the rare use (for the desert) of brick construction for housing. As most roofs are domed, it is known as the "City of a Thousand Domes". The Oued Souf Valley is not a natural landscape, but a man-made landscape.
The inundated zones of the Chotts and the oases are fringed by low growing halophytes, including species of Arthrocnemum, Limonium, Juncus, Salicornia, Sarcocornia, Scirpus and Suaeda. The cultivated vegetation are mainly date palm trees, fruit trees, anual crops and vegetables.
There is a rich avifauna including several species of Anas, Chlamydotis undulata and Phoenicopterus ruber. The usual desert mammals are present, Gazella dorcas, Atelerix algirus, Fennucus zerda, Felis margarita, Ctenodactylus vali, Varanus griseus, and Uromastyx acanthinurus, all of them in danger. In the oases there are farms of sheeps, goats and camels.
Land uses and economical activities:The landscape of the region is mostly covered with bare areas. Agriculture specialized in date palms and vegetables is typical from this site and it was the main income in XX century. There are also gas and oil fields.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:Agriculture specialized in date palms and vegetables (as potatoes) is typical from this site. People in El-Oued Souf practice a particular style of agriculture, the Geldof technique. This style of farming produces the "Ghitanes" or palm fields of souf, where the palms are planted directly on the water, with the roots into the deep underground, in spots that are protected of the dunes, called "ghots" (see pictures in point 7). Barriers are constructed by people to stop the wind incidende and the natural movement of the dunes. Management of crops cannot be stopped.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
In the Algerian region of the Sahara Desert, there are wonderful sand dunes and small villages. In some parts of the desert you won’t find life for miles, and the sand is varied in shape and color. These areas of sand are called ergs, and The Grand Erg Oriental is the biggest of the country, and it is considered one of the main sites of Algeria because of its attractiveness and its natural and cultural heritage. Common in this erg are seif dunes: here the air currents form sand dunes parallel to the prevailing direction of the wind. There are other types of dunes, as well as “complex” dunes. Saharan winds are also known to clear an area of sand altogether, leaving bare rock (hamada) or gravel (reg). There are some places with importance for this inventory. Chott El Melghir and Chott Meruane are saline lakes located in the north of the province. Tendla, Ayata and Mrara lakes (Oued Righ, near to Djamaa) are obligatory routes for migratory avifauna in winter (as flamingos, herons, storks, ducks…) El-Oued is the centre of a number of oases, called Souf, but it is El-Oued, being the biggest town, and by far the most picturesque, that attracts the visitors coming down here. The architecture is very distinct, and seen with my own eyes, one of the most fascinating examples of desert architecture in the Sahara. Desert architecture is a human solution on how to use air and bild breezes to the maximum so that the temperatures inside the dwellings are reduced as much as possible from the outdoor temperatures. All the natural and cultural values of this group of oases have to be carefully assessed, to ensure the conservation of desert ecosystems, bio-diversity through farming systems, ex situ preservation and sites of discoveries. The particular way of farming of this oasis (Ghitanes: “palm fields of souf”), that show the historical fight between human being and the sand of the desert, is a unique value of this site.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
El-Oued is the centre of a number of oases, called Souf. In all of them, the common terraces of the houses of Algeria are replaced for domes. Often the structures of covered alleyways, and curved streets are little to watch from the exterior, but El-Oued is a good exception, and the solution here is called “City of the 1000 domes”. White houses, smooth and soft corners in between date palms and veiled and conservative women, has turned El-Oued into some of a tourist trap. The old city of Guema, Maghaier, Oughlan and Temerna cities, Djamaa (the biggest city of Oued Righ after Touggourt ), and the small village of Ketf are also interesting. Its architectonical style conserves the tradicional way of construction of Souf cities. There are also some zawiyahs, zaoiua, Khanqahs, or tekke (meeting places where sufism is practiced) in the region: zaouia Tidjania and taghzout, zaouia Kadiria, zaoia Sidi Salem, and zaouia Rahmania. The term of Zaouia is referred to a Islamic religious school or monastery. It can also refer to a Sufi lodge, akin to the term khanqah used in the Persian-speaking world, in relation with the “Tarika” and its influence in the province.
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
Carpets that are produced in the region are emblematic. Hand-made and complete with the famous Souf Cross – a brown cross on a light background, they are not in the rest of the country. “Burnous” is a kind of material special for winter clothes, manufactured by women. “Akbar” is a material (derived of wool) produced for the nomad tents. There are basketmaking with palm leaves, and ceramic typical from the site. Te stucco is a traditional art in El Oued province.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
There are some ancient remains that come from the roman period: Senderius ruins, buried under the sand, near to El Ögla. Djamaa City is surrounded by some ancient ksour. Also Maghaier city has a lot of mosques and old ksour, as the ancient city of Zawiya Tidjania Kouinin, Trifaoui “Bouakhé”and the mosque El Adouani Zgoum.
- Historical routes:
There are some ancient caravan routes that used to bring different products to the roman provinces of the north of Argelia.
- Traces in the environment of human activity: The agriculture system of the oases modify the environment of the desert.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: It is a region with an specific identity even though its history is not very well Known. Its mixed population includes descendents of Trud and Abell nomad ancestors (Yemen) and previous populations of the area (arabian and bereber tribes) as zenetes.
- Languages and dialects: Bereber and Arabic
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: Sufism could be considered as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a ṣūfī. They belong to different ṭuruq, tariqa, or "orders"—congregations formed around a master (as an example: At-tariqa at-tadjania)—which meet for spiritual sessions (majalis), in meeting places known as zawiyahs, zaoiua, Khanqahs, or tekke. This region of Algeria is dominated by sufism beliefs. Some zaouias are, in El-Oued Souf: the Zaouia of Rahmania, with Sidi Ahmed Tijani, Sidi Abdelkader Jilani el-Sheikh y Sidi el-Azzouzi Rahmania as spiritual leaders, the Zaouia of Tidjania of Guemar and Taghzout (near to El Oued), the Zaouia of Sidi Salem and the Zaouia Kadiria (Sheikh El Benbrahim Hashemi was its founder), both in El Oued city. Some traditional rites of the region are the typical dances, as: Zgairi dance, essentially performed by men, with fire arms and drums, Sidi Merzoug dance, performed by black dancers playing the "Karkabou", a typical instrument of the site, Nakh dance, that consist in a meeting between men and women, (men choose women) for future marriages, or Madih dance, with a spiritual meaning. *People from these oases depends heavily on domestic animals for carrying heavy loads, milk and dairy products, meat, and hides or wool, and agriculture. After the independence, many sufies has become traders and businessman. Women has veil: djilbeb sitar, abaya, or hayaq...
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:Med-O-Med did not find specific information about this site. In the document "Towards a strategy for the sustainable development of tourism in the Sahara in the context of poverty eradication”, produced at UNESCO’s request by Mr Rachid in 2003, the main threats (in general) of the oases in Sahara are: • climatic deterioration: the intensification of drought and its consequences on the availability of water, • the discrepancy between demographic pressure and urbanization in relation to the capacity of ecosystems, • the maladjustment of oasis-based operators in regard to economic activities (tourism services, commercial circuits), • modifications in lifestyles and consumption patterns to the detriment of local craft industries, • the absence of any change in legislation on land, water and methods of exploitation, • geographical isolation and remoteness, • the absence of adequate attention being given to the specific nature of oasis conditions in public policies, particularly in the fields of research, agriculture, education and continuing education.
Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:Oases are privileged sites to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
-Great Eastern Sand Sea, its beatiful and magical landscape. -Chotts: Chott El Melghir and Chott Meruane, and other smaller. -Lakes: Tendla, Ayata and Mrara. -All the oases and cities mencionated in this report, including its cultivated lands, its palm fields, the “ghots”, the ksour… -The Zaoudias of sufism culture.
- Living heritage
- Maintenance quality
Authenticity:There are ancient remains that come from roman period.
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria (Tentative list: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)) and Med-O-Med considerations, El-Oued Souf achieves the following criteria: ii) To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design: city of El-Ouled and its surroundings. (iii) To bear an unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living (bereber culture and sufism tradition) or which has disappeared (a sample of that is the ancient ruins of the Roman civilization, today disappeared, or the ksour, or the ancient cities of Zawiya Tidjania Kouinin, Trifaoui "Bouakhé"and the mosque El Adouani Zgoum). (iv) Is an outstanding example of a type of building (houses with domes), which can be observed in the cities of the region, especially El-Oued. (v)The oases of the region are an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement and land-use (ghots), which is representative of its culture , and the human interaction with the environment. It is represented in the way of farming (see point 7). (vi) The territory is strongly connected with the bereber traditions, their ideas, beliefs, and language, also with the sufism. There are some zouias and tariqas, also mosques. (vii) The Great Eastern Sand Sea, the Chotts and lakes of the are superlative natural phenomena of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. (x) Those sites contain important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-Archaeological: There are ancient remains that come from the islamic period (ksour and mosques) as Zawiya Tidjania Kouinin, Trifaoui "Bouakhé"andEl Adouani Zgoum. -Living heritage: the traditional way of farming ("ghots") practiced in the oases, villages and valleys come from the Islamic culture. Also the particular architecture (domes) is well preserved in all these settlements and represents an evolution of islamic methods. -Mythical and religious values: oases could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden, of islamic culture. Sufism (considered as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam) is very important in this territory. -Social significance and ethnological: this territory preserve ancient customs and traditional rites (as dances or artesany) of arabic culture.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
El-Oued Souf and its Cultural Landscape is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Algeria which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med, in the Oases Section: Great Eastern Sand Sea Oases. Also, the oases of El-Oued Souf are part of an ancient caravan route that used to bring different products to the roman provinces of the north of Argelia.
http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1775/ http://whc.unesco.org/venice2002 http://www.RAMSAR.org/cda/en/RAMSAR-documents-info/main/RAMSAR/1-31-59_4000_0__ http://RAMSAR.wetlands.org/Database/SearchforRAMSARsites/tabid/765/Default.aspx http://RAMSAR.wetlands.org/Portals/15/ALGERIA.pdf http://www.protectedplanet.net http://www.algeria.com/blog/algeria-el-oued-the-city-of-a-thousand-domes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pMNuTMGldY http://www.siyaha-eloued.com/fr -Hughes, R. H and Hughes, J.S. 1992. A Directory of African Wetlands. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambrigde, UK, UNEP, Nairobi, Kenia/ WCMC, Cambridge, UK, xxxiv+820 pp., 48 maps. -Laureano, P. (1991). Sahara jardin méconnu. PP 199. -Ozenda, P. (1983). Flore du Sahara. PP 662. -RAMSAR. (2013). The List of Wetlands of International Importance. -Sidi Boumedine, R. (2003). The Sahara of cultures and people: Towards a strategy for the sustainable development of tourism in the Sahara, in the context of combating poverty. UNESCO, Paris. -UNESCO. (2001). Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Committee. 25 session. Helsinki, Finland. -UNESCO. (2002). Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. Associated Workshops, World Heritage. Ferrara , Italy.
Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.