• Keywords: Algeria Cultural Landscapes, Oasis, Western Sand Sea oases, Algeria oases, Tidikelt, Aoulef, Moudyr, Foggara mountains, Foggaras.

1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES

1.1 National and International Classification Lists

The Tidikelt Oases group is mentioned in the “Tentative List of UNESCO” (Les oasis à foggaras et les ksour du Grand Erg Occidental) with date of submission: 30/12/2002, and criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v), category: cultural. It is also recopiled in “A Directory of African Wetlands” (1992) edited by UICN, with the name: The Gueltas of Mouydir Mountains and Tidikelt Depression.

1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology

Organically evolved landscapes
Relict (or fossil) landscape

1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med

Description

Tidikelt oases group, located in the amazing Great Western Sand Sea (in French: Grand Erg Occidental), have a lot of analogies with the Touat and Gourara group of oases. It contains the oases which are located in the wilaya of Oasis, south of the Plateau du Tademai’t. Their palm fields are distributed in 28 oases and irrigated by the foggaras system. The main oases are Aoulef (that contains some settlements as Ouamanat, Takaraft, Djedid, Zaouit Heinoume or “La palmeraie de Tit”, 45 km to the east), In Salan, and Tidikelt. As the other groups of oases of the Western Sand Sea, Tidikelt oases show 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. The combination of the last two factors often led to choosing the edge of depressions while water could be pumped (pendulum wells and norias) or collected and distributed by gravitation through conduits (foggaras) when it was located at a higher altitude than that of the chosen site. In the latter case, the most striking example by its size, the number of structures (900), and the length of the tunnels (up to 14 km at Timimoun), is that which is to be found in the Touat, Gourara and Tidikelt. Specifically speaking about Tidikelt oases group, and 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: The granitic Mouydir Mountains, in Tidikelt depression, contains a number of gueltas that occur in gorges leading out the mountains, e.g. that in the Gorge of Arak. At still lower altitudes, and farther west, along the borders of the Tidikelt Depression, but still on oueds, there are numerous pools, notably those of Aït Elkra, Talohak, Aguelman Tadjelet, Bou Rhanet, Tikkindine, I-n-Rellal and Ti-n-Atanan. There is also in Tidikelt, 10 km to the east, the Petrified forest (gisement d’In Rhar): enormous-1m diameter- and ancient trees turned stone, remains from the secondary era.The Oases and settlements of Aoulef, In Salan, and Tidikelt, are also wonderful sites where nature and human activity are mixed. -Its Cultural heritage components: traditional houses, traditional handcrafts, historical trade routes (an important trans-Saharan motor route passes through the area), artifacts and archaeological remains (temples, caves, fortresses, and necropolises), and the maintenace of the foggaras, a particular way of irrigation in the oases. Tidikelt Oases Group, as Gourara and Touat Groups, are oases managed with the Foggara system: man-made subterranean irrigation conduits. This system also made part of the social organization of the villages. Associated with each oasis are small walled villages called ksour (singular ksar or gsar). There are also some forts (kasbahs), most of which have been abandoned.

2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY

  • Current denomination Tidikelt Oases Group: Tidikelt, Aoulef, In Salan.
  • Current denomination Tidikelt Oases Group: Tidikelt, Aoulef, In Salan.
  • Original denomination Tidikelt Oases Group: Tidikelt, Aoulef, In Salan.
  • Popular denomination Tidikelt Oases Group: Tidikelt, Aoulef, In Salan.
  • Address: Sahara Occidental, Hydraulic reserve of Saoura. Tidikelt is a group of oases in the Algerian Sahara situated mainly in the wilaya of Adrar, south of the Plateau du Tademai’t, Western Sand Sea (Grand Erg Occidental). The main oases are Aoulef and In Salan. Aoulef is composeb by the villages: Ouamanat, Takaraft, Djedid, Gasbet Bellal, Gasbet Maïkhaf, Roukina, Zaouit Heinoume, Habbadat, and La palmeraie de Tit.
  • Geographical coordinates: Latitude/ Longitude: 29.183 / -0.267 Altitude: 309 m
  • Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Great Western Sand Sea (Grand Erg Occidental) covers an area of approximately 80,000 sq km. The main oases of Tidikelt Depression are Tidikelt, Aoulef and In Salan. Aoulef is composeb by the villages: Ouamanat, Takaraft, Djedid, Gasbet Bellal, Gasbet Maïkhaf, Roukina, Zaouit Heinoume, Habbadat, and La palmeraie de Tit.
  • Access and transport facilities: The main way to arrive to the area is by plane, to the Adrar (49.9km to Touat) airport: Touat-Cheikh Sidi Mohamed Belkebir Airport. This is a public airport located 6 nm (11 km) southeast of Adrar, the capital of the Adrar province. The airport resides at an elevation of 280 metres (919 ft) above mean sea level. It has one runway designated 04/22 with an asphalt surface measuring 3,000 by 45 metres (9,843 ft × 148 ft).

3. LEGAL ISSUES

  • Owner: Adrar Governorate.
  • Body responsible for the maintenance: Adrar Governorate.
  • Legal protection: In general, the palm fields of all the region are under a private and collective property regimen. The management of the hidraulic system is private-public, controled collectively by the people of the oases. It shows the particular concept of property of water resources in Touat, Tidikelt and Gourara areas: each person is the owner of a part of the water, including the rigths and the duties of maintenance of the foggaras system.

4. HISTORY

The area was brought under Islamic control in the 10th century AD. In modern times the mixed population of Arabs, Berbers (Imazighen), and Ḥarāṭīn (dark-skinned agricultural workers) effectively resisted French subjugation until the early 1900s. The area passed to independent Algeria when the French surrendered control in 1962.

5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION

5.1. Natural heritage

  • Heritage: Rural
  • Geography: Wetland
  • Site topography: Natural
  • Climate and environmental conditions: Tidikelt region has a hyper-arid (< 0.05 p/pet) climate. The climate is classified as a subtropical desert (low latitude desert), with a subtropical desert biozone. The coldest month is january (12-16°C), and the hottest is july (48,9°C). Precipitation range is 0 (on july)- 3,6 mm (on october), with a anual precipitacion of 10 mm. Oases have a microclimate specific in relation with the water presence and the vegetation.
  • Geological and Geographical characteristics: The interior of Algeria is desert. The southwestern extremity of Algeria is occupied by the very dry, stony Hamada du Draâ, a shelf of high land extending into the country from Morocco. The central southeastern flanks of the Saharan Atlas slope down for some 250 km to a central depression 200-500 m asl, which, like most major physiographical features in North West Africa, is oriented SW-NE. The depression is filled by sand desert, by the Erg Iguidi, which enters Algeria from Mauritania in the SW, by the Grand Erg Occidental in the centre, and by the Grand Erg Oriental in the east. Plateaux of higher land emerge above the sand desert in places, e.g. in the southwest the circular Mcherrah Aftout, which reaches 1200 m, separates the Erg Iguidi from the Erg Chech which stretches into central Algeria from northern Mali. The land rises again, south of the sand deserts, up to the stony Plateau of Tademait. From here one may proceed southwestwards, down into the Tidikelt Depression, less than 200 m asl, or southeastwards, up through various minor ranges to the long NW-SE ridge of the Tassili N'Ajjer. From there one may pass to the massifs of the Adrar and A'Haggar, the latter reaching south to within 230 km of the border with Niger. The topography of the Great Western Sand Sea is characterized by polygonal ground and long corridors between short dunes, which are cut off by transverse sand necks. The dunes, up to 300 m high in the west, are held in place by grasses and brush. After rainfall the dense clays of the corridors (gassi) hold the water, and ephemeral plants appear. Groundwater is closest to the surface in the south, where there are many oases. Highways to the central Sahara run along the western and eastern edges of the erg. The granitic Mouydir Mountains comprise a chain oriented SSW-NNE, rising to heights of 1100-1680 m, and lying 100-150 km northwest of the A'Haggar Massif. Geologically they are related to the Precambrian core of this massif. The principal drainage lines from the Mouydir Mountains are NW , to the Tidikelt Depression. A number of gueltas occur in gorges leading out the mountains, e.g. that in the Gorge of Arak (25°17'N/3°41'E). Here several permanent and semi-permanent gueltas occur in the upper canyon beginning about 700 m asl, while in the lower and wider gorge, at an altitude of 560 m asl, there is a second series of shallow semi-permanent pools, created where groundwater reaches the surface. At still lower altitudes, and farther west, along the borders of the Tidikelt Depression, but still on oueds, there are numerous pools, notably those of Aït Elkra (24°31'N/2°32'E), Talohak (24°45'N/2°20'E), Aguelman Tadjelet (24°52'N/1°45'E), Bou Rhanet (25°12'N/1°18'E), Tikkindine (25°31'N/ 1°25'E), I-n-Rellal (25°41'N/2°03'E) and Ti-n-Atanan (25°52'N/1°38'E). Ultimately the water from the eastern highlands seeps into the ground beneath the great saline pans of the depression, the Sebkras Azz el Matti and Mekerrhane.
There is almost no rainfall in the region and the agriculture depends on groundwater from the Continental Intercalary (Continental Intercalaire in French), an enormous aquifer that extends for over 600,000 km2, an area that includes parts of Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. The Continental Intercalary is a layer of porous sandstone deposited between the Moscovian and the Cenomanian periods. It forms the deeper of the two aquifers of the North Western Sahara Aquifer System (NWSAS). The water of the Arak gueltas, in Mouydir Mountains, is generally fresh, as is that of the pools bordering the Tidikelt Depression, but the pans, and subsurface water of the depression is saline. Rain over the Mouydir Mountains is generally light, c. 10 50 mm/yr, and unreliable.
Vegetation:

The pools of the Arak Gorge, near to Tidikelt depression, are fringed by Phragmites australis, Typha capensis and Scirpus holoschoenus, while submerged species include Ceratophyllum demersum, Myriophyllunt spicatum and Ruppia spiralis, the last a species with strong coastal affinity. The humid soils of the oueds throughout the region support Nerium oleander and Tamarix gallica, with occasional stands of Acacia nilotica and Hyphaene thebaica.

Fauna:

Domesticated fauna: local ovine race (called Ovis longipes) specifically adapted to the context of the oases. Wild fauna: 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. There are no fish in the lower pools but Tilapia zillii occurs in the permanent high gueltas of the Arak Gorge. Bufo mauretanicus and B. viridis occur in the district.

Land uses and economical activities:
Tribes from the oases of this area, without exception, depends heavily on domestic animals for carrying heavy loads, milk and dairy products, meat, and hides or wool. The landscape of the region is mostly covered with bare areas. Agriculture specialized in fruit trees and date palms is typical from this site. There are also gas and oil fields. Reservoir rocks of the region are assumed to be similar to those of the neighboring Ahnet and Illizi Basins: cambrian-ordovician and devonian sandstone.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:
Principal crops are dates (approximately 250,000 trees), grains (oats, barley, and wheat), and vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, beets, turnips, and other). The agriculture of these oases is characterized by its traditional irrigation system, the Foggara. The palm grove, in the way it is designed and how it operates, contributes fundamentally to this fragile oasis ecosystem. Earthwork conducted according to a series of stages from the water level, the cultivated terraces up to the level of the palm trees via that of the fruit trees, provides proof of the existence of a cooler local microclimate and the existence of exchanges by convection which maintain specific temperature and humidity levels beneath the canopy of the palm trees.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:

In the Algerian region of the Sahara Desert, there are many breathtaking oases, 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 although Algeria has a couple of these phenomenons, two of them are more important, and the Great Western Sand Sea is the second largest of them. The Tidikelt Oasis Group/ Tidikelt depression is located there, with its freshwater springs, its gueltas, its mountains, hills, palm fields, crop fields, and rock and sand formations. Landscapes values of the depression are the oases themselves, the Mouydir Mountains, and the Petrified Forest (gisement d’In Rhar). In all the oases of this group it can be observed the foggara system (underground water channels), identifiable above ground by the lines of small wells on the surface. This system of channels, now superseded by more modern methods, once stretched for more than 2000km in this area. 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. Also the Outstanding Cultural Landscape of this site is considered a unique Landscape associated with the traditional way of life of indigenous community.

5.2. Cultural Heritage

A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general

Architectonical elements /Sculptures:

Med-O-Med did not find specific information about the architectonical elements of this group os oases, but in general, the architecture of the oases of this region provided a lesson in bioclimatic habitat for several reasons: thick walls, the structuring of space, the central patio… The width of the streets and alleyways obeys a strict hierarchy aimed at enabling animals whether laden or not to pass each other, the central square, patios and access ways were designed according to a human scale.

Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:

The Berbers of this area are often noted for their skills in various crafts. Domestic tasks such as weaving and pottery are the main work of the women. The men specialize in woodworking, metalworking, and, more surprisingly, in fine needleworking.

In the case of gardens: original and current style:
It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
Actually, the palm groves of these oases are irrigated by a system of foggaras. The foggaras are manmade underground galleries that harvest water. They effectively capture water found at depth and transport it to the surface. Underground piping runs almost horizontally and transports the groundwater to the oasis by means of a slight incline of one or two millimetres per metre. For the system to work, the oasis must be located in a valley or at the foot of a rift, so that it is below the level of the underground source. The Touat Oases Group are all located below the plateau of Tadmait where the groundwater source flows. The first wells are dug upstream from the oasis. The gradual sloping of the galleries reduces the speed of the flow, thus preventing the water from dragging the soil with it, which would result in the erosion of the galleries. This ingenious method uses gravity to transport water throughout the year. The materials used for the construction of the foggaras come from the surrounding area. Blocks of stone are cut, clay and straw are combined to make a cementing mix and palm trunks are used to consolidate the underground galleries. The average length of the galleries is 2.5 km and they include vertical wells found every 20 to 30 metres used to aerate and repair the foggaras. The foggaras allow for the passive transport of water, relying only on the force of gravity. Water is captured underground and flows under the earth, which prevents its evaporation, until it is close to the oasis where it flows into an open-air canal (seguia). A small triangular basin (quasri) collects water that arrives at the oasis by way of the seguia. With the help of a stone device in the shape of a comb (kesria), the water continues to irrigate the oasis. The community sets up a ‘water assembly’ where decisions are made on who receives how much water among those who possess water rights in response to variations in water supply. Everyone is free to exercise his or her rights and demands for water. The ‘water deciders’ are then responsible for the distribution of water.
Domestic, industrial ensembles, energy related systems:

Foggaras system.

B) Related to ancient remains

  • Traces in the environment of human activity: The oases and the man-made landscape (agriculture and foggara system) associated to them.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values

  • Population, ethnic groups: Population of Tidikelt Oases group: 24.500 (1966), 10 percent of which is nomadic.
  • Languages and dialects: Tidikelt is a Berber language of Algeria.
  • Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: The majority of Algerians are Muslims. However, other Berber groups such as the Kabyles, Shawiya, Tuareg, and other Saharan Berbers are only nominally Muslim. Their observances of Islamic law are generally lax. The concept of baraka, or holiness, is highly developed in North Africa. The Berbers believe that many people are endowed with baraka, of which the holiest are the shurifa, or the direct descendants of Mohammed. Another class of holy people is known as the marabouts. Among some Berbers, the Tuaregs in particular, the marabouts are considered to be different from ordinary men. They are believed to possess, even after death, the powers of protection and healing. In view of the general acceptance of Islam, it is particularly interesting that almost all Berbers prefer monogamous marriages (marriage to only one partner). Even the oasis dwellers and the Tuareg hold this preference. In the few tribes where polygamy does exist, it is practiced only by the few wealthy men. There are about ten million Berbers scattered across the vast regions of Northern Africa. Although the Maghrib has been, for the most part, "Arabized" by language and Islamic culture over the centuries, there are still groups of Berbers, like the nine Saharan Berber tribes, who have retained much of their original Berber traditions and characteristics.

5.3. Quality

Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:
The oases in the Algerian Sahara illustrate effectively how human being has succeeded in surviving hostile conditions. Over the centuries, an efficient and sustainable irrigation system has been applied that has allowed the inhabitants of the oasis to live in conditions of extreme aridity while respecting the particular properties of these unstable ecosystems. However, over the course of the past few years, the Saharan oases have come to experience strong demographic growth along with the intensification of agricultural production. In this particularly fragile environment, the inhabitants of the oases tend to forgo traditional knowledge regarding water resources. Also, modern techniques to pump water from underground sources dry up the groundwater reserves in a way that is irreversible. For this reason, the rehabilitation of the foggaras, a system of traditional irrigation, is recommended in the oases of this region. The intensification of irrigated agriculture in this fragile environment contributes to the over-exploitation of natural resources. The inhabitants of the oases have to dig deeper wells and cultivate ever-increasing areas. They have introduced industrial products such as chemical fertilizers while gradually neglecting traditional knowledge. In fact, the immense agricultural areas are cultivated for the production of cereal for export. The system uses a jet watering system that is ill adapted to desert conditions, the degree ofevaporation is very high while the tube openings are at risk from being obstructed by sand. The level of groundwater reserves decreases to a critically low level due to the vigorous pumping of large quantities of water from great depth.
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 Western Sand Sea (Grand Erg Occidental), its beatiful and magical landscape. -All the oases mencionated in this report, including its cultivated lands, its palm fields and the foggaras system. -Tidikelt Depression and Mouydir Mountains, its lakes, water wells and caves. -The Petrified Forest.

6. VALUES

Tangible

  • Aesthetic
  • Architectonical
  • Ecological
  • Ethnological
  • Geological/Geographical
  • Living heritage
The main tangible values of Tidikelt Oases Group are: -Aesthetic: Mouydir Mountains and all its gueltas (lakes) and caves, Tidikelt Depression, The Petrified Forest, the beauty of the Western Sand Sea and of the oases themselves. -Architectonical: The architecture of the oases is not remarkable for its use of local materials used in their raw state or painted, but by virtue of the fact that it used the palm tree to advantage. -Ecological/Botanical: The special microclima of the oases provides a particular flora and fauna, domesticated and wild, typical from these sites. -Geographical: Mouydir Mountains, Tidikelt Depression and the Great Western Sand Sea. -Living heritage, ethnological and others: The beauty and quality of the oases as a picture of human interaction with the desert, their botanical, agricultural-specially the palm fields and the foggaras system- and ethnological particularities. There are objects of tangible culture, for example weaving and pottery, woodworking, metalworking and needleworking.

Intangible

  • Mythical
The main intangible values of Tidikelt Oases Group and its cultural landscape are: -Mythical: An oasis could be considered (according to UNESCO) as an image of the garden of Eden. It is the practical expression of a mythical idea. -Social significance: Tidikelt Oases Group, as the rest of oases comprised in this inventory, enjoys a unique cultural heritage and a society rich in native custom and tradition with social significance. The living heritage is composed of practices that are the result of slow, patient adaptation to the hostility of the environment and the scarcity of its resources. It also comprises representations and images of the human self and of the world devised through such permanent confrontation. In fact, confrontation with nature and the delicate balance that results from it is the very source of a precious intangible heritage for the identity and integrity of the populations of the region. Assuming that an order or hierarchy is possible, there is, first and foremost, the cosmogony, vision and explanation of the world which a religion (Islam, in this case) provides his passage on earth, his future and the paths he must follow. The intangible heritage thereby encompasses the most fundamental aspects of an identity culture and a living tradition: oral traditions, customs, languages, music, dance, rituals, festivities, traditional medicine and pharmacopoeia, the culinary arts, traditional skills (tools and dwellings) and arts and crafts. The latter are given expression by a series of objects of tangible culture (musical instruments, masks and costumes, etc.) often produced by skilled craftsmen who owe their know-how and the techniques used to their transmission from generation to generation, the art and manner of producing them are intangible. Tidikelt Oases Group, as Gourara and Touat Groups, are oases managed with the Foggara system: man-made subterranean irrigation conduits. This system also made part of the social organization of the villages.
Authenticity:
Historical information specifies that this region was occcupied for the Islamic civilization since 10th century AD.
Universality:
According to UNESCO criteria (Tentative list: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)) and Med-O-Med considerations, the Tidikelt Oases Group and its cultural landscape achieve 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. (iii) To bear na unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living, as the berber culture. (iv) To be an outstanding example of the architectonical style of berber culture. (v)The oases of Tidikelt Group, are an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement and land-use (with the foggaras system), which is representative of its culture and the human interaction with the environment (vi) The territory is strongly connected with the bereber traditions, their ideas, beliefs, and language. (vii) The Great Western Sand Sea, Tidikelt Depression, Moudyr Mountains, are superlative natural phenomena and areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. (x) Also, those sites contain important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:
-Architectonical: The architecture of the oases keep the tradition of berber culture. -Living heritage: the traditional way of farming and the irrigation system (foggaras) practiced in the oases, villages and valleys, come from the Islamic culture. Also the typical architecture of bereber tradition is well preserved in all these settlements. -Mythical and religious values: oases could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden, of islamic culture. -Social significance and ethnological: this territory preserve ancient customs and original Berber traditions and characteristics. Tidikelt Oases Group, as Gourara and Touat Groups, are oases managed with the Foggara system: man-made subterranean irrigation conduits. This system also made part of the social organization of the villages.

7. ENCLOSURES

Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):

Tidikelt Oases Group 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: Western Sand Sea Oases. In Tidikelt Oases Group, Gourara Oases Group and Touat Oases Group is practiced the foggaras system. They are all places to observe this system in good conditions.

Bibliography:

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Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.