Gourara Oases Group, ALGERIA
- Site: Great Western Sand Sea Oases (1): Gourara Oases Group and its Cultural Landscape
- Keywords: Algeria Cultural Landscapes, Oasis, Western Sand Sea Oases, Gourara, Timmimoum, Ouled Said
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
The Gourara Oases Group, in The Western Sand Sea, is named 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. Inside this group,Timimoum oasis is specifically mentioned by UNESCO. The Ouled Said Oasis, which is also inside of the Gourara Oases group, is 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
Gourara Oases Group, located in the amazing Great Western Sand Sea (in French: Grand Erg Occidental), have a lot of analogies with the Touat and Tidikelt group of oases, all of them called the Foggaras oases. The main oases are Timimoun and Ouled Said. Their palm fields are irrigated by the foggaras system. As the other groups of oases of the Western Sand Sea, Gourara 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 Gourara, Tidikelt and Touat. Specifically speaking about Gourara 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 as lakes, freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, and rock and sand formations. The Great Western Sand Sea and the superlative beauty of this region of the desert. The oases of the region, with its cultivated lands, as Timimoum and Ouled Said. Ouled Said Oasis is a type of wetland that is little or under represented on the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance. -Its Cultural heritage components: traditional houses, traditional handcrafts, historical trade routes, artifacts and archaeological remains (temples, caves, fortresses, and necropolises), and the maintenace of the foggaras, a particular way of irrigation in the oases. Gourara Oases Group, (as Tidikelt 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.Timimoun Oasis, also Known as “the red oasis” because of the colour of its houses, is the capital of Gourara and one of the most beatiful oasis of the Sahara, with its ancient city and its palm fields. It is the center of a group of small oases that are organized in various sub-regions: Tinerkouk, Swami, Tagouzi, Aougrout y Deldoul. They are also interseting the Ksours of Messin, El Gasba, Tlalit… Also Ouled Saïd Oasis, with its fouggara and rational use of water, its ancestral social organization and its ancient ksar of fourteenth-century architecture it is a testimony to the perseverance of man against the sand. The oasis of Ouled Saïd is surrounded by the k’sar of Aghlad, Hadj Guelmane, Kali, Semouta, Tindjelet and Ighzer. Together they form the oasis of Ouled Saïd.
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Gourara Oases, Timimoun, Ouled Said.
- Current denomination Gourara Oases, Timimoun, Ouled Said.
- Original denomination Gourara Oases, Timimoun, Ouled Said.
- Popular denomination Gourara Oases, Timimoun, Ouled Said.
- Address: Sahara Occidental, Hydraulic reserve of Saoura. Gourara region is located in the province of Adrar, south of Argelia, in the Great Western Sand Sea (Grand Erg Occidental), that covers an area of approximately 80,000 sq km. The main oases of the region are Timimoun and Ouled Said.
- Geographical coordinates: Latitude/ Longitude: 29.183 / -0.267 Altitude: 309 m
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Gourara region is located in the province of Adrar, south of Argelia, in the Great Western Sand Sea. Timimoun is a little oasis town in Adrar Province, Algeria, in the Gourara region. It is located to the northwest of the eponymous Sebkha, at the edge of the plateau of Tadmaït. Ouled Said Oasis is located in the wilaya of Adrar, daïra of Timimoun, commune of Ouled Saïd, 252 kilometres from the administrative centre of the wilaya (Adrar) and 32 kilometres by road (in a direct line only 8 kilometres) from the town of Timimoun.
- Access and transport facilities: It is served by the nearby Timimoun Airport. The Air Algérie (049 904555) office is on the main square. The airport is 8km to the southeast of town and a taxi costs DA50 per person. There are flights to Algiers and Oran. Taxis brousse leave from just next to the bus station. The main destination is Adrar (DA400, two hours). Buses leave from the main street, almost opposite the mosque. It is possible to book in advance on only some of the services, as most are just passing through and don’t originate in Timimoun. There are daily services from Timimoun to Adrar (DA250, two hours), Béchar (DA550, six hours) and Ghardaïa (DA970, 10 hours).
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Adrar Governorate.
- Body responsible for the maintenance: Adrar Governorate.
- Legal protection: -Land tenure/ownership of Ouled Said Oasis: At the site: Communal land (orfi) granted in the presence of witnesses in the presence of the fkih for former oasis (privat). In the oasis and palm groves, the land (habous) belongs to the zaouïa, the wali and his descendants, as well as anyone wishing to farm there without being able to own the land or sell crops. -Currently, like the other oases, Ouled Saïd is not covered by any status giving it protection.
- Public or private organizations working in the site: *Currently, Ouled Saïd and Timimoun oases are not covered by any specific measures. The following programme is proposed by the Conservation des forêts d’Adrar: - Maintenance and restoration of the fouggarate - Programmes against desertification by fixing the shifting dunes - Restoration of old ’sours - Stability of the human population through the creation of a cooperative for the traditional extraction of salt - Creation of a conservation and management plan for the area - Promotion of the planting of fruit trees has already produced good results.
Prehistoric remains have been found in the caves of the region, once inhabited by prehistoric people. There are archaeological vestiges of old ksars constructed using an Arab-Muslim architecture from the fourteenth century.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: High Mountain
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: Gourara 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 Western Sand Sea (Grand Erg Occidental) 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. Timimoun, the red oasis, is located at the north of Tademait. It is the center of a group of small oases that are organized in various sub-regions: Tinerkouk, Swami, Tagouzi, Aougrout y Deldoul. Physical features of Oulad Said Oasis speaks about a slightly sandy-clay to gravely soil, an arid Saharan climate and a dominant vegetative cover of palm grove and indigenous plant species that fix the sand.
The dominant plants in Oulad Said are date palm, rettam, Acacia raddiana, tamarisk and henna (Acacia albida lawsonia). Introduced plants are peach, lemon, grape, fig, orange, Barbary fig, cotton. Invasive plants are Fragmites, Imperata, Randonia, Zygophylum. There are two species of economically important palms: tinnasser and h’mira. Market garden crops and cereals are grown as subsistence crops. The wild florain the palm groves has not yet been surveyed. Something similar is found in Timimoun region.
The fauna that best characterizes these oases, in addition to transitory bird life, is probably the ungulates, represented by the gazelle and endangered species that are abundant here. It is also a stopover for migratory birds who stay longer during their second stopover (first passage in September–October on the north–south migration and second passage at the end of March–May on the south–north migration with a stopover of 20 to 45 days). However, this phenomenon has still not been studied. The basins spread throughout the oued are important watering points for migrating birds, and there are fish (barbeau du désert) in the small irrigation canals (seguiates).
Land uses and economical activities:The primary human activity in the oases and palm groves is oasis agriculture. The rest of the land is covered with sand and is subject to desertification. The oases are in fact islands of vegetation in the desert. The main activities are tending the gardens and palm groves and the construction of traditional peat and clay houses within the palm grove. The sebkha is an area where water collects from the permanent irrigation of the palm groves. The dune area is invaded by shifting sand and is not covered by palms. The palm groves are a tourist area because of their culinary traditions, the nearby sand dunes and areas of fossilized rocks. A visit to the peat and clay k’sours with their distinct architecture and to caves dug into the rock, once inhabited by prehistoric people, offer other attractions for visitors, in addition to the unusual well mechanisms and fogarra found here. It is also an area for the traditional extraction of untreated natural salt. There are no industrial activities.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:There are two species of economically important palms: tinnasser and h’mira. Market garden crops and cereals are grown as subsistence crops. The wild flora in the palm groves has not yet been surveyed.
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 Gourara Oasis Group 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 region are the oases themselves. 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. Ouled Saïd Oasis is a man-made wetland created on the vestiges of a fossilized oued. Over time, a decrease in water in this fossilized oued has made it necessary to build a fouggara. The water, distributed traditionally through small open canals, is equitably distributed to private gardens where primarily palms are grown in association with several cereals and fruit trees. Ouled Saïd Oasis and its foggara are an example that well illustrates the wise use advocated by the RAMSAR Convention. This wetland shows that without man to maintain and protect the oued constantly against the sand, it will gradually disappear. Ouled Saïd Oasis is slowly but surely being reclaimed by the sand, and it merits listing in the Montreux Registry. In Timimoun, down towards the Palmeraie, along the road to the camp site, the old section of town is a maze of dusty alleys and ochre houses. The palmeraie itself is cool and shady, and the individual plots are divided by mud-brick walls.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
Architectonical elements /Sculptures:
In Timimoun there are distinctive red mud buildings studded with wooden spikes, and surrounded by ancient villages. The Hôtel de l’Oasis Rouge originally constructed by colonial missionaries in the early 1900s, is a fine old building and it is worth a wander around inside to see the arched hallways, the courtyard and the walls, which are decorated with traditional designs. It also contains a one-room museum. Another fine example of Timimoun’s architecture is the ornate Porte du Soudan, also constructed during colonial times and oriented towards the south. Nearbay Timimoun is the tower Timimoun Mediumwave Transmitter.
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
The local handicraft is the weaving of handbags using palm fronds, camel-hair burnous for women, knâa and red pottery.
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
Man-made elements related to water management:
Domestic, industrial ensembles, energy related systems:
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
Ancient remains Nearby Timimoun: Zribet Sidi el Hadj Belkassem, El Mers, Taouriat, El Ahmar. The oasis of Ouled Saïd is surrounded by the k’sar of Aghlad, Hadj Guelmane, Kali, Semouta, Tindjelet and Ighzer, all of them constructed using an Arab-Muslim architecture from the fourteenth century. Together they form the oasis of Ouled Saïd. There are 24 wali in the commune of Ouled Saïd, each ksar has at least 1 to 2 wali (the equivalent of 1 to 2 ziarates). Each ksar also has one or more mausoleum (zaouïa).
- 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: The population of the town and the surrounding area is a real mix: the Haratine (non-Negroid Blacks), the Zénète Berbers, the Chaamba Arabs (originally from the east) and the Black Africans (descendants of Malian slaves).
- Languages and dialects: The predominant language of the region is Zénète, a Berber dialect similar to those of the Kabylie and the M’Zab.
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: Ahellil of Gourara is a ceremony inscribed in 2008 (3.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005). Performed during collective ceremonies, the Ahellil is a poetic and musical genre emblematic of the Zenete population of Gourara. This region in southwest Algeria includes some one hundred oases populated by over 50,000 inhabitants of Berber, Arab and Sudanese origin. The Ahellil, which is specific to the Berber-speaking part of Gourara, is regularly rendered at religious festivities and pilgrimages as well as secular celebrations, such as weddings and community events. The Ahellil is closely linked to the Zenete way of life and its oasis agriculture, symbolizing the cohesion of the community living in a harsh environment and, at the same time, transmitting the values and the history of the Zenete population in a language that is at risk of disappearing. Simultaneously interpreted as poetry, polyphonic chant, music and dance, this genre is performed by a bengri (flute) player, a singer and a chorus of up to a hundred people. Standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle surrounding the singer, they slowly move around him while clapping their hands. An Ahellil performance consists of a series of chants in an order decided by the instrumentalist or singer and follows an age-old pattern. The first part, the lemserreh, includes everyone and encompasses short, well-known chants that are sung late into the night. The second, the aougrout, concerns only the experienced performers who continue until dawn. The tra finishes with daybreak and involves only the most accomplished performers. This threefold structure is also reflected in the chant performance, which begins with a prelude by the instrumentalist, followed by the chorus picking up certain verses, and ending with it chanting in whisper and slowly building up into a powerful, harmonious whole. This tradition is threatened due to the dwindling number of occasions on which it is performed. This decline is linked to the rarity of traditional festivities. The migration of young people to the cities and the prevailing preference to listen to widely available Ahellil recordings rather than actively participating in live performances.
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:The needs for water are constantly increasing, because of the increase in the number of inhabitants, the creation of new areas of small farms and the expansion of the former palm groves towards areas not invaded by sand. For example, in 1980 an area of 90 hectares in Ouled Saïd was farmed, while in 2000, 90 hectares were cultivated. The lack of maintenance of the fouggarate is evident, because of a lack of financial means and to the difficulty of that work. Other factors affecting the area are sand storms (from January to April), strong hot seasonal winds, sirocco (warm winds in the summer), drought, sand encroaching on the oasis, abandon of the palm groves, the aging of the k’sours, demolition of peat or mortar-less stone houses and lack of capital all adversely affect the site.
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:
Perhaps the best thing about Timimoun is its location: the town is built on the edge of an escarpment, and there are fantastic views out over an ancient salt lake to the sand dunes in the distance, on a bright, moonlit night the effect is magical.
- Living heritage
Authenticity:There are, in the region, ancient remanins that shows the evidence of prehistoric presence in the area. Also, muslim architecture from the fourteenth century is found in the oases of Gourara Group.
Universality:According to UNESCO criteria (Tentative list: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)) and Med-O-Med considerations, the Gourara 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. See Timimoun oasis. (v)The oases of Gourara 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 berber traditions, their ideas, beliefs, and language. (vii) Great Western Sand Sea is a superlative natural phenomena and an area of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:-Archaeological: Ancient remains Nearby Timimoun: Zribet Sidi el Hadj Belkassem, El Mers, Taouriat, El Ahmar. In Ouled Saïd, the k’sar of Aghlad, Hadj Guelmane, Kali, Semouta, Tindjelet and Ighzer, all of them constructed using an Arab-Muslim architecture from the fourteenth century. -Architectonical: The architecture of the oases keep the tradition of berber culture. -Ethnological: ahellil poetry, music and performances. Gurara (Gourara) is the Zenati Berber language of the Gourara (Tigurarin) region. -Living heritage: the traditional way of farming and the irrigation system (foggaras) practiced in the oases, villages and valleys, come from the Islamic culture. -Mythical and religious values: oases could be considered as a picture of the garden of Eden, of islamic culture. -Religious: There are 24 wali in the commune of Ouled Saïd, each ksar has at least 1 to 2 wali (the equivalent of 1 to 2 ziarates). Each ksar also has one or more mausoleum (zaouïa). -Social significance: this territory preserve ancient customs and original Berber traditions and characteristics. Gourara Oases Group, as Tidikelt 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.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Gourara 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: Great Western Sand Sea Oases. In Gourara Oases Group, Tidikelt Oases Group and Touat Oases Group is practiced the foggaras system. They are all places to observe this system in good conditions.
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Practical Information:Oulad Said Oasis, RAMSAR List: Information Sheet on RAMSAR Wetlands Mr. Sayoud Mohamed-Samir Inspecteur divisionnaire des forêts Conservation des forêts d’Adrar BP 389, 01000 Algeria Tel./Fax: (213 7) 96 54 47
Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.