Touat Oases group, ALGERIA
- Site: Great Western Sand Sea Oases (3): Touat Oases group and its cultural landscape.
- Keywords: Algeria Cultural Landscapes, Western Sand Sea oases, Oasis, Touat, Adrar, Tamantit, Sidi Ahmed Timmi, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Reggane, Foggara.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
The Touat 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, Adrar is specifically mentioned by UNESCO. The Tamantit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi Oases, which are also included in the Touat Oases group, are in the “List of Wetlands of International importance” (2013) edited by RAMSAR. Tamantit Oasis is also classified as Monument of National Heritage of Algeria (Architectonical and Cultural Plan, Journal 0fficiel N° 87 of 03 November 1999).
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
This oases group, located in the amazing Western Sand Sea (French: Grand Erg Occidental), shows an unique sample of interaction between human being and nature. It contains the oases which are located in the province of Adrar, in Touat region. Touat proper extends about 75 miles (120 km) along the wadi (in “PlateauTadmaid”), from the Gourara oasis group on the north to the Tidikelt oasis group on the south and east. It includes the settlements of Adrar, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, and Reggane, and the Touat Intebou, Tamantit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi Oases, betwen others. 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), and 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 Oases and settlements of Adrar, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Reggane, Touat Intebou, Tamantit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi, are wonderful sites where nature and human activity are mixed. Adrar is the largest oasis and chief settlement. -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. Touat Oases Group, as Gourara and Tidikelt 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. Like in the rest of the oases of this area, Adrar is irrigated by foggaras and the oases produce high-quality dates, as well as grains and vegetables. This system can also be observed in Tamantit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi Oases. These oases are also important because of their style of farming and because of their biological diversity. 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 Touat, Adrar, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Reggane, Touat Intebou, Tamantit, Sidi Ahmed Timmi.
- Current denomination Touat, Adrar, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Reggane, Touat Intebou, Tamantit, Sidi Ahmed Timmi.
- Original denomination Touat, Adrar, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Reggane, Touat Intebou, Tamantit, Sidi Ahmed Timmi.
- Popular denomination Touat, Adrar, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Reggane, Touat Intebou, Tamantit, Sidi Ahmed Timmi.
- Address: Sahara Occidental, Hydraulic reserve of Saoura. Located in Adrar province, the Touat Oases Groups is situated along the Wadi Messaoud (called Wadi Saoura farther north), in the Western Sand Sea, it is strung beadlike in a northwest-southeast orientation west of the Plateau of Tademaït.
- Geographical coordinates: Latitude/ Longitude: 29.183 / -0.267 Altitude: 309 m
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Great Western Sand Sea covers an area of approximately 80,000 sq km. Specifically, in the Touat region are located the cities, towns and villages: Noum en Nass, Oulad el Ouali, Rhozzi, Sidi Ben Hadj, El Hamra, Bouffaddi, Timleha, Zaouia Sidi Bekri, Tamentit, Beni Tamer, Oulad Brahim, Bahmer, Titaf, Oulad Antar, Oulad Bou Yahia, Tahmat, Ikkas, El Ahmar, Reggane, and Adrar. Adrar is a town and commune in Algeria, based around an oasis of the Sahara Desert and the administrative capital of the second largest province in Algeria: Adrar Province. Reggane is a town in the Adrar Province of central Algeria, in the Sahara Desert. It is the southernmost town of the Touat. Some of the oases are: Oulad el Hadj Mahmoun, Toukki, Tezdaïa, Tamest, Tililane, Fenoughil, Zaouiet Kounta, Touat Intebou, Sidi Ahmed Timmi. The oases of Tamentit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi (in Fenoghil and Adrar district, respectively) are 12 km North to Adrar. They are bordered at South by Bouffadi oasis.
- 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 the region are under a private and collective property regimen. The management of the hidraulic system (foggara 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. The Tamantit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi Oases, are protected by the RAMSAR Convention (2013). Tamamtit Oasis is also classified as Monument of National Heritage of Algeria (Architectonical and Cultural Plan, Journal 0fficiel N° 87 of 03 November 1999). In order to be classified as a World Heritage site, UNESCO has recommended some conservation measures in relation with Tamamtit Oasis, that are not well applied yet, related to the foggaras system and quality and maintenance of the palm fields.
- Public or private organizations working in the site: The Mediterranean Co-operation of the MED Forum, a network of Mediterranean non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for ecology and sustainable development, and the Algerian association Touiza, agreed to set up a programme to protect the oasis ecosystem. Its principal objective is to integrate respectful environmental practices and traditional local customs in the affected areas. The programme covers four representative oases in the Touat region, close to Adrar in the south-eastern part of Algeria. Activities include a programme to restore palm trees and a public awareness campaign that produced a practical guide on the preservation of the oases through the rehabilitation and repair of traditional systems called foggaras. The objectives of the MED Forum and the Touiza Association are to promote sustainable development and the preservation of the oases in the Saharan region of Algeria while ensuring the well being of their populations by simultaneously fighting poverty and desertification. Their specific goal is to guarantee an integrated approach and the participatory management of natural resources and of agricultural ecosystems in the four oases near Adrar (see the contact in point 10 of this inventory). Also the Ministery of Agriculture of Algeria is trying to recover the palm plantations of these oases. The Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique is working in a research related to Fusarion, the main threat of the palms. The Ecole Nationale d’Architecture is trying to recover the local architecture of Tamamtit promoting the use of traditional materials. At the same time the Ministery of Culture is working on the restoration of the ancient Ksar of Tamamtit.
Situated along the Wadi Messaoud (called Wadi Saoura farther north), the Touat oases are strung beadlike in a northwest-southeast orientation west of the Plateau of Tademaït. 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: Touat 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 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. Touat lies to the south of the Western Sand Sea, to the east of the Erg Chech and to the south east of the Tademaït Plateau. It contains a string of small oases strung out along the eastern edge of the Wadi Messaoud, a continuation of the Wadi Saoura. The oases extend over a distance of 160 km from the district of Bouda in the north to Reggane in the south. The land area is not cultivated, most of the natural vegetation is still intact.The landscape is mostly covered with bare areas. The soil in the area is high in shifting sands (ss), contains 50% sand-size particles with the rest consisting of impurities such as feldspar, mica, and cement of silica, iron or carbonates. most of the soils from these rocks are coarse in texture, acid, deep, and low in nutrients. Tamamtit and Sidi Ahmed Timmi have quateernay remains in their geomorphology.
Domesticated fauna: local ovine race (called Ovis longipes) specifically adapted to the context of the oases. Wild fauna: Gazella dorcas, Atelerix algirus, Fennucus zerda, Felis margarita, Ctenodactylus vali, Varanus griseus, and Uromastyx acanthinurus, all of them in danger.
Land uses and economical activities:Agriculture is the main economical activity of the oases. Also the tourism and the trade of local artesany. In addition to water, the rock beneath Touat contains pockets of natural gas. Sonatrach, the Algeria state-owned oil company, is collaborating with foreign companies in joint ventures to exploit these gas reserves. Sonatrach and the China National Oil & Gas Exploration & Development Corporation (CNODC) have constructed a refinery near the village of Sbaa, 40 km north of Adrar. This began operating in 2006. Separate projects led by Gaz de France (GDF Suez) and Total are both scheduled to start supplying gas in 2013. A pipeline is being built to connect to Hassi R'Mel. In the proximity of Reggane there was until 1965 a rocket launching site where numerous civilian and military ballistic rockets were launched. France began its nuclear testing program in the vicinity of Reggane, conducting four such tests during the Algerian War in 1960 and 1961, before independence.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:The cultivated vegetation of these oases is composed by date palm trees (700,000-800,000 date palms of Phoenix dactylifera) in an area of 4,500 ha, varieties which are resistant to Fusarium oxysporum albidius disease, Acacia spp., fruit trees (almond, lemon, grape, fig, orange, olive, pomegranate and apricot), anual crops (oats, barley, and wheat,) vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, beets, turnips, and other) and cotton. The agriculture of these oases is characterized by its traditional irrigation system, the Foggara.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
*In the Algerian region of the Sahara Desert, there are many breathtaking oasis, 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 Western Sand Sea is the second largest of them. The Western Sand Sea is a wonderful landscape that contains superlative natural phenomena and areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. The Touat Oasis Group is located there, with its freshwater springs, mountains, hills, palm fields, crop fields, and rock and sand formations. Adrar is a major regional capital 120km south of the road which rings the Western Sand Sea, and inside the Touat Group. Its uniform brick-red colour is interesting though and its central square is notable too. 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 oasis 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
Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:
Traditional Tamentit pottery is black. There is also basketry, silverware, shoemaking and tannery typical form these oases.
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:
There are some ancient remains in the region, as Izeggarene ruins, or the Ksar Sidi Abdallah.
- Historical routes:
The Touat oases were important in the trans-Saharan trade (including slave trade) because of their location at the northern end of the Tanezrouft route. Reggane is the last town on the Tanezrouft track heading south across the Sahara to Mali., with a distance of 1150 km north of the town of Gao and a similar distance from Timbuktu. Caravans from the Sudan would continue northwards to towns such as Sijilmasa or Tlemcen.
- 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: Mainly Berber tribes live in these oases.
- Languages and dialects: Berber language.
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: The settlement in the region (formerly known as Touat) is quite ancient and the area provides for several different cultures. This intermingling gave birth to a body of traditions and of cultural and hand-crafted practices that are still present today in the life of its inhabitants translating into a wealth of the folklore and cultural heritage. Traditional lifestyles have persisted longer here.
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 oasis of Touat in south-eastern Algeria. 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:
-Western Sand Sea, its beatiful and magical landscape. -All the oases and ksour mencionated in this report, including its cultivated lands, its palm fields, its lakes and water wells, and its architectonical and archaeological elements. -Foggara system.
- Living heritage
Authenticity:The settlement in the region (formerly known as Touat) is quite ancient and the area provides for several different cultures. This intermingling gave birth to a body of traditions and of cultural and hand-crafted practices that are still present today in the life of its inhabitants translating into a wealth of the folklore and cultural heritage.
Universality:According to RAMSAR Convention, the Tamantit and Sid Ahmed Timmi oasis was classified as a Wetlands of International Importance in 2001 under the criteria 3, 4 and 7 (all of them speak about the particular biodiversity asociated to the wetland of the oasis, and the foggara system) Also, according to UNESCO criteria (Tentative list: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)) and Med-O-Med considerations, the Touat 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, or which has disappeared (a sample of this are the Izeggarene ruins, or the Ksar Sidi Abdallah). (iv) To be an outstanding example of the architectonical style of berber culture: the Place des Martyrs and its mosque (Adrar oasis), or the local architecture of Tamamtit. Religious buildings as Sidi Abbed and Sidi Ahmed. (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) Western Sand Sea and the oases of Touat Group 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 berber style is well preserved in the oases and in the monuments (as Place des Martyrs and its mosque in Adrar oasis), or the local architecture of Tamamtit. -Archaeological: There are some ancient remains of islamic civilization in the region as the Ksar Sidi Abdallah. -Religious: Religious buildings as Sidi Abbed and Sidi Ahmed and all the mausoleums found in Tamamtit (Ouled Si Bey Si M’hamed, Baba M’hamed, Sidi Nadjem, Ba l’Hadj, Sidi Youcel, Si Baali, Ba Ghrib, Moulay El Arbi,Sidi l’Yamani, Sidi Moulay Abdelkader El Djillali) show the religious importance of this site. -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 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. Touat Oases Group, as Gourara and Tidikelt Groups, are oases managed with the Foggara system: man-made subterranean irrigation conduits that come from the islamic culture. This system also made part of the social organization of the villages.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Touat 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 Touat Oases Group, Gourara Oases Group and Tidikelt Oases Group is practiced the foggara system. They are all places to observe this system in good conditions.
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Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.