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غرداية / Ɣerdayt
City of Ghardaïa
Panoramic view of Ghardaïa (Tagherdayt) with the dry bed of Wadi Mzab on the right side.
Panoramic view of Ghardaïa (Tagherdayt) with the dry bed of Wadi Mzab on the right side.
Location of the city of Ghardaïa within Ghardaïa Province
Location of the city of Ghardaïa within Ghardaïa Province
Ghardaïa is located in Algeria
Location of Ghardaïa within Algeria
Country  Algeria
Province Ghardaïa (seat)
District Ghardaïa (coextensive)
Founded 1048
 • PMA Seats 15
 • Total 590 km2 (230 sq mi)
Elevation 572 m (1,877 ft)
Population (2008)[1]
 • Total 142,913
 • Density 240/km2 (630/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+01)
Postal code 47000
ONS code 4701
UNESCO World Heritage Site
M'zab Valley
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii, v
Reference 188
UNESCO region Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 1982 (6th Session)

Ghardaïa (Arabic: غرداية , Mzab-Berber: Ɣerdayt, Taɣerdayt, ⵜⴰⵖⴻⵔⴷⴰⵢⵜ) is the capital city of Ghardaïa Province, Algeria. The commune of Ghardaïa has a population of 93,423 according to the 2008 census,[1] up from 87,599 in 1998,[2] with an annual growth rate of 0.7%.[1] It is located in northern-central Algeria in the Sahara Desert and lies along the left bank of the Wadi Mzab. The M'zab valley in the Ghardaïa Province (Wilaya) was inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982, as a cultural property evaluated under the criteria II ( for its settlement having an impact on urban planning even to the present century), III (for its Ibadi cultural values), and V (a settlement culture which has prevailed to the present century).[3][4]

Ghardaïa is part of a pentapolis, a hilltop city amongst four others, built almost a thousand years ago in the M’Zab valley. It was founded by the Mozabites, a Muslim Ibadi sect of non-Arabic Muslims, including the Berbers.[5][6] It is a major centre of date production and the manufacture of rugs and cloths.[7] Divided into three walled sectors, it is a fortified town. At the centre is the historical Mʾzabite area, with a pyramid-style mosque and an arcaded square.[8] Distinctive white, pink, and red houses, made of sand, clay and gypsum,[9] rise in terraces and arcades.[8] In her 1963 book, La force des choses the French existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir described Ghardaïa as "a Cubist painting beautifully constructed".[9]


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • Geography 3
    • Hydrology 3.1
  • Climate 4
  • Layout and architecture 5
  • Economy 6
  • Culture 7
    • Festivals 7.1
    • Religion 7.2
  • Education 8
  • Transportation 9
  • Localities 10
  • Notable people from Ghardaïa 11
  • Gallery 12
  • References 13


The name of Ghardaïa has its origins in a female saint named Daïa who lived in a cave (ghār) in the area before it blossomed into a town inhabited by Ibadite Muslims who came to escape persecution from Fatimite Muslims in the north.[7][8]

Alternatively, Ghardaïa's name may be derived from the Tamazight word Tagherdayt (ⵟⴰⴳⵀⴻⵔⴷⴰⵢⵜ) meaning the castle.


The M'Zab valley, in limestone plateau, as inscribed under the UNESCO Heritage List, is a unique conglomeration of five cities confined in area of 75 km² situated 600 km to the south of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. Original architecture of the semi desert valley is dated to early 11th century ascribed to the Ibadis with their cultural identity originally traced to the Maghreb who had their capital at Tahert as an Ibadi Kingdom. They were forced to leave Tahert consequent to a devastating fire in 909 (it is reported that destruction was caused by the founder of the (Shi'ite) Fatimid Dynasty[6]). They first moved to Sedrata and finally to M'Zab valley. They settled in five fortified villages located on rocky outcrops, known locally as “Kosars”, even though they could have lived in one larger village encompassing all the five, which were planned with meticulous details to precise layouts defined by set principles of community living within a defensive environment. Each village was planned in diverse topography comprising a small island, a ridge, a hilltop, a peak and a recess. The villages were fortified in such a manner that they were inaccessible to the nomadic groups. The five villages set up with identical planning concepts were Ghardaïa, Melika, Beni Isguen, Bou Noura and El Atteuf. The identical “miniature citadels” as they are termed had each their own mosque with minaret functioning as watch towers, houses built around the mosque in concentric circles and surrounded by a high walls (extending up to the ramparts). which together gave the feel of a fortress to each village. The mosque also provided for storage of grains and arms for defence.[3][4][6] However, during the summer season a they migrated to a "citadel" outside the fortified villages, in an informal setting of artificial palm grove, a cemetery and a mosque.[6]

Ghardaïa, as a village, was established in the 11th century,

It was developed into a town by Kharijite Muslims who came to Ghardaïa as a haven to escape the persecution from Orthodox Muslims in the north. The ancient ksar of Metlili-Chaamba was founded by Tamer and Trif in the 12th century and is inhabited by the Chaamba, descendants of the Beni-Mansour Souleima Ben Medina (Saudi Arabia), a collection of tribes among whom are the Ouled Allouche, the Ouled Abdelkader, the Chorfa, the Almorabitines (descendants of the Prophet of Islam Mohammed), the Zouas, and the Beni Beni Brahim or Merzoug. The village of Berriane was built in 1679 and historically was a place of conflict between the Arabs and Berbers and Mozabites.

These people revolted against French colonialism in the popular uprisings of 1864 at Bouchoucha. Colonel Alphonse Ferjeux Didier, who commanded Ghardaïa from 1883 to 1886 and again from 1890 to 1895, was said to be deeply understanding of the politics of the Mzab peoples.[10]

In recent years, Ghardaïa has periodically been the scene of violent confrontations between the Mozabite and Arab communities.[11]


Map of major settlements within the province of Ghardaïa

The city is located within the Sahara Desert in northern-central Algeria. The Ghardaïa Province is divided into 13 communes or municipalities, which includes the Ghardaïa municipality. It is bordered by Ouargla and El Bayadh Wilayas. It is nestled in the M'zab valley, lying on the left bank of the Wadi Mzab, which is commonly dry throughout the year. The commune of Ghardaïa now covers an area of 590 km2 (230 sq mi) and includes a number of suburbs, towns and villages in addition to Ghardaïa. Suburb settlements include Mélika, Béni Isguen, Bounoura (Has Bunur) and El Atteuf (Tadjnint), all of which lie to the southeast of Ghardaïa city and the ancient ksar of Metlili-Chaamba or Metlili which lies 42 km (26 mi) to the southwest.[12][13][14] Outside of the Mzab valley, Berriane (Has Ibergane) and El Guerrara (Iguerraren) are towns of note, the first 45 km (28 mi) to the north, and the second 110 km (68 mi) to the northeast.


Ghardaïa's ancient water distribution system was devised by the Mozabites, keeping in view the ephemeral flows of its oueds (rivers). Realising the preciousness of this natural resource, the Mozabites developed a unique hydraulic system of underground tunnels to harvest rainwater and divert it to the oases. They have an equitable water distribution to all gardens and also maintain good flood protection measures.[5][15] The water supply is accessed in a number of ways through an incredible irrigation system that distributes water from many wells.[9] Well drilling occurs to a depth ranging from 350 ft (110 m) to 500 ft (150 m), then drawing the water from the Albian fossil groundwater continental infill whose reserves are estimated at 1.5 trillion m3. It is also sourced[15]


Ghardaïa has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh), with extremely hot summers and mild winters. The region is marked by large temperature differences between day and night, and summer and winter ranging from lows of 5 °C (41 °F) to highs of 46° C (114.8 °F). The prevailing winds of summer are extremely hot, extremely dry and strong and those of winter are warm and dry. Sandstorms generally occur from March to May. In October 2008, Ghardaïa was severely affected by flooding due to heavy rain.[16]

Climate data for Ghardaïa
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 16.5
Daily mean °C (°F) 10.9
Average low °C (°F) 5.3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 7.6
Average relative humidity (%) 54.4 45.0 39.8 35.1 30.5 25.9 22.3 25.9 36.9 45.0 50.2 54.7 38.81
Source #1: NOAA (1964–1990)[17]
Source #2: (extremes, humidity)[18]

Layout and architecture

The unique layout of the Ghardaïa village is dictated by the rocky terrain of the region. Apart from the mosques and the housing pattern layout, with the mosque at the top of the hill, and the houses laid in labyrinthine alleyways, there is also a large market centre. The houses in particular are oriented in such a way that it admits sunlight into every as they strongly believe: "Inhabitants of the house where sun comes in will never see a doctor". Chimneys are also set in such a way that they do not encroach their neighbours comfort.[15]


Market on the main square of Ghardaïa (1970)

Ghardaïa is a major centre of date production, with nearly 60,000 palm trees producing dates. The wood of dead palms is used to make house roofs; live trees are not killed as they are considered living beings that sustain the inhabitants.[9]

Another important industry is the manufacture of rugs and cloths.[7] Ghardaïa is renowned for its coarse goat hair carpets, generally with simple geometric patterns in black and white. Metlili-Chaamba is known for its "Deglet Nour" dates and its camel hair products.

One important aspect of the social life and economic values of the people of the region is that begging and theft are non-existent in the community. The society is close-knit, and all aspects of economy and social customs are dictated by the community.[15]


The residents have preserved the original medieval architecture remarkably well; the valley of which it forms being a part of an official

  1. ^ a b c "Population: Ghardaia Wilaya" (PDF) (in French). Office National des Statistiques Algérie. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "Algeria Communes". Statoids. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "M'Zab Valley". Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  4. ^ a b "The Mazab valley: Evaluation Report" (pdf). Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  5. ^ a b Ham, Anthony; Luckham, Nana; Sattin, Anthony (2007). Algeria. Lonely Planet. p. 153.  
  6. ^ a b c d e "Ghardaïa, Algeria". Organization of World Heritage Sites. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  7. ^ a b c Harris, Nathanuel (2003). Atlas of the world's deserts. Taylor & Francis. p. 33.  
  8. ^ a b c d "Ghardaia".  
  9. ^ a b c d e Tilouine, Joan (4 December 2009). "Oasis de Ghardaïa, la richesse du secret". Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  10. ^ Brower, Benjamin Claude (2009). A desert named peace: the violence of France's empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844–1902. History and society of the modern Middle East series,  
  11. ^
  12. ^  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ "Ghardaïa, Algeria (UNESCO World Heritage City)\accessdate=2010-11-12". skyscrapercity. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g "Ghardaïa remains unchanged as major centre of Mozabite life". Magharebia. Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  16. ^ "Deadly floods hit Algerian oasis". BBC News. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  17. ^ "Climate Normals for Ghardaia". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "Ghardaia, Algeria". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  19. ^ a b "Ghardaia, la perle des oasis". Ministry of Tourism. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  20. ^ a b Ham, p. 158
  21. ^ "Ghardaïa Mosque". Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  22. ^ "Structure relative de la population résidente des ménages ordinaires et collectifs âgée de 6 ans et plus selon le niveau d'instruction et la commune de résidence." (PDF) (in French). Office National des Statistiques Algérie. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "Taux d'analphabétisme et taux d'alphabétisation de la population âgée de 15 ans et plus, selon le sexe et la commune de résidence ." (PDF) (in French). Office National des Statistiques Algérie. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  24. ^ "Ghardaia". Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  25. ^ "Décret n° 84-365, fixant la composition, la consistance et les limites territoriale des communes. Wilaya d'El Oued" (PDF) (in French). Journal officiel de la République Algérienne. 19 December 1984. p. 1578. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 March 2013 or before. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 


Panorama of Ghardaïa


Notable people from Ghardaïa

  • Ville de Ghardaïa
  • Melika Haut
  • Melika Bas
  • Theniet El Mekhzène
  • Hadj Messaoud
  • Mermed
  • Bab Saâd
  • Ben Ghanème
  • La Palmeraie

The commune of Ghardaïa is composed of nine localities:[25]


It is served by Noumérat - Moufdi Zakaria Airport (or simply Ghardaïa airport). There is also a bus station.[24] The airport is named after famous Algerian writer Moufdi Zakaria.


6.5% of the population has a tertiary education, and another 18.2% has completed secondary education.[22] The overall literacy rate is 87.4%, and is 93.2% among males and 81.5% among females.[23]


The White Fathers, a Roman Catholic missionary society, live in a hermitage near the old city, and have a collection of books on the Sahara.[20] The pro-cathedral still testifies to the time when it was the seat from 1901 successively if the Apostolic Prefecture of Ghardaïa, renamed as Apostolic Prefecture of Ghardaïa in the Sahara, in 1948 promoted to Apostolic Vicariate of Ghardaïa in the Sahara, which in 1955 was promoted to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Laghouat (where the cathedral is meanwhile secularized; still exempt).

Ghardaïa is the traditional heart of the M'zab valley and home of the Ibadi religious sect in Algeria. As a religious Muslim sect they did not subscribe to the doctrine of Sunnism and Shi'ism.[6] They practice a different way, praying, worship of God and designing mosques as compared with Malikis who form the majority of Algerians.[15] Here, wasting water, and more generally any gift of land, is considered a sin.[9] The Ghardaïa Mosque, built in the 10th century, is of Moorish architecture style. Its tower, simple and elegant, includes a large portal at the top of the shaft, the design of which provides for ventilation flow.[21]


In March and April, a carpet festival provides an opportunity for celebration, competition, as well as sales.[20]

Every spring, the commune of Metlili-Chaamba, 31.3 km (19.4 mi) from Ghardaïa, celebrates the "Day mehr" when people from all over the country and other parts of the world attend and participate in a camel race.

Local berber architecture


The Mozabites of Ghardaïa have their distinct identity of traditional costume of saroual loubia (baggy trousers) and chéchia (head gear).[15]

[19] The Wilaya of Ghardaïa is also well known for its Weaving, Dinanderie D'art, basketry, pottery and carpet weaving (tapestry). The rugs of the area so popular that every year the "National Day Of Rugs" is held in March.[15]

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