Home / TravelThis Saharan Village Is Home to Thousands of Ancient Texts Preserved in Desert Libraries

This Saharan Village Is Home to Thousands of Ancient Texts Preserved in Desert Libraries

Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Homo Cosmicos/Shutterstock
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Nestled in the Sahara, the medieval village of Chinguetti in Mauritania is an incredible jewel of Berber culture. Once an important outpost on trade and pilgrimage routes, the desert village contains wonderful examples of Berber Saharan architecture. It is also an important center of learning thanks to its desert libraries, which are filled with scientific and Qur’anic texts dating to the Middle Ages.

The village was established in 777 CE and was quickly built up due to the steady stream of traders and pilgrims who passed through on the way to Mecca. This also pushed the creation of the desert libraries, privately-owned book repositories where pilgrims could educate themselves on religion, astronomy, mathematics, and law. Until the 1950s, over thirty of these family-owned libraries were open to the public, but a drought dropped that number significantly. Now, the five remaining libraries in Chinguetti contain thousands of texts, which are still preserved and handled according to tradition.

Unfortunately, though Chinguetti was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, these precious texts are at risk. Librarians are constantly battling the sands and dry air of the Sahara Desert, while a lack of tourism due to security concerns has caused three of the libraries to not open on a regular basis. While the state has tried to intervene in the preservation of the manuscripts, they’ve found it difficult to break thousands of years of tradition upon which the libraries are passed from generation to generation.

“The state has been trying to lay its hands on them for years,” Seif Islam, the manager of a local library, told The Guardian. “Would you part with your hand or your foot? It [the library] is a part of us.”

Luckily, increased security measures in the area mean that some tourists are returning to view these precious materials. Many combine a visit to Chinguetti with the other surrounding UNESCO sites of  Ouadane, Tichitt, and Oualata in the dunes of the Sahara.

Chinguetti is a Berber medieval trading village located in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania.

Desert Village of Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Desert Village of Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Senderistas/Shutterstock

Sahara Desert Near Chinguetti in Mauritania

Stock Photos from Homo Cosmicos/Shutterstock

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its desert libraries filled with ancient scientific and Qur’anic texts.

Library in Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Library in Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Pilgrims would consult these learning centers as they passed through on caravans traveling to Mecca.

Man opening a old book in one of the old "libraries of the desert" in Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Library in Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Library in Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

With only five remaining, the family-run libraries are fighting against the desert elements to preserve their books.

Library in Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Desert Libraries in Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Lena Ha/Shutterstock

With increased security in recent years, more tourists are returning to Chinguetti to take in its libraries and famous mosque.

Desert Village of Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Chinguetti, Mauritania

Stock Photos from Senderistas/Shutterstock

Desert Village of Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Intertourist/Shutterstock

Desert Village of Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Eric Valenne geostory/Shutterstock

Desert Village of Chinguetti

Stock Photos from Intertourist/Shutterstock

h/t: [Kottke, Atlas Obscura]

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