Chinguetti

The seventh holiest city of Islam, Chinguetti used to be the most venerated town in Mauritania.
On one of the major caravan routes, it was a centre of learning and a place of assembly for pilgrims travelling to Mecca .. in those glorious times it had 11 mosques and 20,000 inhabitants.
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Today it is separated into two towns, the old and the new, which are separated by a kilometre of sand, mostly used as a football pitch. The new town isn't particularly new or very attractive, its main claim to fame being an ex Foreign Legion fortress, which was featured in the 1984 French film Fort Sagane and is now a hotel. But the old town is spectacularly old, with many of its buildings dating back to the 11th century and is home to five ancient Koranic libraries containing thousands of very precious manuscripts, lovingly cared for and protected by family groups of long-serving guardians.
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The old town is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and at first sight seemed only to be a motley collection of ramshackle buildings and broken walls, slowly being engulfed by the desert sands.
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However, on closer inspection, we could see a great deal of work that had and is being done to restore as much of the old town as possible to its former architectural glory, whilst also providing some essential modern amenities for the present residents. These long term projects of restoration and preservation are funded by various international bodies, the most noticeable of which were an enormous water tower and evidence of a considerable amount of sand clearance to expose ancient streets and buildings, funded by the European Union.

The most practical, as far as one of the libraries we visited was concerned, was a donation from the German government of hundreds of new box files in which many of the ancient manuscripts were being stored, prior to being painstakingly catalogued.

We arrived at mid morning with not many people out in the hot sun. However we were met by a local welcome committee of one. This being Claude the camel, who we drove around ..

.... to reach the first restaurant we saw and could hardly miss .. 'artistically' decorated in a
'post Disney cartoon' style and named Restaurant Mondial .. it stuck out like a sore thumb !

No food was available .. Chinguetti being devoid of tourist customers .. and having commented on how calm Claude ( or perhaps Claudette - we weren't sure ) appeared
I suggested Gabriel should approach and make friends for a good photo opportunity.
This was as near as he got !!!

As we drank some cool soft drinks, the restaurant manager chatted away about Chinguetti's attractions and offered to show us around. Firstly, he wanted to show us a camp at a local oasis, so we set off towards some distant palm trees over the deep and very soft sandy plain which separates the two halves of Chinguetti. Set in a low gear, four wheel drive engaged and with plenty of revs .. we scrabbled our way our way in the general direction of the oasis.
It was with credit to Gabriel's driving skills that we did not get stuck, the sand was so soft.

On our right we could see a line of modern houses, bordering the edge of the deep sand.

We thought that where the palm trees were we would find the oasis, but no .. they were merely a navigation point to aim at so we swung left to find another quite large settlement ..

..... of traditional grass and stone built houses, scattered over a large area of the dunes.
Click
HERE for a Panoramic view of this settlement