The M'zab Valley is one of the most beautiful, interesting, and rewarding places to visit in Algeria. This six-mile-long valley in the northern Sahara region, which is located in the south of Algeria, contains an ancient group of desert oases, with thousands of wells and many thousands of date palms being fed by the water in this area. The five ancient fortified towns of the M'zab area, known as the Pentapolis, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an example of a traditional human habitation that is perfectly adapted to its surrounding environment with a city structure designed to support family life. Today, the five towns of Ghardaia Algeria, Beni Isguen, Melika, Bounoura, and El-Ateuf are a destination for travelers interested in ancient history and culture, as well as the distinctive architecture and landscape.
The five towns of the M'zab in Algeria were founded by members of a Muslim sect, called the Ibadites, in the tenth century, and their descendents still inhabit the towns today. The fortified villages, known as ksour, are built on rocky outcroppings and designed to make the most of their defensive locations and fortifications. The architecture of the M'zab towns is unique, with simple, curved walls and each town crowned with a mosque situated right in its center. The simple dwellings are painted white or blue, or left their natural brown color.
The main town in the M'zab Valley is Ghardaia Algeria. Although this M'zab town is inhabited today, the ancient lifestyles of the inhabitants have been well-preserved, with men and women wearing traditional garments and simple traditional dwellings dominating the architecture of the town. The mosque with its distinctive minaret stands out against the skyline of low, simple buildings, and when walking the narrow streets visitors may well feel that time is at a standstill in this ancient town. Ghardaia Algeria is the heart of the M'zab Valley, with its own airport, and visitors there can experience the hum of busy life in this area of Algeria. Visiting the mosque, seeing medieval carvings, and wandering the Muslim market of the town—goat-hair carpets are famous locally—are all highlights among things to do on a visit to Ghardaia.
Beni Isguen is the religious heart of the M'zab and tourists are allowed into the town only with a guide. Outsiders are not allowed in Beni Isguen during midday prayers or after sunset, and they are not permitted to stay overnight in the town. The inhabitants of this town live a traditional Muslim lifestyle, seldom venturing outside this oasis in order to safeguard their purity. Visitors to Beni Isguen will want to see the white twelfth-century mosque and perhaps peruse some of the handicrafts produced in the town, which include pottery, brassware, jewelry, and carpets.
A visit to the M'zab Valley will be a fascinating part of any trip to North Africa, as the simple rural lifestyle complements time spent in the lively city of Algiers. Time spent in Ghardaia and the other cities of the Pentapolis is sure to an affecting and unforgettable experience.