Ancient Chinguetti Mauritania

chngttYou can add this destination to the “difficult-to-visit” basket as the Sub-Saharan country of Mauritania is a problemical place to discover, particularly if your knowledge of French is sparse or non-existent.

Mauritania is all about either the coast or the desert. As well as being dry and sparsely populated, there is a great deal of civil disturbance in the desert regions which can make travel dangerous. Nevertheless, travellers do go there and you can get into trouble in even the most civilised places on the planet. Anyone who intends to venture into places like Mauritania will probably be used to being extra careful. I have been to places where there has been civil disobedience and have never felt under threat, whereas travelling through Britain in the min-70s when the IRA was in engaged in random acts of violence was frightening at times.

Chinguetti is the remains of a 13th century medieval trading city that is located on the Adrar Plateau, not far from the town of Atar.

The city is in danger of disappearing due to the moving sand dunes of the encroaching Sahara Desert. As the climate has begun to dry in the region, the ability for humans to exist here has become more difficult. There is evidence, such as local cave paintings, which shows that the Chinguetti area was once a bountiful savannah with grasses, water and filled with exotic animals such as giraffes.

Chinguetti is important because it is considered to be the 7th holiest place in Islam, and the Chinguetti Mosque is considered to be one of the most important symbols in Mauritania. For this reason, even though visitors are welcome to the town, only Muslims can enter the mosque.

There is also an Islamic library in the town that has much importance. When you wander around the town, it is quite small, you marvel at the fact that, at its peak, this town would have been bustling with traders and pilgrims and their way to Mecca.

Even though Chinguetti is one of the most visited places in Mauritania, getting there is not easy. The best way is to organise a driver in Atar, but even so the crossing is not for the feint-hearted. You proceed along narrow roads which cling to the mountain sides, and some of turns along the road are so sharp that they can’t be done in one turn. The journey is worth it though, as Chinguetti is a unique and quite serene place which, you know, will soon disappear beneath the Saharan dunes.

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