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Niger: Agadez Old Town

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Agadez Old Town | Niger | Africa

[Visited: November 2015]

After leaving my passport 10 kilometres out of town at a dark checkpoint, I am curious about the old town of Agadez, while a little anxious about my travel document. My curiosity wins, I cross the street while the sun starts its daily climb from the horizon, and explore the west side of the old town. I stumble upon small mosques, narrow, dusty streets, and adobe houses. Every one of them is unique, and shaped by hand. There are no sharp corners: the houses have rounded curves, making them even more attractive and rustic than just their colour. The main attraction of Agadez inevitably is its Big Mosque, but the old town also has a lot to offer. In the subsequent days, I keep on coming back to the small squares, to the alleys, admire the decorations on some houses, peeking into door openings behind which I see courtyards, and getting in touch with the local people.

Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Cemetery of the marabouts at the Place des Martyrs in the old town of Agadez

Agadez once was the tourism capital of Niger, but has returned to being a major trading town after tourism collapsed. In the three days of my visit, I do not see one other foreigner, even though it is supposed to be the right season to visit. There are particular sights, but most are not or hardly signposted, which forces me to criss-cross the streets in search for remarkable buildings. There is the small Tamallakoye square, once the big market place of Agadez, now still seeing some trading. Close by, an adobe building with cow horns on its roof: the local butcher. Wandering off, I come to another small square: the Place des Martyrs, or Martyr's Square. There is a mosque, Abawage, but it is overshadowed by an impressive building, the facade of the Cemetery of the Marabouts. Back in 1917, the French decapitated many marabouts here; hence the name of the square. Like much of the old town of Agadez, the square now could not be more peaceful.

Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Woman walking past an adobe house in the old town of Agadez

It takes some searching before I find the house of Heinrich Barth, the German exporter who reached Agadez on foot after crossing the Sahara. It made him the first European to reach Agadez, and he stayed here a couple of weeks before continuing his explorations. An old lady lets me into his small house, where part of his observations on Agadez are on display on the wall, and where many traditional items are kept. Most of them look authentic and old, but it is hard to say which ones were really used by Barth - the lady speaks no French, and the kids are only running around, giggling at the opportunity to enter the house. There is the Maison du Boulanger, where the Senegalese baker Sidi Ka carved out artistic house still possessed by his great-grandchildren. When you wander around the streets of the old town of Agadez, it does not take much imagination to go back in time. The houses were the same, the technique of building the adobe houses is still alive and passed on to newer generations, and used whenever new houses are built, or old ones strengthened. People walk around in traditional dress, and keep livestock in their courtyards. The only hints that this is the 21st century, are the occasional satellite dish, or the motorbike pushing its way between the houses. Or if you reach one of the asphalt roads surrounding the old town.

Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Adobe house in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Adobe house with staircase in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Adobe house with decorated door in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Wall of one of the largest buildings of the old town of Agadez seen from the side
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Adobe building with cow horns on the roof in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Blue doors in adobe house in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Adobe mosque in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): One of the grander adobe buildings in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): One of the many small mosques in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Decorated walls make this adobe building of the old town of Agadez remarkable
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Adobe houses in the old town of Agadez
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Heinrich Barth, the first European explorer to reach Agadez, lived in this room in 1850
Picture of Agadez Old Town (Niger): Interior of the Maison du Boulanger, converted into an artist house by baker Sidi Ka

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