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.
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.
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.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Agadez Old Town (Niger). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Agadez Old Town. Read more about this site.