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Algeria: Beni Isguen

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Beni Isguen > Algeria > Africa

[Visited: February 2015]

After walking over from Ghardaïa, I walk around Beni Isguen, trying to find a good viewpoint of this Moabite town. I have to climb a steep slope with rolling stones to a road under construction, from where the view is great. Just like the other medieval towns in the M'Zab valley, and also recognised as a World Heritage site, the square houses seem to tumble down the hill on which they are built, with the single minaret standing high above the houses. I walk around the ramparts of the town - the only town still walled in the valley - until I reach the main gate. On my previous visits, it turned out impossible to find a guide, and I know that Beni Isguen is stricter still in this regard. Indeed, there is a big sign in various languages, saying that visiting is really only possible with a guide. Opposite, an office, with opening times. I duly wait, snd wait, and wait more. People greet me, and tell me that the office should open soon. When I have waited for almost an hour past the advertised opening time, I have had enough. I cannot wait longer, and I walk into the town anyway. Just like the other towns, there are very few people around.

Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): The old town of Beni Isguen, dominated by a minaret

Soon after I climb halfway the hill, and watch kids run out of school, greeting me with a surprised smile, someone urges me to go down again. Sure enough, the office is now finally open. An older man guides me up the same street again, explaining me how these towns were constructed top-down: the higher we get, the older the buildings are. Like Ghardaïa and El Atteuf, almost all houses seem to be well maintained. One oddity of Beni Isguen is, that it has a Turkish watchtower, Borj Cheikh el-Hadj or Borleila, right on top of the hill: not a minaret. Normally, the tower can be climbed for even better views of the town, but it is under reconstruction and we can only see it from the outside. We walk further down another street. Each time I want to take a picture of an alley, I have to wait until no person is visible: it is prohibited to photograph people here, and the inhabitants want close observance to their rules.

Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): View of part of the marketplace, or Marché de la Criée

When we reach the mosque, it turns out to be huge, considering the size of the town. Unfortunately, since the alleys are so narrow, it is impossible to get a good view of either the minaret or the mosque as a whole. A little further down, we come to a market square, the Marche de la Criée. Contrary to what I have read, very little goes on here. And even here, the guide tells me it is not even allowed to take a picture of the market. A pity, given its relaxed atmosphere, and attractive appearance. When we are at the entrance gate again (it used to be closed for the night, and Beni Isguen can still not be visited in the evening), I pay a visit at the small museum. Weaving instruments, carpets, kitchen utensils, and wooden locks are but a few of the traditional items on display. I have noticed that between the various towns in the M'Zab, each one of them have their own atmosphere and appearance: Beni Isguen is quite different from the others. It is getting dark, and time to walk through the city gate, back to Ghardaïa.

Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): Mosque of Beni Isguen
Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): Alley in Beni Isguen with arches
Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): Alley with arch in the old town of Beni Isguen
Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): Alley in the old town of 14th century Beni Isguen
Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): The mosque of Beni Isguen
Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): The superior part of the ramparts surrounding Beni Isguen with the Turkish watchtower, or Borj Borleila
Picture of Beni Isguen (Algeria): Watchtower with the main entrance to Beni Isguen

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