The drive from Chinguetti was easier than expected, and when we arrived in Ouadane, there was still time to walk around the old desert town. The sun was blocked by clouds, however, when we arrived at the top of the hill on which Ouadane is located. We started our walk at the new mosque, which by many standards is not that new, at some 200 years old. A tall stone minaret stands high above it, and as with the mosque in Chinguetti, going inside is forbidden for non-Muslims. We walked down the Rue des 40 Savants, and my guide strictly adhered to the agreement that we had just made with the local guy who was going to take me around the old town tomorrow: he did not tell me much about the history. When we reached the western side of the hill, I could not believe my luck: the sun was just breaking through the clouds, casting its rays on the ruins of the abandoned houses.
The crumbling ruins of the stone houses extended all the way down to the foot of the hill. From here, I could also see a city wall below, with watchtowers and all. At the furthest point, I now saw a small mosque as well. I quickly fell in love with Ouadane. The abandoned houses, the narrow streets, the views: it all made for a very special experience. We walked down the big steps of the Rue des 40 Savants, until we reached the ancient mosque of Ouadane. Built in the 15th century, it is abandoned just like the rest of the old town, even though its minaret still stands, as well as its arches. The advantage is, that even non-believers can enter the roofless stone building. Right next to the old mosque is one of the city gates, and we walked on the outside, to enter through another gate. From here, we could look up the hill, completely covered by the ruins. I was curious about what my local guide would tell me the next day about this mysterious, attractive town.
Waking up well before sunrise, I was sure to be right next to the new mosque before sunrise. I was lucky; the sun found holes in the clouds and cast a warm light on the stone structure of the new mosque, where people emerged after their morning prayer; the new mosque is still in use. When my guide showed up, we started at the old mosque at the foot of the hill, and he gave me his version of the history of Ouadane. Once a prosperous trading town, the first reference to Ouadane was around the 15th century, and the old mosque was probably the first building of the town. At its heyday, it counted around 10,000 inhabitants and 35,000 date palms, of which only a small amount remain in our days. The main reasons of the decline of Ouadane were the ants that consumed the wooden beams of the buildings, and the shifting trade routes. Its economic importance meant that the city was protected by a wall; not the thin wall we see now, but a sturdy, thick wall with watchtowers that could withstand attacks. To survive times of siege, wells were included inside the wall. We visited the houses of the three founders of the city, and walked up the entire Rue des 40 Savants until we reached the new mosque, while the guide told me that the houses continue to crumble, slowly but surely. Will the old town of Ouadane really become just a pile of stones, one day? I surely hope not. It has been declared a world heritage site, but I could not see much going on in the way of protecting the ruined city. I had loved to stay longer, to explore also the new part of town, but we had to move on and leave the great desert town of Ouadane behind.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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