The great pyramids at Giza, EgyptElephants crossing the Zambezi river in Mana Pools National Park world heritage site, ZimbabweThe great mosque in the Old Towns of Djenne world heritage site, MaliBlack and white ruffed lemur, Rainforests of the Atsinanana world heritage site, Madagascar

Fortified cities of the Maghreb

Map showing the locations of the ten Fortified Cities of the Maghreb (in the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) designated as UNESCO world heritage sites

The term ‘Maghreb’ is derived from an Arabic word meaning ‘west’, and refers to the westernmost countries that fell to the Islamic conquests of the 7th century.  Five countries make up this natural region which stretches from Mauritania in the west to Libya in the East and lies along an extended series of mountains between the northern fringes of the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Countries throughout the region have responded to a common threat of attack and invasion by developing fortified cities in a remarkably similar way.

Common elements of these fortified cities include imposing defensive walls and battlements, with (often quite elaborate) gates; tightly packed buildings with narrow alleyways (ideal for the climate as it remains cool in summer and maintains the warmth in winter); an abundance of mosques, public water fountains, hammams (public baths), and fondouks (lodging houses);  lavishly decorated medersas (Koranic schools); covered, bustling Souqs (markets); and everywhere, decorative arched Arabic-style doors and windows, which give each building its distinctive character and individuality. 

Most of the fortified cities in this category were established soon after the 7th century conquest, and encapsulate up to 1,400 years of history – a continuous process of development and re-development.  Eight of the cities are still thriving, although new town extensions have spilled out way beyond the original walled cities.  One of the cities, the Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad in Algeria was built on a monumental scale in 1007 only to be abandoned in 1090, and demolished in 1152. Another, the Punic town of Kerkuane, also in ruins, gives a vivid insight into life long before the Islamic conquest.

To read more about each of the fortified cities of the Maghreb, and see a slideshow of each place, follow these links:

Street scene in the ancient Medina of Fez UNESCO world heritage site (Morocco), one of ten Fortified Cities of the Maghreb in North AfricaView into the courtyard of a mosque in the ancient Medina of Fez UNESCO world heritage site (Morocco), one of ten Fortified Cities of the Maghreb (North Africa)The magnificent blue granite gateway of Bab Agnaou in the Medina of Marrakech UNESCO world heritage site (Morocco), one of ten Fortified Cities of the Maghreb (North Africa)The Medina of Sousse (Tunisia) is one of ten Fortified Cities of the Maghreb to be designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in North Africa



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