To inhabit the twelve iyamawen of Taguelzi: fortified dwellings as alive ruins in the Gourara (Algerian Sahara)

In the southwest of the Algerian Sahara, Taguelzi is one of the fortified settlement oases forming the network of the Gourara defensive structures situated on the southern edge of the Ouled Aïssa Hmada. It is a large and long flat limestone area, which borders, from north to south, the west side of the Timimoun sebkha. Despite its position on the periphery of Charouine, one of the Gourara sub-region main human settlement, Taguelzi is exactly situated at the crossroads of ancient caravan routes linking sub-Saharan Africa to the Atlantic shores and the Mediterranean world through both the Messaoura wadi and the shortcut to Figuig in Morocco, across the Great Western Erg. Taguelzi strategic position, on the southern cornice of the Ouled Aïssa hamada facing the north of Moulay Mohemmed Erg, an arm of the Great Western Erg, allows to reach the Aougrout, the main sub region of the Gourara, through the Deldoul sub region in few hours, and eventually from there to get to the Gourara main cities.

By using a space anthropological approach based on spatiality vocabulary, we have tried to understand this Saharan settlement formed by twelve distinct defensive inhabited structures and why some of them are considered as “dead ruins” and others as still “alive ruins”. Taguelzi twelve fortified inhabited structures reported through “the spatiality living word” reveals the living space organization complexity at the territory scale and may explain the morphogenesis of those defensive structures which gave birth to troglodyte habitat, to stone defensive towers and double walled fortifications with gardens, wells, water system irrigation and wide-open cemeteries. Today, despite unsuccessful state rehabilitation projects and the fortifications advanced state of ruins after the 2008 devastating floods, the inhabitants still clearly identify and refer to them as the twelve “iyamawen of Taguelzi”.