Coordinates: 20°27′N 12°21′W / 20.450°N 12.350°W / 20.450; -12.350
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
شنقيط (Arabic)
City of Libraries
Old town, Chinguetti
Old town, Chinguetti
Chinguetti is located in Mauritania
Location in Mauritania
Coordinates: 20°27′N 12°21′W / 20.450°N 12.350°W / 20.450; -12.350
CountryFlag of Mauritania.svg Mauritania
RegionAdrar Region
 • Total4,711
Official nameAncient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata
Criteriaiii, iv, v
Designated1996 (20th session)
Reference no.750
RegionArab States

Chinguetti (/ʃiŋˈɡɛti/) (Arabic: شنقيط, romanizedŠinqīṭ) is a ksar and a medieval trading center in northern Mauritania, located on the Adrar Plateau east of Atar.

Founded in the 13th century as the center of several trans-Saharan trade routes, this small city continues to attract a handful of visitors who admire its spare architecture, scenery, and ancient libraries. The city is seriously threatened by the encroaching desert; high sand dunes mark the western boundary and several houses have been abandoned to the sand.

The town is split in two by a wadi. On one side, there is the old sector, and on the other the new one. The indigenous Saharan architecture of older sectors of the city features houses constructed of reddish dry-stone and mud-brick techniques, with flat roofs timbered from palms. Many of the older houses feature hand-hewn doors cut from massive ancient acacia trees, which have long disappeared from the surrounding area. Many homes include courtyards or patios that crowd along narrow streets leading to the central mosque.

Notable buildings in the town include The Friday Mosque of Chinguetti, an ancient structure of dry-stone construction, featuring a square minaret capped with five ostrich egg finials; the former French Foreign Legion fortress; and a tall watertower. The old quarter of Chinguetti has five important manuscript libraries of scientific and Qur'anic texts, with many dating from the later Middle Ages.

In recent years, the Mauritanian government, the U.S. Peace Corps, and various NGOs have attempted to position the city as a center for adventurous tourists. Visitors may "ski" down its sand dunes, visit the libraries, and appreciate the stark beauty of the Sahara.


Occupied for thousands of years, the Chinguetti region was once a broad savannah; rock paintings at Agrour Amogjar, in the nearby Amogjar Pass, feature images of giraffes, cows, and people in a green landscape. It is quite different from the sand dunes of the encroaching desert, which make up most of the region today.

The city was founded in AD 777 and, by the 11th century, had become a trading center for a confederation of Berber tribes, known as the Sanhaja Confederation. It was a crossroads of trade routes. Soon after settling Chinguetti, the Sanhaja first interacted with (and eventually melded with) the Almoravids, represented by Abdallah ibn Yasin. The Almoravids would eventually control an empire stretching from present-day Senegal to southern Spain, called al-Andalus (the modern-day Andalucia). The city's stark, unadorned architecture reflects the strict religious beliefs of the Almoravids, who spread the Malikite rite of Sunni Islam throughout the Western Maghreb.

After two centuries of decline, the city was effectively re-founded in the 13th century as a fortified trading-center for nomadic trans-Saharan caravans, and as a means of connecting the Mediterranean with Sub-Saharan Africa. Although the walls of the original fortification disappeared centuries ago, many of the buildings in the old section of the city date from this period.

Religious importance[edit]

For centuries, the city was a principal gathering place for pilgrims of the Maghreb to gather, on their way to Mecca. It became known as a holy city in its own right, especially for pilgrims unable to make the long journey to the Arab Peninsula. It also became a center of Islamic religious and scientific scholarship in West Africa.[2] In addition to religious training, the schools of Chinguetti taught students rhetoric, law, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. For many centuries, all of Mauritania was commonly known in the Arab world as Bilad Shinqit, "the land of Chinguetti." Chinguetti is sometimes said to be the seventh-most holy city of Islam,[3] but there is no formal recognition of this claim outside of West Africa.[citation needed] The city remains one of the world's most important historical sites both in terms of the history of Islam and the history of West Africa.

Although largely abandoned to the desert, the city features a series of medieval manuscript libraries without peer in West Africa. The area around the Rue des Savants (or “street of intelligent ones”) was once famous as a gathering place for scholars, and as a place to debate the finer points of Islamic law. Today, the quiet city still offers the urban and religious architecture of the Moorish empire as it existed in the Middle Ages.[4]

World Heritage Site[edit]

In 1996, UNESCO designated Chinguetti, along with the cities of Ouadane, Tichitt and Oualata, also in the dunes area, as a World Heritage Site.[5]

The Friday Mosque of Chinguetti is widely considered by Mauritanians to be the national symbol of the country. The recently discovered offshore oilfield was named Chinguetti in its honor.


In 2021 Chinguetti was featured in a BBC documentary Life at 50 degrees C, which looked at ordinary people living in increasingly inhospitable areas.[6]

Climate data for Chinguetti
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 26.0
Average low °C (°F) 11.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 2


Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Statistiques Démographiques : Résultats du RGPH 2000 des Wilayas, La Marie de la Commune de Ain Ehel Taya, archived from the original on 9 March 2009, retrieved 7 August 2011.
  2. ^ "The Importance of Mauritanian Scholars in Global Islam". Middle East Report Online. 2021-04-13. Archived from the original on 2021-04-13. Retrieved 2021-10-31.
  3. ^ "Chinguetti in the Mauritanian Sahara is the seventh holiest city of Islam". Researche Gate. Archived from the original on 2021-11-13. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  4. ^ "Inside the abandoned city of ancient libraries". BBC. 4 March 2020.
  5. ^ Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, retrieved 2017-08-21
  6. ^ "Life at 50 Degrees". BBC. 2021.

External links[edit]