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Discovering Chinguetti, the 7th holiest city of Islam in Mauritania

Chinguetti has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Nestling in the heart of the Mauritanian desert, this ancient town is renowned for its sacred works, attracting scholars from all over the Muslim world. The seventh holiest city in Islam, it was once an essential stopover on the pilgrimage to Mecca.

A town in a majestic setting

Perched on the desert plateaux of the Adrar, Chinguetti is located in the Saharan region, between red sandstone canyons, oases and palm trees. A vast territory, right in the middle of Mauritania, where a succession of dunes in shades of ochre and pink come into view. A landscape that is both sumptuous and hostile, with the old town of Chinguetti under threat from the sand. Despite being partially buried, the town is home to a loyal community that is resisting, driven by the desire to preserve the architecture and history of the place.


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Because yes, 300 years ago, Chinguetti was at its height. The town had 20,000 inhabitants, a dozen mosques and 15 Koranic schools. Today, only a few houses remain. But Chinguetti is no less emblematic, with its dry-stone dwellings, its great mosque and the many libraries for which it is famous.

Chinguetti, driven by knowledge and faith

The “Sorbonne of the desert”, the “city of libraries”… Chinguetti has many literary nicknames. And with good reason: between the 15th and 18th centuries, the town was in its golden age. It was a time when the great maraboutic families built libraries brimming with religious works, as well as poetry, calligraphy, philosophy and astronomy… These manuscripts are now protected by UNESCO, although they are being damaged by drought. Mauritania’s heritage is said to include almost 40,000 manuscripts, preserved in the city’s small private museums. These libraries of yesteryear attract tourists in search of the sacred and many students of Islamic law.

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Publié le 4 March 2024