Cities and Regions

The heartland of Mauritania consists of the vast Adrar and Tagant plateaus, known as the Trab el-Hajra. At the foot of cliffs are the oases of Chinguetti, Ouadane, Tichit, and Oualata, which were the sites of well-known medieval cities. The Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata were inscribed World Heritage Sites. They lived by caravan traffic, and traded with Casablanca and Dakar.

Mauritania was known in Arabic as bilad shinqit, “the land of Chinguetti”. The city of Chinguetti was a cultural and religious hub for West African pilgrims on their way to
Mecca. The town was founded in the 13th century and is considered the 7th holiest place of Islam. Its Friday Mosque was built in the 13th or 14th century.

Chinguetti is home to an extraordinary collection of rare manuscripts, in numerous private libraries and collections. There are Arabic manuscripts brought by pilgrims returning from Mecca, recopied from those sources by students in the Qur’anic schools that once flourished throughout the country, or written by Mauritania’s own jurists, poets and historians.

Al Ahmad Mahmoud library contains some 400 manuscripts and 1400 documents related to local family history.

Ould Ahmad Sherif library contains manuscripts in cardboard conservation boxes, numbered into the 600’s. The library’s core holdings were acquired in Tunis in the 14th century by the library’s founder, Ahmad Sherif. One work on gazelle skin, the Sharh Mouta’ Malik (Explanation of a Royal Footstep) by Abd al-Baqi al-Zirqani, is thought to be in the author’s own hand, making it a particular rarity.

Al Habot library is the best known and best catalogued. Established in the 18th century by Sidi Muhammad Ould Habot (1784–1869), a descendant of Islam’s first caliph, Abu Bakr al Siddiq, it grew through acquisitions of libraries elsewhere in North Africa, as well as by copying locally available books. The oldest of the 2000 manuscripts in the collection is from the year 1088. This library has the only known complete copy of Granadan author Abu Hilal al-Askari’s Tashih al-Wujuh
wa al-Naza’ir (The Correction of Appearances and Views).

Chinguetti’s most famous son is the modern writer, Ahmad ibn al-Amin al-Shinqiti (1863–1913).