The SAHARA (
Arabic : الصحراء الكبرى,
aṣ-ṣaḥrāʾ al-kubrā , 'the Greatest Desert') is the largest
hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after Antarctica
Arctic . Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000
sq mi) is comparable to the area of
China or the
United States .
The desert comprises much of
North Africa , excluding the fertile
region on the
Mediterranean Sea coast, the
Atlas Mountains of the
Maghreb , and the
Nile Valley in
Sudan . It stretches from
Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the
Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from
desert to coastal plains. To the south, it is bounded by the
Sahel , a
belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the
Niger River valley and
Sudan Region of
Sub-Saharan Africa .
Sahara can be divided into several regions including: the western
Sahara, the central
Ahaggar Mountains , the
Tibesti Mountains , the
Aïr Mountains , the
Ténéré desert, and the Libyan
The name 'Sahara' is derived from ṣaḥārā (صحارى,
pronounced /ˈsˤaħaːraː/ ), the plural of the
Arabic word for
* 1 Geography
* 2 Climate
* 2.1 Temperature
* 2.2 Precipitation
* 3 Ecoregions
* 4 Flora and fauna
* 5 History
* 5.2 Egyptians
* 5.3 Phoenicians
* 5.4 Greeks
* 5.5 Urban civilization
* 5.7 Islamic expansion
* 5.8 Ottoman Turkish era
* 5.10 Breakup of the empires and afterwards
* 6 People and languages
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 Bibliography
* 10 External links
A geographical map of Africa, showing the ecological break that
defines the Saharan area. An oasis in the
Ahaggar Mountains .
Oases support some life forms in extremely arid deserts. An
intense Saharan dust storm sent a massive dust plume northwestward
Atlantic Ocean on 2 March 2003 Rocky mountains
naturally sculpted by the wind
Sahara covers large parts of
Western Sahara ,
Tunisia . It
covers 9 million square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi), amounting to 31%
of Africa. If all areas with a mean annual precipitation of less than
250 mm were included, the
Sahara would be 11 million square kilometres
(4,200,000 sq mi). It is one of three distinct physiographic provinces
of the African massive physiographic division .
Sahara is mainly rocky hamada (stone plateaus), Ergs (sand seas -
large areas covered with sand dunes ) form only a minor part, but many
of the sand dunes are over 180 metres (590 ft) high. Wind or rare
rainfall shape the desert features: sand dunes, dune fields, sand
seas, stone plateaus, gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadi), dry
lakes (oued), and salt flats (shatt or chott). Unusual landforms
Richat Structure in Mauritania.
Several deeply dissected mountains, many volcanic, rise from the
desert, including the
Aïr Mountains ,
Ahaggar Mountains , Saharan
Tibesti Mountains ,
Adrar des Iforas , and the
Red Sea hills.
The highest peak in the
Emi Koussi , a shield volcano in the
Tibesti range of northern Chad.
Sahara is hyperarid , with sparse vegetation. The
northern and southern reaches of the desert, along with the highlands,
have areas of sparse grassland and desert shrub , with trees and
taller shrubs in wadis , where moisture collects. In the central,
hyperarid region, there are many subdivisions of the great desert:
Tanezrouft , the
Ténéré , the Libyan
Desert , the Eastern
Desert and others. These extremely arid areas often receive
no rain for years.
To the north, the
Sahara skirts the
Mediterranean Sea in
portions of Libya, but in
Cyrenaica and the
Maghreb , the Sahara
Mediterranean forest, woodland, and scrub eco-regions of
northern Africa, all of which have a Mediterranean climate
characterized by hot summers and cool and rainy winters. According to
the botanical criteria of Frank White and geographer Robert
Capot-Rey, the northern limit of the
Sahara corresponds to the
northern limit of date palm cultivation and the southern limit of the
range of esparto , a grass typical of the Mediterranean climate
portion of the
Iberia . The northern limit also
corresponds to the 100 mm (3.9 in) isohyet of annual precipitation.
To the south, the
Sahara is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of dry
tropical savanna with a summer rainy season that extends across Africa
from east to west. The southern limit of the
Sahara is indicated
botanically by the southern limit of
Cornulaca monacantha (a
drought-tolerant member of the
Chenopodiaceae ), or northern limit of
Cenchrus biflorus , a grass typical of the Sahel. According to
climatic criteria, the southern limit of the
Sahara corresponds to the
150 mm (5.9 in) isohyet of annual precipitation (this is a long-term
average, since precipitation varies annually).
Important cities located in the
Nouakchott , the
capital of Mauritania;
Béchar , Hassi
Ghardaïa , and
El Oued in Algeria;
Timbuktu in Mali;
Agadez in Niger; Ghat in Libya; and
Faya-Largeau in Chad.
Sahara pump theory and
Sahara is the world's largest low-latitude hot desert . The area
is located in the horse latitudes under the subtropical ridge , a
significant belt of semi-permanent subtropical warm-core high pressure
where the air from upper levels of the troposphere tends to sink
towards the ground. This steady descending airflow causes a warming
and a drying effect in the upper troposphere. The sinking air prevents
evaporating water from rising and, therefore, prevents the adiabatic
cooling, which makes cloud formation extremely difficult to nearly
The permanent dissolution of clouds allows unhindered light and
thermal radiation. The stability of the atmosphere above the desert
prevents any convective overturning, thus making rainfall virtually
non-existent. As a consequence, the weather tends to be sunny, dry and
stable with a minimal risk of rainfall. Subsiding, diverging, dry air
masses associated with subtropical high-pressure systems are extremely
unfavorable for the development of convectional showers. The
subtropical ridge is the predominate factor that explains the hot
desert climate (
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification BWh) of this vast
region. The lowering of air is the strongest and the most effective
over the eastern part of the Great
Desert , in the Libyan
is the sunniest, driest and the most nearly "rain-less" place on the
planet rivaling the Atacama
Desert , lying in
The rainfall inhibition and the dissipation of cloud cover are most
accentuated over the eastern section of the
Sahara rather than the
western. The prevailing air mass lying above the
Sahara is the
continental tropical (cT) air mass, which is hot and dry. Hot, dry air
masses primarily form over the North-
African desert from the heating
of the vast continental land area, and it affects the whole desert
during most of the year. Because of this extreme heating process, a
thermal low is usually noticed near the surface, and is the strongest
and the most developed during the summertime. The
represents the eastern continental extension of the
Azores High ,
centered over the North
Atlantic Ocean . The subsidence of the Sahara
High nearly reaches the ground during the coolest part of the year
while it is confined to the upper troposphere during the hottest
The effects of local surface low pressure are extremely limited
because upper-level subsidence still continues to block any form of
air ascent. Also, to be protected against rain-bearing weather systems
by the atmospheric circulation itself, the desert is made even drier
by his geographical configuration and location. Indeed, the extreme
aridity of the
Sahara can not be only explained by the subtropical
high pressure. The
Atlas Mountains , found in Algeria,
Tunisia also help to enhance the aridity of the northern part of the
desert. These major mountain ranges act as a barrier causing a strong
rain shadow effect on the leeward side by dropping much of the
humidity brought by atmospheric disturbances along the polar front
which affects the surrounding Mediterranean climates.
The primary source of rain in the
Sahara is the Intertropical
Convergence Zone , a continuous belt of low-pressure systems near the
equator which bring the brief, short and irregular rainy season to the
Sahel and southern Sahara. Rainfall in this giant desert has to
overcome the physical and atmospheric barriers that normally prevent
the production of precipitation. The harsh climate of the
characterized by: extremely low, unreliable, highly erratic rainfall;
extremely high sunshine duration values; high temperatures year-round;
negligible rates of relative humidity ; a significant diurnal
temperature variation ; and extremely high levels of potential
evaporation which are the highest recorded worldwide.
The sky is usually clear above the desert and the sunshine duration
is extremely high everywhere in the Sahara. Most of the desert enjoys
more than 3,600 h of bright sunshine annually or over 82% of the time,
and a wide area in the eastern part experiences in excess of 4,000 h
of bright sunshine a year or over 91% of the time. The highest values
are very close to the theoretical maximum value. A value of 4,300 h or
98% of the time would be recorded in Upper
Luxor ) and
in the Nubian
Wadi Halfa ). The annual average direct solar
irradiation is around 2,800 kWh/(m2 year) in the Great Desert. The
Sahara has a huge potential for solar energy production. Sahara
The constantly high position of the sun, the extremely low relative
humidity, and the lack of vegetation and rainfall make the Great
Desert the hottest continuously large area worldwide, and the hottest
place on Earth during summer in some spots. The average high
temperature exceeds 38 to 40 °C or 100.4 to 104.0 °F during the
hottest month nearly everywhere in the desert except at very high
altitudes. The highest officially recorded average high temperature
was 47 °C or 116.6 °F in a remote desert town in the Algerian Desert
Bou Bernous with an elevation of 378 metres (1,240 ft) meters
above sea level. It is the world’s highest recorded average high
temperature and only
Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California rivals it. Other hot
Algeria such as Adrar ,
In Salah ,
Reggane with an elevation between 200 metres (660 ft) and 400
metres (1,300 ft) above sea level get slightly lower summer average
highs around 46 °C or 114.8 °F during the hottest months of the
year. Salah, well known in
Algeria for its extreme heat, has average
high temperatures of 43.8 °C or 110.8 °F, 46.4 °C or 115.5 °F,
45.5 °C or 113.9 °F and 41.9 °C or 107.4 °F in June, July, August
and September respectively. There are even hotter spots in the Sahara,
but they are located in extremely remote areas, especially in the
Azalai , lying in northern Mali. The major part of the desert
experiences around three to five months when the average high strictly
exceeds 40 °C or 104 °F. The southern central part of the desert
experiences up to six or seven months when the average high
temperature strictly exceeds 40 °C or 104 °F which shows the
constancy and the length of the really hot season in the Sahara. Some
examples of this are:
Niger and Faya-Largeau, Chad. The annual
average daily temperature exceeds 20 °C or 68 °F everywhere and can
approach 30 °C or 86 °F in the hottest regions year-round. However,
most of the desert has a value in excess of 25 °C or 77 °F.
Sand and ground temperatures are even more extreme. During daytime,
the sand temperature is extremely high as it can easily reach 80 °C
or 176 °F or more. A sand temperature of 83.5 °C (182.3 °F) has
been recorded in Port
Sudan . Ground temperatures of 72 °C or 161.6
°F have been recorded in the Adrar of
Mauritania and a value of 75
°C (167 °F) has been measured in
Borkou , northern Chad.
Due to lack of cloud cover and very low humidity, the desert usually
features high diurnal temperature variations between days and nights.
However, it is a myth that the nights are cold after extremely hot
days in the Sahara. The average diurnal temperature range is typically
between 13 and 20 °C or 23.4 and 36.0 °F. The lowest values are
found along the coastal regions due to high humidity and are often
even lower than 10 °C or 18 °F, while the highest values are found
in inland desert areas where the humidity is the lowest, mainly in the
southern Sahara. Still, it is true that winter nights can be cold as
it can drop to the freezing point and even below, especially in
high-elevation areas. The frequency of subfreezing winter nights in
Sahara is strongly influenced by the North Atlantic Oscillation
(NAO), with warmer winter temperatures during negative NAO events and
cooler winters with more frosts when the NAO is positive. This is
because the weaker clockwise flow around the eastern side of the
subtropical anticyclone during negative NAO winters, although too dry
to produce more than negligible precipitation, does reduce the flow of
dry, cold air from higher latitudes of Eurasia into the Sahara
The average annual rainfall ranges from very low in the northern and
southern fringes of the desert to nearly non-existent over the central
and the eastern part. The thin northern fringe of the desert receives
more winter cloudiness and rainfall due to the arrival of low pressure
systems over the
Mediterranean Sea along the polar front, although
very attenuated by the rain shadow effects of the mountains and the
annual average rainfall ranges from 100 millimetres (4 in) to 250
millimetres (10 in). For example,
Morocco are found in this zone. The southern fringe of the desert
along the border with the
Sahel receives summer cloudiness and
rainfall due to the arrival of the
Intertropical Convergence Zone
Intertropical Convergence Zone from
the south and the annual average rainfall ranges from 100 millimetres
(4 in) to 250 millimetres (10 in). For example, Timbuktu,
Niger are found in this zone. The vast central hyper-arid
core of the desert is virtually never affected by northerly or
southerly atmospheric disturbances and permanently remains under the
influence of the strongest anticyclonic weather regime, and the annual
average rainfall can drop to less than 1 millimetre (0.04 in). In
fact, most of the
Sahara receives less than 20 millimetres (0.8 in).
Of the 9,000,000 square kilometres (3,500,000 sq mi) of desert land in
the Sahara, an area of about 2,800,000 square kilometres (1,100,000 sq
mi) (about 31% of the total area) receives an annual average rainfall
amount of 10 millimetres (0.4 in) or less, while some 1,500,000 square
kilometres (580,000 sq mi) (about 17% of the total area) receives an
average of 5 millimetres (0.2 in) or less. The annual average
rainfall is virtually zero over a wide area of some 1,000,000 square
kilometres (390,000 sq mi) in the eastern
Sahara comprising deserts
Kufra , Dakhla ,
Farafra , Siwa ,
Sohag , Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel , Wadi
Halfa) where the long-term mean approximates 0.5 millimetres (0.02 in)
per year. Rainfall is very unreliable and erratic in the
Sahara as it
may vary considerably year by year. In full contrast to the negligible
annual rainfall amounts, the annual rates of potential evaporation are
extraordinarily high, roughly ranging from 2,500 millimetres (100 in)
per year to more than 6,000 millimetres (240 in) per year in the whole
desert. Nowhere else on Earth has air been found as dry and
evaporative as in the
Sahara region. However, at least two instances
of snowfall have been recorded in Sahara, in February 1979 and
December 2016, both in the town of
Ain Sefra .
The major topographic features of the Saharan region.
Sahara comprises several distinct ecoregions . With their
variations in temperature, rainfall, elevation, and soil, these
regions harbor distinct communities of plants and animals.
The ATLANTIC COASTAL DESERT is a narrow strip along the Atlantic
coast where fog generated offshore by the cool
Canary Current provides
sufficient moisture to sustain a variety of lichens , succulents , and
shrubs. It covers an area of 39,900 square kilometers (15,400 sq mi)
in the south of
Morocco and Mauritania.
The NORTH SAHARAN STEPPE AND WOODLANDS is along the northern desert,
next to the
Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub ecoregions of
Maghreb and Cyrenaica. Winter rains sustain shrublands
and dry woodlands that form a transition between the Mediterranean
climate regions to the north and the hyper-arid
Sahara proper to the
south. It covers 1,675,300 square kilometers (646,840 sq mi) in
Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.
The SAHARA DESERT ECOREGION covers the hyper-arid central portion of
Sahara where rainfall is minimal and sporadic.
Vegetation is rare,
and this ecoregion consists mostly of sand dunes (erg, chech, raoui),
stone plateaus (hamadas), gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadis),
and salt flats. It covers 4,639,900 square kilometres (1,791,500 sq
mi) of: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and
The SOUTH SAHARAN STEPPE AND WOODLANDS ecoregion is a narrow band
running east and west between the hyper-arid
Sahara and the Sahel
savannas to the south. Movements of the equatorial Intertropical
Convergence Zone (ITCZ) bring summer rains during July and August
which average 100 to 200 mm (4 to 8 in) but vary greatly from year to
year. These rains sustain summer pastures of grasses and herbs, with
dry woodlands and shrublands along seasonal watercourses. This
ecoregion covers 1,101,700 square kilometres (425,400 sq mi) in
Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Sudan.
In the WEST SAHARAN MONTANE XERIC WOODLANDS , several volcanic
highlands provide a cooler, moister environment that supports
Saharo-Mediterranean woodlands and shrublands. The ecoregion covers
258,100 square kilometres (99,650 sq mi), mostly in the Tassili
n\'Ajjer of Algeria, with smaller enclaves in the Aïr of Niger, the
Dhar Adrar of Mauritania, and the
Adrar des Iforas of
The TIBESTI-JEBEL UWEINAT MONTANE XERIC WOODLANDS ecoregion consists
Jebel Uweinat highlands. Higher and more regular
rainfall and cooler temperatures support woodlands and shrublands of
Date palm, acacias , myrtle , oleander , tamarix , and several rare
and endemic plants. The ecoregion covers 82,200 square kilometres
(31,700 sq mi) in the
Chad and Libya, and
Jebel Uweinat on
the border of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan.
The SAHARAN HALOPHYTICS is an area of seasonally flooded saline
depressions which is home to halophytic (salt-adapted) plant
communities. The Saharan halophytics cover 54,000 square kilometres
(21,000 sq mi) including: the Qattara and Siwa depressions in northern
Tunisian salt lakes
Tunisian salt lakes of central Tunisia,
Chott Melghir in
Algeria, and smaller areas of Algeria, Mauritania, and the southern
part of Morocco.
The TANEZROUFT is one of the harshest regions on Earth as well as one
of the hottest and driest parts of the Sahara, with no vegetation and
very little life. It is along the borders of Algeria, Niger]] and
Mali, west of the
FLORA AND FAUNA
The flora of the
Sahara is highly diversified based on the
bio-geographical characteristics of this vast desert. Floristically ,
Sahara has three zones based on the amount of rainfall received
– the Northern (Mediterranean), Central and Southern Zones. There
are two transitional zones – the Mediterranean-
Sahara transition and
Sahel transition zone.
The Saharan flora comprises around 2800 species of vascular plants .
Approximately a quarter of these are endemic . About half of these
species are common to the flora of the Arabian deserts.
Sahara is estimated to include five hundred species of
plants, which is extremely low considering the huge extent of the
area. Plants such as acacia trees, palms, succulents, spiny shrubs,
and grasses have adapted to the arid conditions, by growing lower to
avoid water loss by strong winds, by storing water in their thick
stems to use it in dry periods, by having long roots that travel
horizontally to reach the maximum area of water and to find any
surface moisture, and by having small thick leaves or needles to
prevent water loss by evapotranspiration . Plant leaves may dry out
totally and then recover. Camels in the Guelta d\'Archei , in
Several species of fox live in the
Sahara including: the fennec fox ,
pale fox and Rüppell\'s fox . The addax , a large white antelope ,
can go nearly a year in the desert without drinking. The dorcas
gazelle is a north African gazelle that can also go for a long time
without water. Other notable gazelles include the rhim gazelle and
dama gazelle .
The Saharan cheetah (northwest African cheetah ) lives in Algeria,
Togo , Niger, Mali,
Benin , and
Burkina Faso . There remain fewer than
250 mature cheetahs, which are very cautious, fleeing any human
presence. The cheetah avoids the sun from April to October, seeking
the shelter of shrubs such as balanites and acacias. They are
unusually pale. The other cheetah subspecies (northeast African
cheetah ) lives in Chad,
Sudan and the eastern region of Niger.
However, it is currently extinct in the wild in
Egypt and Libya. There
are approximately 2000 mature individuals left in the wild. An
Idehan Ubari oasis lake, with native grasses and date palms
Other animals include the monitor lizards , hyrax , sand vipers , and
small populations of
African wild dog
African wild dog , in perhaps only 14 countries
and red-necked ostrich . Other animals exist in the
Sahara (birds in
particular) such as
African silverbill and black-faced firefinch ,
among others. There are also small desert crocodiles in
Ennedi Plateau of Chad.
The deathstalker scorpion can be 10 cm (3.9 in) long. Its venom
contains large amounts of agitoxin and scyllatoxin and is very
dangerous; however, a sting from this scorpion rarely kills a healthy
Saharan silver ant
Saharan silver ant is unique in that due to the extreme
high temperatures of their habitat, and the threat of predators, the
ants are active outside their nest for only about ten minutes per day.
Dromedary camels and goats are the domesticated animals most commonly
found in the Sahara. Because of its qualities of endurance and speed,
the dromedary is the favourite animal used by nomads .
Human activities are more likely to affect the habitat in areas of
permanent water (oases) or where water comes close to the surface.
Here, the local pressure on natural resources can be intense. The
remaining populations of large mammals have been greatly reduced by
hunting for food and recreation. In recent years development projects
have started in the deserts of
Tunisia using irrigated
water pumped from underground aquifers. These schemes often lead to
soil degradation and salinization .
Hacettepe University (Yücekutlu, N. et al., 2011)
have reported that Saharan soil may have bio-available iron and also
some essential macro and micro nutrient elements suitable for use as
fertilizer for growing wheat.
People lived on the edge of the desert thousands of years ago since
the last ice age . The
Sahara was then a much wetter place than it is
today. Over 30,000 petroglyphs of river animals such as crocodiles
survive, with half found in the
Tassili n'Ajjer in southeast Algeria.
Fossils of dinosaurs , including
Ouranosaurus , have also been found here. The modern Sahara, though,
is not lush in vegetation, except in the
Nile Valley, at a few oases ,
and in the northern highlands, where Mediterranean plants such as the
olive tree are found to grow. It was long believed that the region had
been this way since about 1600 BCE, after shifts in the Earth\'s axis
increased temperatures and decreased precipitation, which led to the
abrupt desertification of
North Africa about 5,400 years ago.
However, this theory has recently been called into dispute, when
samples taken from several 7 million year old sand deposits led
scientists to reconsider the timeline for desertification.
Sahara pump theory and
Beni Isguen , a holy city surrounded by thick walls in the Algerian
Neolithic Era, before the onset of desertification around
9500 BCE, the central
Sudan had been a rich environment supporting a
large population ranging across what is now barren desert, like the
Wadi el-Qa'ab. By the 5th millennium BCE, the people who inhabited
what is now called
Nubia , were full participants in the "agricultural
revolution", living a settled lifestyle with domesticated plants and
animals. Saharan rock art of cattle and herdsmen suggests the presence
of a cattle cult like those found in
Sudan and other pastoral
societies in Africa today. Megaliths found at
Nabta Playa are overt
examples of probably the world's first known archaeoastronomy devices,
Stonehenge by some 2,000 years. This complexity, as
observed at Nabta Playa, and as expressed by different levels of
authority within the society there, likely formed the basis for the
structure of both the
Neolithic society at Nabta and the Old Kingdom
By 6000 BCE predynastic Egyptians in the southwestern corner of Egypt
were herding cattle and constructing large buildings. Subsistence in
organized and permanent settlements in predynastic
Egypt by the middle
of the 6th millennium BCE centered predominantly on cereal and animal
agriculture: cattle, goats, pigs and sheep. Metal objects replaced
prior ones of stone. Tanning of animal skins, pottery and weaving were
commonplace in this era also. There are indications of seasonal or
only temporary occupation of the
Al Fayyum in the 6th millennium BCE,
with food activities centering on fishing, hunting and food-gathering.
Stone arrowheads , knives and scrapers from the era are commonly
found. Burial items included pottery, jewelry, farming and hunting
equipment, and assorted foods including dried meat and fruit. Burial
in desert environments appears to enhance Egyptian preservation rites,
and the dead were buried facing due west.
By 3400 BCE, the
Sahara was as dry as it is today, due to reduced
precipitation and higher temperatures resulting from a shift in the
Earth's orbit. As a result of this aridification, it became a largely
impenetrable barrier to humans, with the remaining settlements mainly
being concentrated around the numerous oases that dot the landscape.
Little trade or commerce is known to have passed through the interior
in subsequent periods, the only major exception being the
The Nile, however, was impassable at several cataracts , making trade
and contact by boat difficult.
Further information: History of
The people of
Phoenicia , who flourished from 1200–800 BCE, created
a confederation of kingdoms across the entire
Sahara to Egypt. They
generally settled along the Mediterranean coast, as well as the
Sahara, among the people of ancient
Libya , who were the ancestors of
people who speak
Berber languages in
North Africa and the Sahara
today, including the
Tuareg of the central Sahara.
caravan. The French reported that the 1906 caravan numbered 20,000
The Phoenician alphabet seems to have been adopted by the ancient
Libyans of north Africa, and
Tifinagh is still used today by
Tuareg camel herders of the central Sahara.
Sometime between 633 BCE and 530 BCE,
Hanno the Navigator
Hanno the Navigator either
established or reinforced Phoenician colonies in Western Sahara, but
all ancient remains have vanished with virtually no trace.
By 500 BCE, Greeks arrived in the desert. Greek traders spread along
the eastern coast of the desert, establishing trading colonies along
Red Sea . The Carthaginians explored the Atlantic coast of the
desert, but the turbulence of the waters and the lack of markets
caused a lack of presence further south than modern Morocco.
Centralized states thus surrounded the desert on the north and east;
it remained outside the control of these states. Raids from the
Berber people of the desert were of constant concern to those
living on the edge of the desert.
Market on the main square of
An urban civilization, the
Garamantes , arose around 500 BCE in the
heart of the Sahara, in a valley that is now called the
Fezzan , Libya. The
Garamantes achieved this development by
digging tunnels far into the mountains flanking the valley to tap
fossil water and bring it to their fields. The
populous and strong, conquering their neighbors and capturing many
slaves (who were put to work extending the tunnels). The ancient
Greeks and the Romans knew of the
Garamantes and regarded them as
uncivilized nomads. However, they traded with them, and a Roman bath
has been found in the Garamantes' capital of Garama. Archaeologists
have found eight major towns and many other important settlements in
the Garamantes' territory. The Garamantes' civilization eventually
collapsed after they had depleted available water in the aquifers and
could no longer sustain the effort to extend the tunnels further into
Zawiya at the entrance of Taghirt,
Berber people occupied (and still occupy) much of the Sahara. The
Berbers built a prosperous empire in the heart of the
Tuareg nomads continue to inhabit and move across wide
Sahara surfaces to the present day.
Trans-Saharan trade and Islamization of
Byzantine Empire ruled the northern shores of the
Sahara from the
5th to the 7th centuries. After the Muslim conquest of Arabia,
specifically the Arabian peninsula, the Muslim conquest of North
Africa began in the mid-7th to early 8th centuries and Islamic
influence expanded rapidly on the Sahara. By the end of 641 all of
Egypt was in Muslim hands. Trade across the desert intensified, and a
significant slave trade crossed the desert. It has been estimated that
from the 10th to 19th centuries some 6,000 to 7,000 slaves were
transported north each year. The
Tuareg once controlled the
Sahara and its trade.
OTTOMAN TURKISH ERA
In the 16th century the northern fringe of the Sahara, such as
coastal regencies in present-day
Algeria and Tunisia, as well as some
parts of present-day Libya, together with the semi-autonomous kingdom
of Egypt, were occupied by the
Ottoman Empire . From 1517
Egypt was a
valued part of the Ottoman Empire, ownership of which provided the
Ottomans with control over the
Nile Valley, the east Mediterranean and
North Africa. The benefit of the
Ottoman Empire was the freedom of
movement for citizens and goods. Traders exploited the Ottoman land
routes to handle the spices, gold and silk from the East, manufactured
goods from Europe, and the slave and gold traffic from Africa. Arabic
continued as the local language and Islamic culture was much
Sahel and southern
Sahara regions were home to several
independent states or to roaming
European colonialism in the
Sahara began in the 19th century. France
conquered the regency of
Algiers from the Ottomans in 1830, and French
rule spread south from
Algeria and eastwards from
Senegal into the
Niger to include present-day Algeria, Chad,
Mali then French
Sudan including Timbuktu, Mauritania,
Morocco (1912), Niger, and
Tunisia (1881). By the beginning of the 20th century, the
trans-Saharan trade had clearly declined because goods were moved
through more modern and efficient means, such as airplanes, rather
than across the desert.
The French Colonial Empire was the dominant presence in the Sahara.
It established regular air links from
Toulouse (HQ of famed
Aéropostale ), to
Oran and over the
Timbuktu and West to
Dakar , as well as trans-
Sahara bus services run by La
Companie Transsaharienne (est. 1927). A remarkable film shot by
famous aviator Captain René Wauthier documents the first crossing by
a large truck convoy from
Algiers to Tchad, across the Sahara.
Egypt, under Muhammad Ali and his successors, conquered
Khartoum in 1823, and conquered
Darfur in 1874.
Egypt, including the Sudan, became a British protectorate in 1882.
Egypt and Britain lost control of the
Sudan from 1882 to 1898 as a
result of the
Mahdist War . After its capture by British troops in
Sudan became an Anglo-Egyptian condominium .
Spain captured present-day
Western Sahara after 1874, although Rio
del Oro remained largely under Sahrawi influence. In 1912, Italy
captured parts of what was to be named
Libya from the Ottomans. To
Roman Catholic religion in the desert, Pope Pius IX
appointed a delegate Apostolic of the
Sahara and the
Sudan in 1868;
later in the 19th century his jurisdiction was reorganized into the
Vicariate Apostolic of Sahara .
BREAKUP OF THE EMPIRES AND AFTERWARDS
A natural rock arch in south western
Libya The Sahara
Egypt became independent of Britain in 1936, although the
Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to keep troops in Egypt
and to maintain the British-Egyptian condominium in the Sudan. British
military forces were withdrawn in 1954.
Most of the Saharan states achieved independence after
World War II
World War II :
Libya in 1951; Morocco, Sudan, and
Tunisia in 1956; Chad, Mali,
Niger in 1960; and
Algeria in 1962. Spain withdrew
Western Sahara in 1975, and it was partitioned between Mauritania
Mauritania withdrew in 1979;
Morocco continues to hold
In the post-
World War II
World War II era, several mines and communities have
developed to utilize the desert's natural resources. These include
large deposits of oil and natural gas in
Algeria and Libya, and large
deposits of phosphates in
Morocco and Western Sahara.
A number of Trans-African highways have been proposed across the
Sahara, including the Cairo–
Dakar Highway along the Atlantic coast,
Trans-Sahara Highway from
Algiers on the Mediterranean to
Tripoli – Cape Town Highway from
N\'Djamena in Chad, and the
Cairo – Cape Town Highway which follows
the Nile. Each of these highways is partially complete, with
significant gaps and unpaved sections.
PEOPLE AND LANGUAGES
A 19th-century engraving of an Arab slave-trading caravan
transporting black African slaves across the Sahara.
The people of the
Sahara are of various origins. Among them the
Amaziɣ including the Turūq, various
Arabized Amaziɣ groups such as
Sahrawis , whose populations include the Znaga
, a tribe whose name is a remnant of the pre-historic Zenaga language
. Other major groups of people include the:
Nubians , Zaghawa
, Kanuri , Hausa , Songhai , Beja , and Fula/Fulani (French : Peul;
Fula : Fulɓe).
Arabic dialects are the most widely spoken languages in the Sahara.
Arabic, Berber and its variants now regrouped under the term Amazigh
(which includes the
Guanche language spoken by the original Berber
inhabitants of the Canary Islands) and Beja languages are part of the
Hamito-Semitic family. Unlike neighboring West Africa
and the central governments of the states that comprise the Sahara,
French language bears little relevance to inter-personal discourse
and commerce within the region, its people retaining staunch ethnic
and political affiliations with
Tuareg and Berber leaders and culture.
The legacy of the French colonial era administration is primarily
manifested in the territorial reorganization enacted by the Third and
Fourth republics, which engendered artificial political divisions
within a hitherto isolated and porous region. Diplomacy with local
clients was conducted primarily in Arabic, which was the traditional
language of bureaucratic affairs. Mediation of disputes and
inter-agency communication was served by interpreters contracted by
the French government, who, according to Keenan, "documented a space
of intercultural mediation," contributing much to preserving the
indigenous cultural identities in the region.
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* Definitions from Wiktionary
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* Travel guide from Wikivoyage