Oualata is a small oasis town in Mauritania. It was an important caravan city in the 13th and 14th century, as the southern terminus of a trans-Saharan traderoute.
An important trans-Saharan route began at Sijilmasa and passed through Taghaza with its salt mines and ended at Oualata. The Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta used this route in 1352 on his way to the city of Mali, the capital of the Mali Empire. Ibn Battuta found the inhabitants of Oualata were Muslim and mainly Massufa, a section of the Senhaja. He was surprised by the great respect and independence that women enjoyed. He only gives a brief description of the town itself:
“My stay at Iwalatan (Oualata) lasted about fifty days; and I was shown honour and entertained by its inhabitants. It is an excessively hot place, and boasts a few small date-palms, in the shade of which they sow watermelons. Its water comes from underground waterbeds at that point, and there is plenty of mutton to be had.”
Oualata has its modern descriptions too – by other kind of explorers – photographers. Pascal Meunier is a photographer whose work I’ve covered before, but this time I am putting his photo series Oualata, a garden in the Sahara in the spotlight.
Sand almost smothered Oualata from the memory of men. The knell sounded for this caravan stage of Mauritania with the end of the trans-Saharian trade on which it once based its fortune. Isolated, ruined and forgotten, it has just won a formidable bet, that of its survival, thanks to the initiatives of a handful of unconditional ones, fallen under its spell.
all images © Pascal Muenier
For more of Meunier’s work, go to his official website.