Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
and photos at Mauritanian guesthouses. This will
also allow me to consider together two aspects of
touristic sites, which, as Bell Dicks has already sug-
gested, are inseparable: visibility and visitability.
to the present, indifferent to cultural borders or
historical events, such as decolonization. The
Paris-Dakar rally - which has now recently
moved to South America because of attacks
that stopped the last rally from taking place 2 -
has naturally played an important role in divulg-
ing the attractions of the Mauritanian landscape.
Nevertheless, in order to understand the recent
development of touristic impulse, an apparently
less relevant event should be considered: the
making of Fort Sagan - a fi lm directed by Alain
Corneau in 1984 (Fig. 15.1).
The way in which this fi lm promoted
Mauritanian landscape and Mauritanian people,
staged or unstaged, would be another interest-
ing topic to develop here. However, I will take
another path. This is because Fort Sagan has
not only shaped Western representations of
Mauritania (as did the Paris-Dakar rally), but
also provided the fi rst infrastructural means to
launch a small burgeoning industry in the north
of Mauritania. Local memory of the origins of
tourism in Mauritania states that the fi rst local
tour company - the Adrar Voyages - was formed
from the remnants of automobiles and other
foreign engines, networks, ideas and expertise
left behind the making of Fort Sagan.
It was only 10 years later that the Maurita-
nian government began to control touristic
activities. This left enough time for informal
activities and businesses to rise and to mush-
room. Local people began to build lodges and
inns in the oasis to welcome the emergent routes
of meharists or walking tourists now crossing the
white dunes guided by Bedouins who had pre-
viously herded cattle or had been traders. The
number of tourists increased as the fi rst charter
fl ights began to land, every Sunday, in Attar, the
capital of the district of Adrar. During the tourist
season of 2004-2005 (from October to April)
9923 tourists of 39 nationalities (but mainly
French) landed in Attar. Numbers kept rising
until the attacks that justifi ed the Paris-Dakar
transfer to South America, in 2007.
Ouadane and its routes
Ouadane, a small oasis of some 2300 inhabit-
ants in the desolate Adrar, has recently entered
the touristic routes of the Mauritanian desert.
Ouadane belongs to the route of holy libraries -
along with Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata - and
shares with these other towns the symbolic capi-
tal of knowledge and religiosity gathered during
centuries of pilgrimage fl ow, coming from the
south on their way to Mecca. This symbolic cap-
ital, together with its architectonic materializa-
tion, has recently attracted the fi rst impulses of
patrimonialization in contemporary Mauritania.
It is true that Mauritania, and the Adrar in
particular, is rich in archaeological remains and
other heritage, most of it yet to be explored. Its
symbolic value was raised and charted by
romantic perambulations like those of Théodore
Monod and Odette du Pigaudeau and, of
course, Saint Éxupèry. Desert, ruins, enigmatic
stones, unexplored caves, pre-historic paintings
and Neolithic ateliers lost in the sand, maritime
fossils 500 miles away from the coast . . . All
seem to have been lying buried in the sand until
the fever of patrimonialization broke out in the
1990s. French colonization cared less about this
patrimony than, for instance, its Moroccan heri-
tage. After all, Mauritania, and particularly the
Adrar, in the north of the country, was seen mostly
as a military, sandy and harsh district of its Cen-
tral African (rhetorically less Arab) possessions.
But in due course, as culture became an impor-
tant resource all over the world, Ouadane,
Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata achieved the clas-
sifi cation of World Heritage (UNESCO, 1996), by
the hand of the Mauritanian Fondation Nationale
pour la Sauvegarde des Villes Anciennes .
Although colonial France did not invest
that much in this scattered heritage concealed in
Mauritania, its 'empty' and sandy space was
early on domesticated and charted with auto-
mobile rallies, which regularly crossed distance
and time, propelling modernity, continuing up
Spontaneous Museums
It is from Attar that the majority of tourists arrive
at Ouadane, walking, riding a camel or driving
2 And this clearly affected tourism fl uxes in Mauritania.
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