The Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata (Mauritania) were founded in the 11th and 12th centuries to serve the caravans crossing the Sahara, these trading and religious centres became rich and brilliant centres of Islamic culture. The urban fabric that evolved between the 12th and 16th centuries was preserved with its typical houses with patios crowded along narrow streets around a mosque with a square minaret. They illustrate a traditional way of life centred on the nomadic culture of the people of the western Sahara.
In May 2000 the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) lent 5 million US dollars to the Mauritanian government for the Safeguarding and Valorisation of Mauritanian Cultural Heritage Project (PSVPCM).
This project aimed to define and implement a coherent strategy for the conservation and use of Mauritanian cultural heritage. It included an “ancient cities” component on conservation and management of historic centres. A protocol concerning the implementation of activities aiming to safeguard Mauritanian cultural heritage, which was signed in June 2000 between UNESCO, the World Bank and the Mauritanian government, allowed to supervise the project. Between 2001 and 2002, a series missions were carried out by World Heritage Centre specialists and by experts, some of which were provided in the framework of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, in order to define firstly a strategy for safeguarding the four Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1996, and secondly, following the request of the Mauritian government, and with technical and financial support from the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, to design a project-draft for the elaboration of master plans for the four ksour, which received the support of an architecte des bâtiments de France. Two design consultancy firms, one French and one Mauritian, where chosen to carry out the work which started in July 2003 and was completed in March 2005. During the Pilot-project activities, municipal technicians were trained for the follow-up of rehabilitation and construction work inside historic centres, the use of traditional building techniques and for the implementation of the recommendations contained in the master plans. In order to guarantee the follow-up of the actions and the transmission of know-how, municipal advice and counselling antennas were installed in the buildings restored during the on-site training.
The exemplary nature of this Pilot-project was enhanced by the organisation of the Mauritian World Heritage Cities days, from 11 to 15 April 2005 at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France. This initiative, inaugurated in the presence of the President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, welcomed an international conference, a round table of partners, the screening of a documentary film, and an itinerant exhibition. This event was also the opportunity to introduce the Cities of Memory photographic collection, ancient ksour of Mauritania, which presents the works carried out within the framework of the Pilot-project. The organisation of the Conference and the publication of this work also benefitted from the support of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement.