Berriane, named Ait Iberguen in Berber, was founded in 1690. It is 39 km north to the pentapolis. It has much less character than the cities of the pentapolis but when you drive from Algiers, which is usually the case, unless you have driven across the Sahara, it is the fist city of the M'Zab that you encounter.
The cemetery appears in the foreground. Most graves are marked by a small standing stone (look at third photo, a close up) but some of them are marked by a small monument that looks like the summit of the M'Zab minarets, with four pinnacles, one on each angle.
As well as in Melika, the first houses act as a city wall. In Bounoura, they have been built directly on the rocks and boulder that make the bank of oued M'zab. This gives a special look at Bounoura and in some ways, these tall houses remind of Yemen.
No foreigner is allowed into the city without being accompanied by a citizen.
No foreigner can spend the night in the city.
The city gate used to be closed at dusk, after the muezzin had called for foreigners to go out of the city. This is not true anymore and the gates remain open all night long but nevertheless, the ban of foreigners remains.
Note that foreigner means foreigner to the city. Tourists from Algiers must for example hire a guide.
If ever you trespassed the gate without a guide, the children would have soon prevented you to go any further!
If you enlarge de picture, you can see that there are already two children watching. As I was a few meters ahead from the guide, he thought we had none and he is making signs "no, no, no"!
As Beni Isguen is Holy city, you will find at the gate of the city a poster that shows how you must be clothed to be allowed to come in :
no short, no dog, no photo (in many places, not everywhere)
legs and arms covered.
These are about the requirements to be allowed into any religious place.
The first photo shows the view that you get when you are on the road from Algiers to El Goléa. In the foreground, the Holy city of Beni Isguen. On the right, in the background Melika, another Holy city. In the center, in the background, the palm grove of Beni Isguen, then Ghardaïa, and even farther in the background, the palm grove of Ghardaïa.
The second photo was taken from a different place, also from the main road, and focuses on Beni Isguen and its city wall. The oldest part is on the hill while the newest part is on the right.
If you enlarge the first photo, you might wonder what is this landscape with scattered tuft and stones. The stones do not look "natural" as most are standing. This is actually a Mozabite cemetery. It should be the cemetery of Ghardaïa. Each standing stone corresponds to a grave.
The second photo represents another cemetery in the M'Zab, which should be the cemetery of Melika. The ground is more rocky and here, each grave is identified by a pottery.
Bou Noura La Lumineuse (the Shining), is called At Bounour in Berber. It was founded in 1046 and is the second oldest city of the M'Zab after El Ateuf. It stands on a gentle hill, not so steep as Beni Isguen or Melika, on the other side of Oued M'Zab.
The main feature to visit in Melika is the cemetery. As can be seen on the photo, the mosque of the cemetery is a digest of the typical architecture of the M'Zab: no straight lines, no plane surfaces, only smooth curves. This is an architecture of harmony.
Melika is no more but has been a Holly city as its cemetery hosts the tomb of Sidi Aïssa and his family.
Melika stands on a promontory and can be seen from different sides. As every city in the M'zab, it has a minaret and a watchtower. The minaret has the same style than in Beni Isguen but the watchtower seems to have been repaired recently and has not the same look the in Beni Isguen.
Mélika, the Queen, named Atemlichet in Berber, was founded in 1350. It has not kept a real a city wall as Beni Isguen but the houses built at the periphery of the city act almost as a city wall as can be seen on the photos.
Wealthy citizens of Beni Isguen own a second house, in the Palmeraie. This is their Summer house, where they live when it is too hot in the city. At the Tourist office of Ghardaïa, you can rent a Palmeraie house for one or several nights. We did it once and this is a must. The photos show the inner yard. The inside (sorry no photos) is whitewashed, everything is smooth, nothing straight. No furniture but hollows in the walls, acting as shelf, masoned benches at the foot of a wall. No angles anywhere.
In the Palmeraie (Palm grove) of Beni Isguen, the barrage (dam) is famous. It is not straight but was built in a sinuous design, centuries ago. It has been shown that this was the shape that was the strongest to resist to the weight of the water, when there is a flood. When there are heavy rains, water will flow on top of the barrage but a great deal will be kept for the irrigation of the Palmeraie.
The whole M'Zab is crisscrossed by a network of "foggara". They are subterranean galleries that, in some places, can be 30 or 40 meters underneath the soil surface. They have a gentle slope of a few millimeters per meter and collect subterranean water. Smaller foggara allow only to crawl. They feed larger foggaras. The largest, such as the one shown in the photo are almost man's height.
What is amazing is that, when they were built, 10 centuries ago, the builders could reach such a precision in the design.
The minaret is even more impressive when you climb the narrow passages from the lowest part of the city. Notice that the terrace of each house has water exhausts flowing over the middle of the passage. Spring rains can be abundant and might ruin the terraces.
The minaret of the mosque stands almost in the center of the city. It has the characteristic shape of a M'zab mosque: a kind of very steep pyramid without any opening except near the summit. On top, four pinnacles, one at each corner.