Chinguetti’s libraries are disappearing.
The ancient city in Mauritania in eastern Africa is losing a battle with the surrounding Sahara Desert, which is slowly threatening to bury not only Chinguetti but also its 13 libraries—some of which hold manuscripts that date to the 12th century.
The Washington Post recently published a fascinating interactive photo essay on Chinguetti’s plight. It’s both breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreaking. Details about the libraries’ future and their holdings, ranging from works on Islamic law to poetry and mathematics, are particularly distressing. The Post reports: “As the desert sand encroaches on the oasis city with every year, some historians worry the texts may not be protected much longer.
“Despite calls for the texts to be moved to more protected sanctuaries, Saif al Islam al Ahmed Mohmoud, one of the libraries’ overseers, told the BBC in 2020 that the manuscripts would be nothing without the libraries that hold them.
“’It’s impossible to give up your house, your leg or your eye and preserve them at the same time,’ he said. ‘This is our inheritance.’”
Feature photo: Ji-Elle, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons