Mauritania thrived in the middle ages, thanks to its positioning as a trade and transit hub. The constant movement of traders, tourists and pilgrims also meant the interaction of cultures, of which literature is a great part.
The sharing of books and religious texts resulted into the creation of great libraries in various towns, one of which is Chinguetti.
Established in 777 CE, Chinguetti was a trading town situated at the Adrar Plateau, in the Adrar Region of northern Mauritania. It was also where pilgrims gathered on their way to Mecca. It slowly rose to literary prominence as the pilgrims left their books behind, resulting in the building of small libraries to contain these texts.
A lot of these libraries were private including the 19th-century library which has been in the family of Sidi Ould Mohamed Habott for four generations. The library has more than 1400 manuscripts on different topics and from different time periods.
Today, only five of these libraries exist but are in grave danger due to the expansion of the Sahara Desert.
Fortunately, there have been measures to ensure the restoration of these libraries and the marking of the city as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the ways to protect the libraries from adverse effects.
Chinguetti and other ancient towns of Oudane, Tichitt and Oualata are currently managed by Mauritania’s National Foundation for the Preservation of Ancient Towns.