This Unesco World Heritage site covers an area of about 80,000 sq km. Tassili N’Ajjer means ‘Plateau of Chasms’; and the chasms, canyons and stone forests of this strange, prehistoric landscape, formed by thousand of years of volcanic activity and erosion, are home to a dramatic open-air art exhibition. Imprinted in hidden caves and on rock faces are some 15,000 rock paintings that tell the story of the evolution of human and animal life in this part of the Sahara. They recall times when the Sahara was green and fertile; when men hunted in the valleys and lion, elephant, antelope and buffalo roamed the plains. They also attest to the more ‘recent’ history of the Sahara and you’ll see illustrations of horses, chariots and dromedaries. It’s thought that the first human beings settled here more than two million years ago and that the Tassili rock paintings date back as far as 7000 or 6000 BC. For in-depth information on Algeria’s rock art, see p80.
The existence of such paintings would be reason enough to visit, but the surrounding landscape makes a stay here even more incredible. The majority of the paintings are up on a plateau, some 600m above Djanet, and can only be reached on foot it’s a four hour climb to the top, scrambling up rock faces and through narrow, shady canyons.
Traversed for many centuries by nomad camel caravans bearing cloth, salt and spices, the Tassili du Hoggar, part of the Ahaggar National Park, is a set of sedimentary rock plateaus that begins approximately 300km south of Tamanrasset and extends to the Niger border. The plateau is characterized by some of the most haunting landscapes imaginable, presenting a mind-boggling series of photo opportunities. Whale-back boulders and craggy mountains share billing space with enormous figures of sculpted rock; squat round hulks stand alone like giant solitary mushrooms; and sharp pinnacles shoot to breathtaking heights, clinging together in clusters to form bizarre city skylines. Great swaths of creamy sand fill the spaces in between.