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Fezzan & the Sahara

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© Lonely Planet Publications
178

lonelyplanet.com

Fezzan &
the Sahara

Maps

The Sahara is nowhere more beautiful (or accessible) than in Libya. It’s possible that no
other Saharan country has such a stunning variety of desert landscapes.
In the far southwest, the Jebel Acacus is at once hauntingly beautiful and one of the
most important open-air galleries of prehistoric rock art on earth. Nearby, at least in relative
desert terms, are the unearthly rock formations of Wadi Meggedet. Further east, the sand
seas of Wan Caza, Murzuq and Ubari are enchanted showpieces of nature’s artistry. Hidden
among the dunes of the latter are the Ubari Lakes, which carry more than a whiff of fantasy.
And then there are the unique, black volcanic sands of Waw al-Namus or, as far southeast
as you can go in Libya, the gloriously remote wadis of Jebel al-Uweinat.
But this is also a land with a fascinating human history. The trade routes of the Libyan
Sahara had strong links to the great empires of central and west Africa. The oases of the
interior – small explosions of fertility in the midst of great expanses of desert wasteland –
spawned towns such as Ghat, which endure to this day, holding out as redoubts against
the vast Sahara. Improbably it was in the Fezzan, close to the modern settlement of Germa,
that the great civilisation of the Garamantians flourished and, for almost 1400 years, made
the desert bloom.
The Sahara is also the land of the Tuareg, the former nomads of the central Sahara. This
proud and hardy people, once the feared protectors and pillagers of caravans, continue to
inhabit the remotest of areas, eking out a harsh existence from animal husbandry, small
crops and, increasingly, tourism.

HIGHLIGHTS
Watch the sunset from above the south bank of Umm al-Maa (p188), one of the most beautiful of the Ubari Lakes
Explore the glorious rocky monoliths and millennia-old rock art of the Jebel Acacus (p198)

Escape the crowds amid the bizarre rock
formations of Wadi Meggedet (p193)
Get so far off the beaten track that there
is no track at Jebel al-Uweinat (p209)

Wadi
Meggedet
Jebel
Acacus

Find the perfect sand dune and thousands
more just like it in Idehan Murzuq (p203)
Contemplate a campfire alongside a silent Tuareg
while shooting stars light up the sky close to Wadi
Methkandoush (p204)

Umm al-Maa
Wadi Methkandoush
Idehan Murzuq

Waw al-Namus

Jebel al-Uweinat

exceptionally detailed, locates most rock art
sites and has commentary in both English
and French. It...
178
FEZZAN & THE SAHARA
lonelyplanet.com
Fezzan &
the Sahara
The Sahara is nowhere more beautiful (or accessible) than in Libya. It’s possible that no
other Saharan country has such a stunning variety of desert landscapes.
In the far southwest, the Jebel Acacus is at once hauntingly beautiful and one of the
most important open-air galleries of prehistoric rock art on earth. Nearby, at least in relative
desert terms, are the unearthly rock formations of Wadi Meggedet. Further east, the sand
seas of Wan Caza, Murzuq and Ubari are enchanted showpieces of nature’s artistry. Hidden
among the dunes of the latter are the Ubari Lakes, which carry more than a whiff of fantasy.
And then there are the unique, black volcanic sands of Waw al-Namus or, as far southeast
as you can go in Libya, the gloriously remote wadis of Jebel al-Uweinat.
But this is also a land with a fascinating human history. The trade routes of the Libyan
Sahara had strong links to the great empires of central and west Africa. The oases of the
interior – small explosions of fertility in the midst of great expanses of desert wasteland –
spawned towns such as Ghat, which endure to this day, holding out as redoubts against
the vast Sahara. Improbably it was in the Fezzan, close to the modern settlement of Germa,
that the great civilisation of the Garamantians flourished and, for almost 1400 years, made
the desert bloom.
The Sahara is also the land of the Tuareg, the former nomads of the central Sahara. This
proud and hardy people, once the feared protectors and pillagers of caravans, continue to
inhabit the remotest of areas, eking out a harsh existence from animal husbandry, small
crops and, increasingly, tourism.
Maps
Navigating the Sahara requires good maps
and an experienced local guide. A satellite-
generated Global Positioning System (GPS)
can also come in handy, but it’s no substi-
tute for good local knowledge – a GPS can
point you in the right direction but can’t tell
what lies in between, and hence the most
appropriate route.
Maps of the Sahara are notoriously in exact
and, with two exceptions, most are insuffi-
cient for navigating. For the Jebel Acacus,
the outstanding Jebel Acacus – Tourist Map
& Guide (1:100,000), published by EWP
(www
.ewpnet.com), is based on satellite maps, is
exceptionally detailed, locates most rock art
sites and has commentary in both English
and French. It can be purchased for UK£10
from West Col Productions
(
x
01491-681284; Copse
House, Goring Heath, Reading RG8 7SA, UK).
The Jebel Acacus map is based on the old
Russian survey maps (1:200,000) from the
1970s. They may be in Cyrillic but they’re
still the best maps for Saharan navigation.
They can be difficult to track down; try Stan-
fords
(
x
020-7836 1321; www.stanfords.co.uk).
The other, larger-scale maps that cover
the Sahara give a vaguely accurate picture
although few tracks or topographical fea-
tures are shown. The better-ones include
HIGHLIGHTS
Watch the sunset from above the south bank of Umm al-Maa ( p188 ), one of the most beauti-
ful of the Ubari Lakes
Explore the glorious rocky monoliths and millennia-old rock art of the Jebel Acacus ( p198 )
Discover the dark heart of the Sahara at
unforgettable Waw al-Namus ( p206 )
Escape the crowds amid the bizarre rock
formations of Wadi Meggedet ( p193 )
Get so far off the beaten track that there
is no track at Jebel al-Uweinat ( p209 )
Find the perfect sand dune and thousands
more just like it in Idehan Murzuq ( p203 )
Contemplate a campfire alongside a silent Tuareg
while shooting stars light up the sky close to Wadi
Methkandoush ( p204 )
Wadi Methkandoush
Meggedet
Wadi
Acacus
Jebel
Idehan Murzuq
Jebel al-Uweinat
Waw al-Namus
Umm al-Maa
THE ERA OF EUROPEAN EXPLORATION
Of the most important expeditions to discover the true course of the Niger or Nile Rivers, or to
reach fabled Timbuktu, many began in Tripoli and crossed the Libyan Sahara. With much of the
funding coming from Britain, the British Consulate in Tripoli (see p86 ) became the scheming hub
from which many of the following explorers radiated.
A theological student from Germany, Frederick Hornemann left Cairo in 1798 posing as a
Muslim in a caravan of merchants. He passed through Al-Jaghbub, Awjila and Tmissah before
reaching Murzuq on 17 November 1798, about 10 weeks after leaving Cairo. He became very
ill, was forced to stay in Murzuq for seven months, before finally joining a caravan to Katsina
(Nigeria). He wrote a letter to the Africa Association on 6 April 1799 in which he told them not
to begin searching for him for three years. He was never heard from again. To get a more de-
tailed picture of his Libyan adventures, read Journal of Frederick Hornemann’s Travels From Cairo
to Mourzouk 1797–8.
Hugh Clapperton, a naval lieutenant from Edinburgh, set out from Tripoli in early 1822. Ac-
companied by Walter Oudney and Dixon Denham, his plan was to reach the kingdom of Bornu
(Lake Chad). Clapperton was laid low by malaria in Murzuq but during his recovery made forays to
Germa and Ghat. The party laboured on to Lake Chad and two of them returned to tell the tale of
a journey that was ‘distressing beyond description to both camels and men’. Oudney died while
trying to reach the Niger River. His Journals are published as Difficult and Dangerous Roads.
Major Alexander Gordon Laing started out from Tripoli in 1825 headed for Timbuktu. His
route took him through Ghadames and then across the Algerian Sahara. He was the first Western
traveller to reach the former city of riches, but was murdered soon after leaving Timbuktu on his
return journey. His notes were never found.
Travelling under the banner of the British Bible Society, James Richardson left Tripoli in August
1845 and travelled from Ghadames due south to Ghat, where he was warmly welcomed by the
sultan who presented him with gifts for Queen Victoria. His second expedition, in 1850 on behalf
of the British Government, included a young Heinrich Barth (see below). Richardson was, however,
a difficult man and the party members travelled separately and slept in separate camps. Barth
and Richardson travelled together to Murzuq and Ghat before going their separate ways.
Arguably the doyenne of European Saharan explorers, most of Heinrich Barth’s travels from
1849 to 1855 took him beyond Libya, especially to Agadez and Timbuktu. He was one of the
first Europeans to report rock carvings in the Tassili-n-Ajjer, very close to the Jebel Acacus. But
he nearly didn’t make it that far (see The Legends of Kaf Ajnoun, p194 ).
Alexandrine Tinné, a wealthy Dutch heiress, arrived in Murzuq in 1869 with a large caravan (she
travelled in style) and a bodyguard of two Dutch sailors. An Ahaggar Tuareg chieftain promised
to escort her from Murzuq to Ghat, but a few days into the journey he attacked her, slashed off
her hand and left her to slowly bleed to death.
FEZZAN & THE SAHARA
FEZZAN & THE SAHARA •• Maps 179
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