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Sahara

Day 27: Chinguetti

Chinguetti, Mauritania 
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With the owner of a one-room library in Chinguetti. In his case the family silver is the written word.
Michael Palin - SaharaLooking over the battlements at Fort Saganne, our French Legion lookalike hotel, as another hot day gets underway, I can see below me a network of lanes and low stone and plaster houses that could have been there for months or years, it's hard to tell. Their walls are uneven, often broken and collapsed into piles of rubble. A woman who has been peeing unselfconsciously in the sand goes back into her house. The front door is of corrugated metal, hanging from one hinge. Beyond is an area of wide sandy spaces with shops and long, low, concrete civic buildings. To one side stands the tall shell of the electricity generating station, its walls punctured by Polisario mortars twenty-three years ago and still unrepaired. But a half-mile or so beyond all that, stretched across a low hill and bordered by palm trees, old Chinguetti, with its assortment of towers and red-gold stone walls, stands out handsomely, like a mediaeval hill town.

From the battlements of Fort Saganne, Chinguetti, seventh holiest city of Islam, looks a place of substance and civility.

When we drive into the old town, across the bone-dry football pitch that occupies the flat plain between old and new Chinguetti, the reality is rather different. For a start, the taller and more spectacular of the two minarets turns out to be a water tower.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 27
  • Country/sea: Mauritania
  • Place: Chinguetti
  • Book page no: 92

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