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North Africa

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North Africa Collection

History Archive - North Africa Collection

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others[Like whom?] have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb ("West", The western part of Arab World).

The most commonly accepted definition includes Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.

North Africa includes a number of Spanish and Portuguese possessions, Plazas de soberania, Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands and Madeira.[2] The countries of North Africa share a common ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity that is unique to this region. Northwest Africa has been inhabited by Berbers since the beginning of recorded history, while the eastern part of North Africa has been home to the Egyptians.

Between the A.D. 600s and 1000s, Arabs from the Middle East swept across the region in a wave of Muslim conquest. These peoples, physically quite similar, formed a single population in many areas, as Berbers and Egyptians merged into Arabic and Muslim culture. This process of Arabization and Islamization has defined the cultural landscape of North Africa ever since.

Geography

North Africa has three main geographic features: the Sahara desert in the south, the Atlas Mountains in the west, and the Nile River and delta in the east. The Atlas Mountains extend across much of northern Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. These mountains are part of the fold mountain system that also runs through much of Southern Europe. They recede to the south and east, becoming a steppe landscape before meeting the Sahara desert, which covers more than 75 percent of the region. The tallest peaks are in the High Atlas range in south-central Morocco, which has many snow-capped peaks.

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South of the Atlas Mountains is the dry and barren expanse of the Sahara desert, which is the largest sand desert in the world. In places the desert is cut by irregular watercourses called wadis-streams that flow only after rainfalls but are usually dry. The Saharas major landforms include ergs, large seas of sand that sometimes form into huge dunes; the hammada, a level rocky plateau without soil or sand; and the reg, a level plain of gravel or small stones. The Sahara covers the southern part of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and most of Libya. Only two regions of Libya are outside the desert: Tripolitania in the northwest and Cyrenaica in the northeast. Most of Egypt is also desert, with the exception of the Nile River and the irrigated land along its banks. The Nile Valley forms a narrow fertile thread that runs along the length of the country.

Sheltered valleys in the Atlas Mountains, the Nile Valley and Delta, and the Mediterranean coast are the main sources of fertile farming land. A wide variety of valuable crops including cereals, rice and cotton, and woods such as cedar and cork, are grown. Typical Mediterranean crops, such as olives, figs, dates and citrus fruits, also thrive in these areas. The Nile Valley is particularly fertile, and most of the population in Egypt live close to the river. Elsewhere, irrigation is essential to improve crop yields on the desert margins.

People and Customs

The inhabitants of North Africa are roughly divided in a manner corresponding to the principal geographic regions of North Africa: the Maghreb, the Nile valley, and the Sahel. The Maghreb or western North Africa on the whole is believed to have been inhabited by Berbers since at least 10,000 B.C.,[19] while the eastern part of North Africa or the Nile Valley has mainly been home to the Egyptians.

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Ancient Egyptians record extensive contact in their Western desert with people that appear to have been Berber or proto-Berber. As the Tassili n'Ajjer and other rock art findings in the Sahara have shown, the Sahara also hosted various populations before its rapid desertification in 3500 B.C and even today continues to host small populations of nomadic trans-Saharan peoples.

The people of the Maghreb and the Sahara regions speak Berber languages and several varieties of Arabic and almost exclusively follow Islam. The Arabic and Berber languages are distantly related, both being members of the Afroasiatic language family. The Tuareg Berber languages are notably more conservative than those of the coastal cities.

Over the years, Berbers have been influenced by contact with other cultures: Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Europeans and Africans. The cultures of the Maghreb and the Sahara therefore combine indigenous Berber, Arab and elements from neighboring parts of Africa and beyond. In the Sahara, the distinction between sedentary oasis inhabitants and nomadic Bedouins and Tuaregs is particularly marked.

The diverse peoples of North Africa are usually categorized along ethno-linguistic lines. In the Maghreb, where Arab and Berber identities are often integrated, these lines can be blurred. Some Berber-speaking North Africans may identify as "Arab" depending on the social and political circumstances, although substantial numbers of Berbers (or Amazighen) have retained a distinct cultural identity which in the 20th century has been expressed as a clear ethnic identification with Berber history and language.

Arabic-speaking Northwest Africans, regardless of ethnic background, often identify with Arab history and culture and may share a common vision with other Arabs. This, however, may or may not exclude pride in and identification with Berber and/or other parts of their heritage. Berber political and cultural activists for their part, often referred to as Berberists, may view all Northwest Africans as principally Berber, whether they are primarily Berber- or Arabic-speaking.

Egyptians over the centuries have shifted their language from Egyptian (in its late form, varieties of Coptic) to modern Egyptian Arabic while retaining a sense of national identity that has historically set them apart from other people in the region. Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslim, although there is a significant minority of Coptic Christians.

Regional Sub-Divisions

Available Books

Related Images

Image Name
Notes in North Africa - Hog Shooting on the Banks of the Quad El Ahwena, in Tunisia (1862)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - An Old Street, Algiers (1906)
Costumes, Moeurs et Usages des Algeriens - Vue d'une partie de la Place d'Alger (1837)
Algiers: Being a Complete Picture of the Barbary States - A Moor (1817)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - Sunset (1906)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Interview with Mehmet Ali in His Palace at Alexandria (1855)
A Voyage to Abyssinia - View in the Neighbourhood of the River Tacazze (1814)
A Voyage to Abyssinia - Water Spouts Seen in the Mozambique Channel (1814)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - The Holy Tree of Metereah (1855)
A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa - Piper and Dancer, Tripoli and Dancing Woman Sockna (1821)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - The Zaouia of the Rue Tourbet el Bey, Tunis (1906)
A Voyage to Abyssinia - Assorted Figures (1814)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - Tunis (1906)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth [II] (1855)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - The Ancient Ports of Carthage (1906)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 3 - The Pyramids from Old Cairo (1809)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 2 - Ground Plan of Carli Cave (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - The Aqueduct of the Nile, from the Island of Rhoda, Cairo (1855)
The Cruelties of the Algerine Pirates - Christian Slavery at Algiers (II) (1816)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - The Arch of Trajan, Timgad (1906)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Jaffa, Looking South (1855)
Costumes, Moeurs et Usages des Algeriens - Un Camp Francais (1837)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 1 - The Governor General's Seat at Barrackpore (1809)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Guide, Tangier (1904)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Temple of Wady Dabod, Nubia (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - View from Under the Portico of Dayr-El-Medeeneh (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Upper Fountain of Siloam - Valley of Jehoshaphat (1855)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 1 - Pagoda at Conjeveram (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Lateral View of the Temple called the Typonaeum, at Dendera (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Fragment of the Great Colossus at the Menonium, Thebes (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Front Cover (1855)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 2 - Chart of Port Mornington (1809)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - Pagoda at Trinchicunum (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Jenin, Ancient Jezreel (1855)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - Mosque at Lucknow (1809)
Algiers: Being a Complete Picture of the Barbary States - Title Page (1817)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - The Pass of Atbara in Abyssinia (1809)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - A River of the Sahara (1906)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - The Arab Wedding, Hammam Meskoutine (1906)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - The Colossal Statues in the Plain of Thebes, seen during the Inundation of the Nile (1855)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - Calcutta (1809)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Goatherd (1904)
Morocco, Painted and Described - The Approach to Marrakesh (1904)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - Poonah (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Chapel of St. Saba (1855)
A Voyage to Abyssinia - View of the Government House on the Island of Mozambique (1814)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Bazaar, Marrakesh (1904)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Bab-El-Nasr, or Gate of Victory, and Mosque of El Hakim, Cairo (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Hebron (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Central Avenue of the Great Hall of Columns, Karnak (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Ascent to the Summit of Sinai (1855)
Costumes, Moeurs et Usages des Algeriens - Vue de Bone (1837)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 1 - Pagodas at Talicut (1809)
Narrative of a Ten Years Residence at Tripoli in Africa - Title Page (1816)
A Voyage to Abyssinia - View of the Mountain of Devra Damo (1814)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - Bougainvillaea, Algiers (1906)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Colossi at Wady Saboua (1855)
The Cruelties of the Algerine Pirates - Title Page (1816)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Obelisk of On (1855)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Patriarch (1904)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Gateway, Marrakesh (1904)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 1 - Peons of Mysore [I] (1809)
A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa - Triumphal Arch, Tripoli (1821)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - El Khasne (1855)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Shepherd, Cape Spartel (1904)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Part of the Hall of Columns at Karnak, Seen from Throughout (1855)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - The Town of Dixan in Abyssinia (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Front Cover (1855)
Morocco, Painted and Described - A Minstrel (1904)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - The Armorial Engsigns of Jerusalem (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Ramla, Ancient Arimathea (1855)
A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa - Camel Conveying a Bride to Her Husband (1821)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Temple of Tafa, in Nubia (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Tomb of St. James (1855)
Costumes, Moeurs et Usages des Algeriens - Un Marabout (1837)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 3 - Abyssinian Young Priest, Woodcutter, Galla Playing on the Pipe (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - General View of the Ruins of Luxor, from the Nile (1855)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 1 - Water-Fall at French Hoek (1809)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - The Gates of the Desert (1906)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - The Dead Sea, Looking Towards Moab (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - The Damascus Gate (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - View on the Nile. Isle of Rhoda and the Ferry of Geezeh (1855)
Morocco, Painted and Described - Selling Grain in Mogador (1904)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Ruins of Erment, Ancient Hermontis, Upper Egypt (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Mount Hor, from the Cliffs Encircling Petra (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - The Nilometer on the Isle of Rhoda, Cairo (1855)
Morocco, Painted and Described - In Tangier (1904)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Gaza (1855)
Twenty-Four Views Taken in St. Helena, the Cape, India, Ceylon, Abyssinia, and Egypt - The Mountains of Samayut (1809)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Island of Graia, Gulf of Akaba (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Citadel of Sidon (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Siout (1855)
Morocco, Painted and Described - Coming from the Mosque, Hanchen (1904)
Costumes, Moeurs et Usages des Algeriens - Construction des Maisons de Barbarie (1837)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 1 & 2 - Portrait of David Roberts (1855)
Algeria and Tunis, Painted and Described - A Street of Arches, Tunis (1906)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 3 - View of the Church of Hannes, on the Way to Axum (1809)
Morocco, Painted and Described - Selling Oranges (1904)
Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt Vol. 2 - View of Massowah (1809)
Morocco, Painted and Described - Near a Well in the Town (1904)

Related Maps

Map Name
A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa - Map of a Route through the Regency of Tripoli and Kingdom of Fezzan (1821)
Narrative of a Ten Years Residence at Tripoli in Africa - Map of the Regencies of Tripoly and Tunis (1816)
Algiers: Being a Complete Picture of the Barbary States - Map of Barbary (1817)
Costumes, Moeurs et Usages des Algeriens - Carte de la Regence D'Alger (1837)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 3 & 4 - Map to Illustrate Mr. Robert's Route (1855)
The Holy Land : Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia Vols. 5 & 6 - Map of the Valley of the Nile (1855)

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