Ghardaïa (Arabic: غرداية) is the capital city of Ghardaïa Province, Algeria. The commune of Ghardaïa has a population of 93,423 according to the 2008 census, up from 87,599 in 1998,with an annual growth rate of
0.7%. It is located in northern-central Algeria in the Sahara Desert and lies along the left bank of the Wadi
Mzab. The M'zab valley in the Ghardaïa Province (Wilaya) was inscribed under the
UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982, as a cultural property evaluated under the criteria II ( for
its settlement having an impact on urban planning even to the present century), III (for its Ibadi cultural values), and V (a settlement culture which has prevailed to the present century).
Ghardaïa is part of a pentapolis, a hilltop city amongst four others, built almost a thousand years ago in the M’Zab valley. It was founded by the Mozabites, a Muslim Ibadi sect of non-Arabic Muslims, including the Berbers. It is a major centre of date production and the manufacture of rugs and cloths. Divided into three walled sectors, it is a fortified town. At the centre is the historical Mʾzabite area, with a pyramid-style mosque and an arcaded square. Distinctive white, pink, and red houses, made of sand, clay and gypsum, rise in terraces and arcades. In her 1963 book, La force des choses the French existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir described Ghardaïa as "a Cubist painting beautifully constructed".
The name of Ghardaïa has its origins in a female saint named Daïa who lived in a cave (ghār) in the area before it blossomed into a town inhabited by Kharijite Muslims who came to escape persecution from Orthodox Muslims in the north.
Alternatively, Ghardaïa's name may be derived from the Tamazight word Tagherdayt meaning the castle.
The M'Zab valley, in limestone plateau, as inscribed under the UNESCO Heritage List, is a unique conglomeration of five cities confined in area of 75 km² situated 600 km to the south of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. Original architecture of the semi desert valley is dated to early 11th century ascribed to the Ibadis with their cultural identity originally traced to the Maghreb who had their capital at Tahert as an Ibadi Kingdom. They were forced to leave Tahert consequent to a devastating fire in 909 (it is reported that destruction was caused by the founder of the (Shi'ite) Fatimid Dynasty). They first moved to Sedrata and finally to M'Zab valley. They settled in five fortified villages located on rocky outcrops, known locally as “Kosars”, even though they could have lived in one larger village encompassing all the five, which were planned with meticulous details to precise layouts defined by set principles of community living within a defensive environment. Each village was planned in diverse topography comprising a small island, a ridge, a hilltop, a peak and a recess. The villages were fortified in such a manner that they were inaccessible to the nomadic groups. The five villages set up with identical planning concepts were Ghardaïa, Melika, Beni Isguen, Bou Noura and El Atteuf. The identical “miniature citadels” as they are termed had each their own mosque with minaret functioning as watch towers, houses built around the mosque in concentric circles and surrounded by a high walls (extending up to the ramparts). which together gave the feel of a fortress to each village. The mosque also provided for storage of grains and arms for defence. However, during the summer season a they migrated to a "citadel" outside the fortified villages, in an informal setting of artificial palm grove, a cemetery and a mosque.
Ghardaïa, as a village, was established in the 11th century, it was developed into a town by Kharijite Muslims who came to Ghardaïa as a haven to escape the persecution from Orthodox Muslims in the north. The ancient ksar of Metlili-Chaamba was founded by Tamer and Trif in the 12th century and is inhabited by the Chaamba, descendants of the Beni-Mansour Souleima Ben Medina (Saudi Arabia), a collection of tribes among whom are the Ouled Allouche, the Ouled Abdelkader, the Chorfa, the Almorabitines (descendants of the Prophet of Islam Mohammed), the Zouas, and the Beni Beni Brahim or Merzoug. The village of Berriane was built in 1679 and historically was a place of conflict between the Arabs and Berbers and Mozabites.
These people revolted against French colonialism in the popular uprisings of 1864 at Bouchoucha. Colonel Alphonse Ferjeux Didier, who commanded Ghardaïa from 1883 to 1886 and again from 1890 to 1895, was said to be deeply understanding of the politics of the Mzab peoples.
In recent years, Ghardaïa has periodically been the scene of violent confrontations between the Mozabite and Arab communities.