Niamey - Locals in Niger's historic city of Agadez are
optimistic that its inclusion on Unesco's list of World Heritage sites will
bring tourists back after years of unrest in the area drove visitors away from
its famed mudbrick buildings.
"The news has swept across the city like sand in the
desert. It's incredible, thank you Unesco!" Hadil, an Internet cafe
manager in Agadez, told AFP over the telephone from Niger's capital Niamey.
In bestowing Agadez's historical centre with the World
Heritage status on Saturday, Unesco said the city bears "witness to an
exceptional architectural tradition, based on sophisticated use of
mudbrick" which gives the city its ochre-coloured aspect.
"Our joy is immense and it is showing on many people's
faces. We've been waiting for this for a long time, and finally it has
happened. Agadez deserves this," official Moussa Ibrahim said.
In Niamey, Niger's culture ministry rejoiced in what it
described as a "great victory" after a "culmination of
Founded in the 15th and 16th century about a thousand
kilometres north of the capital, Agadez is renowned for its grand mosque and
27m-high minaret - the tallest ever built in mudbrick - as well
as the Sultan's Palace.
Characterised by an adobe architecture - unfired clay brick
obtained by sun drying - Agadez is in many ways reminiscent of the fabled
desert city of Timbuktu in neighbouring Mali.
But just like Timbuktu, which in 2012 fell into the hands of
Islamists before Malian and French forces flushed them out earlier this year,
the threat of violence and extremist rebels has too cast a dark shadow over
In its heyday in the 1980s, some say Agadez was one of the
most popular tourist destinations in Niger. But in the 1990s the city descended
into unrest on the back of Tuareg minority rebellions.
In recent years, the region has also been shaken by the
presence of al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists, who have carried out several
high-profile abductions - causing an already dwindling tourist flow to decline
On 23 May, over 20 people were killed when militants staged
twin suicide car bomb attacks on an Agadez army base and a French-run uranium
mine 200km north of the city. It was the first time that Agadez had been
targeted by such an attack.
Locals felt that the hope of reviving the city's tourism was
more distant that ever.
"Insecurity is a global scourge," said Mohamed
Anako, a former rebel who is now president of Agadez's regional council, adding
that they would have to "bend over backwards to get people to visit our
Niger's army has taken steps to secure the area and
dismantle illegal immigration rings set up in the city, but the region remains
vulnerable, lying wide open to the vast Saharan landscape.
Hopeful for the return of tourism
The World Heritage status "is the first good news for
Agadez" in more than two decades, said Ibrahim Maha, the head of a local
"Now, we all hope that this will be a strong signal to
attract tourists. We also expect a little boost from Unesco on that side of
things," he said.
Agadez Ahmed Moussa, an artisan who produces handicrafts,
said: "Our prayer is that this will help bring the tourists back."
Travel agencies are few and far between in the city, with
many agents shutting up shop long ago over insecurity fears - a bizarre twist
for a city whose name translates as "visit" in Tamasheq, a Tuareg
Agadez was "not chosen by chance" by the Tuaregs,
said Agali Mohamed, a native of the region who now lives in Niamey. "It's
a crossroads for the main trans-Saharan routes."
Nowadays, the historical centre - home to about 20 000
people - can best be described as a "sleeping beauty".
Magnificent brick buildings, many of them dilapidated, line
the city's narrow and winding streets.
As the call for prayer rang out from Agadez's impressive
minaret, one local looked up to admire the centuries-old architecture.
"It's a miracle that the local material framework has
been able to withstand time," he said.