"Taoudenni was a transit point for salt to be brought from mines in surrounding areas, on to Timbuktu and then further south and east. There are photos of ruins with the place name "Taoudenni" that call it a prison. I would really like to know more about the area, including the prison."
as I spend 80% of my time on Google Earth in the Sahara of West Africa, I will add some thoughts and info.
Salt Mining in the Sahara
Salt has been one of the most important material traded across the Sahara over the last centuries. Sometimes it was said to have been exchanged 1:1 with the aboundant Malian gold. The Malian King Mansa Musa
was apparently so rich that when he travelled through Cairo on his way to Mecca, the arrival of his caravan devalued the local currency.
Salt can be found in different area of the Sahara, especially in Mali and Niger. In the kmz file below you find at least the most important locations. They are mainly in two areas: Northern Mali and Northern Niger. The only two remaining large caravan routes that are still carrying salt are located in those countries. They are called Azalai and lead from Taoudenni to Timbuktu and from Bilma/Kaouar Oasis to Agadez. As far as I know, caravans are still moving along these routes, but cheap salt imports, armed conflict and vehicle transportation have significantly reduced the importance of camels.
Salt Mines in Mali
The most important on and the only one (I know of) still operating is the one in Taoudenni
. In the past there was a large deposit of salt north-west of Taoudenni
in a place called Taghaza
. Both locations were important stopping points for trans-saharan caravans from Sijilmasa
in Morocco to Timbuktu
. Check out the placemark for Taghaza
and you will see the remains of an ancient settlement. Ibn Battutta (14 Jh.) und Leo Africanus (16 Jh.) visited the place and decribed it as rather desolate place with bad well water and no food sources around 20 days south of Sijilmasa. Some more description can be found in this
travel report from 1986/87 (German, with pictures).
The trip from Taoudenni to Timbuktu has been off-limits for a decade now for tourists as Islamic State in the Maghreb, and more recently the Malian Jihadi seperatist made it impossible to travel across the desert. In the Lonely Planet West Africa from pre-2009 the trip was still explained and advice was given on how to arrange for the journey. A trip report (again in German, but with pictures) from the journey made by vehicle can be found here
(the last picture already shows the consequences of the insecurity).
Check out the book "Seasons of Sand" about the experience of Ernst Aebi, a Swiss guy settling in Araouane, a small place about 240km north of Timbuktu. It is worth the read!
Salt Mines in Niger
In northern Niger you have several places where salt is being mined, including Fachi, Bilma, Dirkou, Seguedine and Teguidda N'Tessoum. Except for Teguidda N'Tessoum, which has beautifully colourful salt pits, which you can explore in high resolution, the other locations are in what is called the Kaouar Oasis, a long depression with several settlements. Whereas in Mali the salt is carried in standard size slabs, the Niger salt is traded in cones or small plate-sized slabs.
Taoudenni prison was used to detain political dissidents and other convicts during President Moussa Traoré's time, as it was so far away that fleeing its wall would be a death sentence. There is another place like this still in use in northern Chad, called Koro Toro. The prison there is still used and has some high level detainees such as Baba Laddé, a major rebel leader in Chad/Central African Republic.
Other interesting places with placemark
Arbre de Ténéré: once the loneliest tree in the world
Djado: check out the "castle" on photos
Dirkou, Dao Timmi and Madama: major stopping points for migrants trying to reach the Mediterranean coast (check out Fabrizio Gatti's book "Bilal", where he travels undercover on the route)
Chegga: very remote Mauritanian fort
Enjoy and Greetings to everyone
PS: I have 16 placemarks in my Google Earth folder "once in a lifetime" which I want to visit one day. Chegga, Taoudenni and Djado are three of them.
Salt in the Sahara.kmz (3.74 KB)