Algeria Geography - The Plateaus of Constantina

Algeria Geography – The Plateaus of Constantina

Often the plateaus of Constantina have been included among the steppe plateaus, from which they are however clearly distinct.

At E. di Biscra and Hodna there are no more plateaus in the geological meaning of the word; the last stretches of the southern chain (Saharan Atlas) reach the last stretches of the northern chain (Tellian Atlas). The mountainous character is very pronounced; and here stands the most picturesque and highest massif in Algeria, the Aurès, which, rare thing, has kept its Latin name: Aurasius mons (height: 2329 meters). Although the filling of the closed basins has submerged the chain not a little, through the floods of the plateaus, although these are leveled, mountain rises that have great importance with respect to man can always be seen protruding nearby. In the rain map, which gives exact implications, much more favorable conditions are found than in the steppe plateaus proper; and even at the bottom of the basins the annual average is much higher than 350 millimeters. The largest part of the region receives over 400 millimeters, and large areas, such as the Aurès, receive over 500 millimeters.

Aurès has real mountain streams, where the water flows perpetually; and the whole northern part of the plateaus is linked to the Mediterranean hydrographic system: Oued el-Kebir, Seybouse, Megerda. Only in the center is there a strip of small salt lakes (Chott el-Beïda, Tarf). The beautiful phyto-geographical map of the Maire (Algiers 1925) shows how the zone of alpha and artemisia has become less dense and less vast, to the advantage of forest formations and the association with the zizyphus lotus. It is an intermediate region between the true steppe and the perfectly cultivable Tell; in fact, it has a past and a present of its own. At the time of Carthage it was Numidia, the country of nomads par excellence. In that period prior to the camel the nomadism of the Numidian knights was there attracted by the best conditions of the pastures and by the proximity of Carthage; and here the most beautiful monumental tombs of the Numidian kings have been found: the Medracen to the NE. of Batna, the tomb of Massinissa al Kroub, in S. di Costantina.

The Roman peace completely eliminated the Numidians, of which it retained only the name. Roman Numidia was a country of large rural properties, an exporter of olive oil and with numerous cities, of which Timgad is the best restored: Lambesis, garrison of the III legion, Theveste, today Tebessa, Madaura, homeland of Apuleius, today Mdaourouch, etc. The ruins of these cities have remained in a perfect state of conservation, because they were set on fire and looted, but they were never rebuilt. Urban life and agricultural life did not survive the Roman peace.

Nomadism was reconstituted, but it was no longer the great military and sovereign nomadism of the Numidians. The introduction of the camel had changed the general conditions of life and widened the horizon of the nomad. Only further west, on the steppe plateaus, did the great nomadic camel driver find the most favorable conditions for his existence; and there the descendants of the ancient Numidians had a predominant place.

They are called Chaouïa (Sh ā wiyah), that is “sheep herders”; this does not mean that they are the great Algerian producers of wool, but simply that the sheep, an animal of poor people, constitutes their only livestock; and indeed they have neither camels nor horses, which are noble animals. While the lack of beasts of burden would be enough to prevent them from the great distant excursions of entire tribes, which form the basis of the great nomadism, the excursions themselves are not required by the nature of the country. The Chaouïa are nomads with short itineraries, who, according to the seasons, move from the plain to the always nearby mountain. Although they are equipped with tents, they also have villages, the construction of which, in a certain respect, is characteristic. Each village has its own guelaa (qalah), common warehouse, in which each family holds its poor provisions; this warehouse is not only fortified, but is also located in an almost inaccessible position, so that it does not need men to defend it; this circumstance that gives an idea of ​​the Chaouïa life: for months the village remains without residents, but the population never commits the imprudence of leaving so much that the common reserves remain entrusted only to the custody of a well-closed warehouse.

According to Directoryaah, the characteristics of the mountain are found mainly in the Aurès. The high valleys of the Oued Abdi and the Oued el Abiod constitute an absolutely isolated world, which is in communication with the outside only by the narrow Tiratimin pass. But the Chaouïa extend to N. as far as the gates of Constantina and Souk-Ahras, and reach E. as far as the proximity of the Tunisian border. They have preserved the Berber dialect.

In all parts of the Maghreb, where small transhumance has prevailed (for example, among the Berābers of Morocco), the comminution of public life into very small powerless groups, coupled with the individual energy of man, has given rise to a degree of more pronounced barbarism, to an isolation in the midst of general life, which, through the middle age, has lasted until the present. This character is observed above all in the Aurès; the fact that the past is more alive than ever here draws the curiosity of tourists and the attention of scientists to it.

Up to now, France is represented in the Aurès by its administrators and by truckable roads of very recent construction. On the other hand, the high plains to the North. dell’Aurès are crossed by a network of railway lines. The great Constantina-Biscra line for Batna crosses them from the N. to the South. in all their width. Tebessa is joined to Tell by two other lines: Tebessa-Costantina and Tebessa-Souk-Ahras. Khenchela (the ancient Mascula) is served by a branch. Along the railways certain names of villages, such as Canrobert, Auguste Comte, etc. reveal official colonization; but one gets the impression that in these places it has not yet obtained the results obtained elsewhere. Much remains to be done in order to restore the economic prosperity of Roman Numidia to the Chaouïa region.

Algeria Geography - The Plateaus of Constantina