Lecture 3. The oasis civilization

This lecture introduces the oasis settlement as a genuine geographical, physical, architectural, social and urban model based on specific hydraulic systems showing the human ability to adapt to the harsh living conditions of arid regions. By focusing on the history of oases through number of examples, the lecture covers the stages of oasis development, its hydraulics, agriculture, nomadic and sedentary habitat. Their habitants developed a unique knowledge in water systems, including irrigation canals and water management techniques inherited from ancient Berber traditions, collecting rare water sources such as wadis and springs, underground aquifer extraction or draining, using know how transferred from Persians and Arabians. The oasis’s spatial and social organization is covered in the lecture, with an emphasis on the relations between water and earth, covering works and techniques related to these materials, such as earthen and brick architecture, water dividing and sharing infrastructures. Oases are human settlements in arid climates, and more specifically in desert regions. They are spaces artificially transformed by mankind to create the conditions making sustainable cultivation and life possible. They are found in most of the great desert regions of the world, in the Sahara, the Maghreb as well as the Sahel, the Middle East, in the southwest of Latin America and in Central Asia. The lecture is organized thematically around a number of case studies, chosen to be representative of oasis situations from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, and draws also learnings from examples in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania and Libya.

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