Mauritania: holidays, climate, customs
|January 1||New Year|
|February March||Tabaski (Festival of Sacrifice)|
|February March||Islamic New Year|
|1st of May||Labor Day|
|25. May||Africa Day (anniversary of the founding of the OAU)|
|April May||Mouloud (Prophet’s Birthday)|
|November December||Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan)|
|November 28||National holiday|
Source: Countryaah – Mauritania Holidays
The dates for the Islamic holidays are calculated according to the lunar calendar and therefore shift every year. During the fasting month of Ramadan, which precedes the festival day Eid al-Fitr, Muslims do not eat during the day, but only after sunset. Many restaurants are therefore closed during the day. The festivals Eid al-Fitr and Tabaski last 2-10 days depending on the region.
Mauritania’s climate can be divided into three different climate zones. The coastal area, the southern part on the border with Senegal and the northern interior.
The temperatures on the coast are relatively mild. The daytime temperatures in summer are around 28-35 °C. Even in winter they don’t drop much more than around 20-29 °C. However, the temperatures around Nouakchott (capital) rise to around 28-34 °C in the winter months. In the summer months there is high humidity here. The Canarian Current brings cold air from the Atlantic, which often leads to fog formation on the coast.
Border with Senegal
In the southern part of the country it is much warmer. Here the daily temperatures in summer can rise to 42 °C. The warmest month is May, while the daytime temperatures drop to 33 °C in August and rise again to 37 °C in October. At night temperatures drop to 23-26 °C. In winter, temperatures fluctuate between 30-33 °C during the day and between 13-17 °C at night. The rainy season from July to October brings about 400 mm of precipitation.
In the inland there is a desert climate. The temperature differences between day and night can be very large here. The temperatures during the day often rise to 40 °C, sometimes even up to 50 °C. Precipitation falls only about 100 mm throughout the year, mostly in winter.
Greeting and intersexual contact
Salaam alaykum (Arabic: peace be upon you) is the traditional Muslim greeting in the country. It is considered very polite to use it even if foreigners are not expected to do so. Men and women are not allowed to touch each other to greet or say goodbye. Men do shake hands.
It should be kept in mind that many Mauritanians think that a (longer) look is a sexual invitation. Couples should avoid touching in public and not be surprised that it is customary in the country for men to hold hands and hug each other completely free. For female travelers, there is always no non-sexual reason to go into a private room alone with a man, even if it is an office or whatever. Observers will assume they have had sex and judge it accordingly.
In the Arab world, trading plays a major role in purchasing. A guideline for a real price is about one third to one half of the originally asked price. Therefore one should undercut the usually excessively inflated first price demand of the seller accordingly. However, haggling without the intention to buy is considered an insult to the trading partner.
For guests in an Islamic country, consideration for the local customs is required. Women in particular should pay attention to decent clothing. Beach clothing outside the bathing zone is taboo, and long pants are also recommended for men outside the hotel zones. Foreign women do not have to veil themselves in Mauritania, even if it is considered very respectful if you do it anyway. This gesture also saves women and couples from falling prey to unwelcome attention and minor tension. Because the more skin you show, the more negative or intrusive the reaction will be.
Taking photos of locals without their permission must be avoided at all costs, as the image of people is traditionally a taboo in Islamic countries.
Eating and drinking
During the fasting month of Ramadan it is better to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public. The sale and serving of alcohol except in the tourist hotels and restaurants is prohibited on Fridays and Ramadan. Drunkenness in public is strictly frowned upon in all Islamic countries, alcohol should only be consumed in public where it is served. It would also be grossly impolite to encourage a local to drink.
In Mauritania you eat with your right hand. The one on the left is reserved for the toilet and is considered unclean.
Non-Muslims are generally prohibited from entering mosques and madrasas in which the Friday sermon is still being held.
Homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are persecuted and punished in Mauritania. Homosexual acts are punishable by death in the country.
- Abbreviationfinder.org: Presents the way that MR stands for the nation of Mauritania as a two-letter acronym.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Chinguetti, Ouadane, Oualata and Tichitt – The Caravan Cities in the Sahara
In the 11th and 12th centuries a number of caravan cities were established at the junctions of the trade routes. They became centers of Islamic culture. Mosques, minarets, and apartment buildings were built in these cities. The houses have an inner courtyard that is shady.
The cities of Ouadane and Chinguetti were built on the Adrar Plateau in the 12th century. The ruins are well preserved. Below the Tagant Plateau is the city of Tichitt, which was also built in the 12th century. The settlement, Oualata, which was important for the salt and gold trade, is located on a plateau in the southeast of the country.
The caravan towns of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. Chinguetti has a library with valuable manuscripts and is one of the seven holy cities of Islam.
National Park The Banc d’Arguin National Park, which consists of numerous islands, is located on the Atlantic coast between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. In the park there are sand dunes, wetlands and numerous islands where migratory birds have their breeding grounds.
Over 2 million northern European migratory birds stop here at times. But many bird species are also at home here all year round – such as flamingos, broad-billed sand plovers, pelicans and terns. The park is one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the world.
The sea around the islands is rich in fish and rare species of turtles that are threatened with extinction still live in the sea. The Banc d’Arguin National Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1989.
The capital of the administrative region of the same name extends in the western Sahara in a date palm oasis. The economic center of the north of the country is the birthplace of the former Mauritanian President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya (born 1941), who ruled the country from 1984 to 2005. Atar is mostly used by tourists as a starting point for excursions, but with its old town (Ksar) and the old residential and craft district, it also offers interesting insights into the history and the present of the country.
The former capital of the Almoravids is now a sanctuary, as the tomb of Iman El-Hadrami is located there.
Chinguetti, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996 together with the caravan sites Ouadane, Oualata and Tichitt, has existed since the 13th century when it was launched at the crossroads of several Sahara caravan routes. The new establishment quickly developed into a central trading post, but also an important place of Islamic learning. Today the ancient city delights with its well-preserved ruins that go back to Chinguetti’s wedding. In addition to travelers interested in architecture, there are also Islamic scholars, because they particularly wanted to admire the libraries. In the old town alone there are five old libraries in which, among other things, Koran texts dating back to the Middle Ages are stored.
Néma Around 15,000 people live
in Néma, a town in southeast Mauritania on the border with Mali. The city is known as the end point of the Route de l’Espoir, the only major road in Mauritania that leads in a west-east direction. Near the city is Qualata, the former refuge for scholars.
The former Port-Étienne is the second largest city and the most important economic center of Mauritania. Around 84,000 people currently live in the city, which also has an international airport. The district with the largest population is Numerowat. The business district Nouadhibous is the Ville (French: city), which extends mainly on the Boulevard Médian and is determined by banks, shops and the police.
The capital of Mauritania is Nouakchott (Nuwahsut) with a population of about 800,000 (Foreign Office), but those who know the country speak of over 2 million residents. The city is located in the southwest of the country directly on the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is the absolute alternative to most large cities. There are only a few entertainment options such as cinemas, theaters or restaurants. The old town is well worth seeing for tourists. The place was built in 1960 on the foundations of an old Moorish village.
The historic town of Oualata, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996, together with Chinguetti, Ouadane and Tichitt, extends into the southeast of Mauritania and was once one of the most important trading centers for caravans. At that time it played a particularly important role in the gold and salt trade. Oualata also served as an important meeting point for travelers on their pilgrimage to Mecca. Today’s Oualata is rather sleepy, looks deserted and is only inhabited by just under 3,000 people. This is also due to the difficult accessibility of the city. But every year around 20 students from different countries make the way to Oualata to visit the ancient madrasa, the city’s renowned Islamic school. The house paintings in Oualata are particularly worth seeing.
The city, founded in 1680 by the Moors “Idawali”, is characterized by a very special architecture with geometric drawings. The largest palm grove in Mauritania is also located here.
Old Town (Ksar) of Atar
Here you can find buildings from the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Azoughui oasis was the capital of the Almoravids.
Avenue Gamal Abdel Nasser in Nouakchott
Anyone who is enthusiastic about the somewhat idiosyncratic design of the Mauritanian Wilhelminian era or would like to get to know it first should stick to Nouakchott’s Avenue Gamal Abdul Nasser. Architectural challenges such as the round insurance building and the peculiar judicial building, whose white roof was decorated with domes, rise up on the street.
The Touijinet fountain is well worth seeing and is surrounded by so-called diatoms, i.e. by fossil algae.
House ornaments in Choum and Tichit The ornaments typical of the Tagant desert are drawn by the local women with their fingers.
Hôpital de Kaédi
The regional hospital of Kaédi is located on the Senegal River. It is the largest hospital in the southern part of Mauritania – apart from the one in Nouakchott – and was honored with the so-called Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1995 because of its traditional construction. Indeed, the design by the Italian architect Fabrizio Carola internalizes Mauritanian architecture in an enchanting way. Many individual buildings stand side by side and are connected to one another via half-open corridors. The hospital was designed as a small West African village made up of various round huts (tukul). Overall, the area was built from 1981 to around 1989.
National Museum and Library in Nouakchott
The modern National Museum of the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott rises directly behind the Hotel Mercure on the street parallel to Avenue Gamal Abdul Nasser. It was financed by the People’s Republic of China and, in addition to the museum, also includes the city’s library. Archaeological finds are exhibited in the lower part of the building, and the ethnological collection can be viewed on the first floor. But you can save yourself the 500 UM entrance fee, because all in all you are back outside after about 30 minutes. Photography is also not permitted.
Mosques and churches
Great Mosque of Nouakchott
The Great Mosque in the city center of Nouakchott was built with financial support from Saudi Arabia. The most characteristic architectural element of this Islamic house of worship are the two towers that protrude from the Tevragh Zeina district. In front of the mosque there is a market that is one of the largest markets for cell phones of all kinds in Africa.
The impressive Chinguetti Mosque was established in the 13th or 14th century by the founders of the oasis town of Chinguetti as a place of worship. With its interesting minaret, the Islamic church has what is probably the oldest minaret still in use in the entire Muslim world. Together with the entire mosque, it is considered the national landmark of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. In the 1970s, the mosque was restored with the help of UNESCO.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Nouakchott
Although Mauritania is a country where Islam has the status of a state religion, there is a church in the capital, Nouakchott. The Cathedral of St. Joseph is the heart of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nouakchott, which has existed since 1965.
Université de Nouakchott
The University of Nouakchott is the only one in Mauritania. It was launched in 1981 and is currently attended by around 8,000 students. In addition to the university, the Mauritanian capital also has higher schools such as the National School of Administration and the National Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies.
Marché Capitale in Nouakchott
The Marché Capital spreads out near the National Museum and was housed in a two-storey building. It is best to join the colorful hustle and bustle in the late afternoon, because then all the dealers really have set up their stands. The colorful backdrop is also shaped by the many visitors who try to find the best and cheapest offer in all possible languages.
Ship graveyard of Nouadhibou
The gigantic ship graveyard in the eastern part of the Ras Nouadhibou peninsula near Nouadhibou is the final resting place for around 120 ships that go through the various stages of decay here, ailing and forgotten. Some of the once proud ships and boats float right in the water while others are wedged on the shore. Most of the wrecks, which are protected against the waves and currents of the Atlantic, are found in Cansado Bay, which extends to the southeast of the city. The ship cemetery was created because the authorities have allowed decommissioned ships and boats to be brought into the bays “to die” for years. Various domestic and foreign efforts to dissolve the environmentally harmful cemetery have so far failed.
Beaches of Nouakchott
The beaches, about three miles outside of Nouakchott, are some of the most popular attractions in the Mauritanian capital. One of them is often approached by fishing boats that sell their freshly caught fish every day. At this Port de Pêche you also get a very good impression of the very original way of catching fish in Mauritania. Swimming should be avoided, however, because the sea is treacherous and dangerous.
Natural beauties, national parks
This northern region consists of pink and brown plateaus on which sand dunes spread.
The surface and depth of the lake of Aleg is determined by the rainy season. If at the beginning of January it has a water depth of 1 to 2 meters and a surface area of around 2,500 hectares, this value changes at the end of the rainy season so that the Lac d’Aleg reaches a water depth of a maximum of 3 to 4 meters and a floodplain of up to 5,000 hectares. In the places where the water then withdraws, plants grow that are used to feed cattle and for agriculture. Along with the Senegal River, the Lac d’Aleg is Mauritania’s most important habitat for migratory birds. However, this habitat is endangered by agriculture.
National Park The Banc d’Arguin National Park, which consists of numerous islands, is located on the Atlantic coast between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou.
Diawling National Park
The Diawling National Park is located in the extreme southwest of Mauritania on the border with Senegal. The park, which was founded in 1991, covers an area of around 460 km², whereby it can be divided into a peripheral zone of 300 km² with sand dunes and a mangrove belt and a wetland area of 160 km².