In southeast Tunisia lies a landscape marriage between generations of subsistence human activity and the desert ecosystem; as artificial as the wine and olive regions of Tuscany, yet seemingly just as natural.
I looked down into desert valleys shrouded in fog before entering an alien stack of mailbox-shaped silos built of rock and mud called Ksar Ouled Soltane.
There at the entrance, I was greeted by three desert men stoking a fire and eating a breakfast of baguette and olive oil. They were getting ready to repair the silos of the strange beehive-like building. They told me they preferred their old town to the new ones. “It’s better to be in nature”.
That fine rural gentleman’s opinion was to be like a theme for the rest of the journey through the Dahar, a cultural region of rocky foothills and desert valleys that has offered a uniquely bountiful life for the Amazigh, or Berber people of modern-day Tunisia, and visiting Arabs for thousands of years.
The break in monotonous desert which surrounds the Dahar on three sides allows for not only the cultivation of the ubiquitous date palm, but also olives, as well as fodder for goats and sheep, and even desert grains, all of which have sustained large populations of the semi-nomadic Amazigh since Roman times.
Their citadels, sometimes hundreds of years old, crown hills in piles of crumbling buildings, and along canyon shelves are seen doorways cut into the stone which tell a tale of who-knows-how-many generations of passing feet sheltering from desert sun and sand blasts.
All this can be divined from the road, but to experience the Dahar properly one has to put their feet on the land.