Taken from: La STAMPA of 05/07/2011
Appeal to the oases that are dying
In Africa as in the East have been the cradle and vehicle of civilization. Today deserts are likely to swallow them. The alarm of Pietro Laureano

The word immediately evokes an exotic postcard. Palm trees that break the monotony of the desert, impossible orchards between the dunes, groups of dromedaries at the time. The oasis has long been considered the exception of deserts, a miracle of nature. “The word is much older than postcard,” says Pietro Laureano, UNESCO consultant for arid areas and founder of the Center for Traditional Knowledge Studies. “It appears for the first time in Egypt, in the papyrus of the Old Kingdom, as uahat, which is still today the term by which the Arabs call the oases. Exoticism comes much later, from the surprise of the first western travelers who ventured out into the sand and stones. ”

The oasis, according to Laurean, is like miracles: it deceives the eye. “They look like natural phenomena; Instead the oases are almost always artificial. A cultural product, obtained thanks to a package of knowledge that has evolved and refined from prehistoric times. Today, the idea that oases are a man-made ecosystem is accepted by most scholars, but it’s hard to go into encyclopedias. In the UNESCO World Heritage list, several oases like Azgoui, Mauritania, cradle of the Almoravidian dynasty, are just as cultural landscapes. ” Laureates have been studying water systems for years in the arid areas of the globe. And it was the first to formulate the idea that the oases of African and Asian deserts thrive on sophisticated networks of drainage tunnels and water catchment. In Oasi Planet, a book-appeal that has just finished writing, Laureano goes further with a new thesis: oases would not be just a product, but a decisive cultural factor, which influenced the history of civilizations between Europe, Asia and Africa.

“I’m a man’s miracle. And today they are likely to disappear, “Laureano raises. When they are not cared for, the desert swallows them again. “Oases that have existed for millennia nowadays are in collapse. As an architecture, they need urgent restoration. ” From here the book is born, at the crossroads between the historical-geographic atlas and the cultural manifestation. It was funded by a program of the UNDP, the United Nations Development Agency. The edition in Arabic, English and French is edited by the Mohammed V Foundation, entitled to the former king of Morocco. “In Italian it will be available first on the Internet, then it will go to the library,” says the author. The project also includes a museum in Sijilmassa, a time-packed city, a stage on the golden path, south of the Atlas Mountains; Now its beautiful walls are heavily buried, its palm grove, caravan wonder, has dropped by half.

But if the oases are a human masterpiece, what time do they go back to? How did I get it? “Some originated at the end of the Neolithic, like that of Nul Lampta, Morocco, Tarik Lamtuni, the way of veiled men, a famous Tuareg track. Early Chinese emperors are also looking to control the Ganzhou corridor, among the ouces of Wuwei and Sozhou: these are the first commercial stairs on what will be the Silk Road. Or the oasis of Shabwa, in Yemen, which tells us about the myth of Arabia Felix, where important archaeological excavations are underway. And, of course, the western oases of Egypt, such as Siwa, Kharga, Dakhla, the first of which we have written news. The Egyptians considered the oases as a reserve of food in times of crisis, for example when the Nile delta area was occupied during the invasion of the peoples of the sea. ” The oasis system is developed parallel to that of the great hydroponic civilizations of Egypt and Sumer, India and China, according to Laureano research. Between the end of the Neolithic Age and the Early Age of Metals, man begins the domestication of dalmatian and dalmatian palm trees. “In the cold oases, like those of Gobi, they are replaced by poplar and camel. The trees serve to fix the ground, animals for communications, oases will always be an open system, a civilian transmitter. They are based on an alliance between nomads and sedentaries. Unlike the great despotical states, they are straightened by equal assemblies, such as the Greek polis. ” Around 1000 a. C. Beluchistan is the first underground galleries for collecting and distributing water that can guarantee the water reserves of oasis. In a short time the technique spreads along the caravan lanes. In Iran, tunnels are called qanat, in Algeria. “And the oases flourish. Some oasis cities like Samarkand will become cultural crowners. Others, such as Tamentit, in the Sahara, were the epicenter of the commercial empire of Jewish religious music communities in the fifth century BC. Even in smaller oases, people learn essential techniques such as creating dunes of protection through gratings made from dried palm branches. And to use nomadic plants that move in search of humidity. “

The “porthole of the desert,” the medieval maps that followed the oasis tracks resemble nautical charts. Dune instead of waves, palm trees instead of islands. In many periods, the volume of trade in caravan roads has to have surpassed that of sea routes. Oases in oasis pass goods and ideas, armies and religions. “The oases form a single large intercontinental network, where the streets of salt and the gold, silk and incense are interwoven. Buddhism reaches China from India through the oasis of the Silk Road. Sometimes they become hermitages, shelters, like Dunhuang where monks have carved caves in the crags with the images of the “thousand Buddha.” Or libraries of renowned libraries and universities, such as, in medieval times, Tumbuctou in Mali or Chinguetti in Mauritania. ”

In the caravans of the oases, the stories of the Thousand and One Night are heard and try to break the secret of making silk. “A proof that oases are artificial is that they are not found in the Australian and American deserts. With the exception of Baja California, Mexico, where the Jesuits, in the sixteenth century, managed to recreate a small network of palm-lined oases that still exist today. We will circumnavigate in Tucson at a conference next November, where a project will be launched, which provides for the establishment of a cold oasis in the Arizona desert. Great trades no longer go through the oases, but these remain a resource utilization model as well as a cultural treasure. We are in times of climate change. When an oasis dies, the desert is closer.