The linking the Middle East to Southern Europe.Today,

The Atlas Mountains are a mountain chain located in North Africa.

In this lesson, you will learn geologic facts in addition to important historical events tied to the mountain chain.

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Where are the Atlas Mountains?

Besides having a great name, the Atlas Mountains are an important geographic area steeped in history. The Atlas mountain chain stretches across North Africa through Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.

The mountains formed over millions of years, gaining their present-day shape when the African continent collided with the Iberian peninsula, in what is known as a convergent plate boundary.Because of their extensive range, the Atlas Mountains are divided into seven different sub-regions, each with their own unique ecosystem. Overall, however, the Atlas can be categorized as a semi-arid mountain range between the tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean/Mediterranean and the massive Sahara Desert. The highest mountain in the Atlas is Mount Toubkal. Mount Toubkal measures nearly 14,000 feet, and is located in southwestern Morocco.

Atlas Mountains
Atlas Mountains

Plants and Animals of the Atlas Mountains

Argan Tree
Berber herders
Berber herders

Later, the Berber region was known as Maghreb, an Arabic name given during the Islamic conquest of the Middle Ages during the 1st millennium AD. The Atlas Mountains quickly became a key holding for various Islamic empires for centuries, linking the Middle East to Southern Europe.Today, Berber culture is a mix of indigenous mountain traditions and Islam. Many Berber villages exist as they have for centuries, with small huts located on mountain ridges, surrounded by intricate terraced fields which make maximum use out of the poor mountain soil. Herding is also an essential livelihood of the Berbers, which takes advantage of the open mountain landscape.More recently, the Atlas Mountain region was controlled by the French during the colonial era, and the French language can be heard throughout the region.

Berbers still fight racial prejudices for their rural lifestyle, and are often differentiated from cosmopolitan Arabic populations in surrounding cities.

Contemporary Issues facing the Atlas Mountains

Today, the traditional Berber way of life is slowly giving way to globalization and the technological age. The most dire issue facing the Atlas Mountains is desertification, which has occurred over centuries but is believed to be rapidly accelerating due to climate change.

The Sahara Desert is expanding throughout the region, and population increase has made living in the region considerably more difficult.One issue specifically affecting the Atlas Mountains is increased animal herding to keep up with demand for meat in surrounding cities. This has caused erosion and further degradation of soils. As a result, many of the endemic plants and animals of the Atlas region, such as the Argan Tree and the jackal, are now endangered. One benefit to the area is increased ecotourism, as travelers flock to the region for a chance to climb the mountains, live with the Berbers, and take in the magnificent Atlas landscape.

Lesson Summary

The Atlas Mountains are a large mountain range located in northwest Africa, within modern-day Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia.

The combination of Mediterranean and Saharan environments creates a unique, semi-arid landscape which is home to hearty plants, animals, and cultures. The Berbers are the main society who inhabit the Atlas Mountains. They share their own indigenous customs mixed with Islamic beliefs, and trace their lineage back to kingdoms which fought the Roman Empire.

Today, climate change combined with natural desertification and population increases endanger the livelihood of the Atlas Mountains, but the region continues to exhibit the resilience which has allowed its people to survive through the ages.

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