The Atlas Mountains are a series of mountain ranges in northwestern Africa that run roughly southwest to northeast and serve as the geologic backbone of the Maghrib (the Arab world’s western region) countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. They stretch for more than 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) from the Moroccan port of Agadir in the southwest to Tunis, Tunisia’s capital.
Their thick rim rises to form a high sill that divides the Mediterranean basin to the north from the Sahara to the south, forming a barrier that slows but does not entirely preclude communication between the two regions. Both air masses and human migrations are filtered by the mountains.
The Atlas Mountains of Morocco, on the other hand, only allow movement in the east-west direction. These are the circumstances that give rise to the Atlas countries’ individuality and homogeneity at the same time. Although the Saharan region is more commonly thought of as the archetypal North African habitat, it is the well-watered mountains north of this vast desert that provide the foundation for most North African people’s livelihoods and a striking green or white backdrop for many North African cities.
With an elevation of 4,167 meters, Toubkal, located in central Morocco, is the highest peak in the range (13,671 ft). Berbers make up the majority of the population in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. In some Berber languages, the words for the mountain are Adrar and Adras. These terms are thought to be cognates of Atlas, the toponym.
The mountains also shelter a variety of animals and plants, the majority of which are found in Africa but some of which can also be found in Europe. Many of these species are threatened with extinction, and a few have already gone extinct.
Where are the Atlas Mountains in Morocco?
The range is divided into four distinct areas:
- Anti-Atlas, High Atlas, and Middle Atlas (Morocco)
- Tell Atlas (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia)
- Aurès Mountains (Algeria, Tunisia)
- Saharan Atlas (Algeria)
The following are the Atlas Mountains of Morocco ranges:
The Anti-Atlas extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest of Morocco to the heights of Ouarzazate in the northeast, and further east to Tafilalt in the east (altogether a distance of approximately 500 kilometers or 310 miles).
It shares a southern border with the Sahara Desert. The Jbel Saghro range is the anti-Atlas’ easternmost point, and its northern border is flanked by parts of the High Atlas range. It contains the Djebel Siroua, a volcanic massif with the range’s highest peak at 3,304 meters. The Jebel Bani is a much smaller range that runs along the Anti-Atlas’ southern side.
The High Atlas mountain range in central Morocco climbs from the Atlantic coast in the west and extends east to the Moroccan-Algerian border. It has several peaks over 4,000 meters (2.5 miles), including Toubkal (4,167 meters (13,671 feet)), North Africa’s highest peak, and Ighil m’Goun (4,071 meters (13,356 feet), the range’s second main summit.
The range abruptly drops into the Atlantic and southwest, transitioning to the coast and the Anti-Atlas range. The range descends more gradually to the north, in the direction of Marrakesh. The Draa Valley, which opens southward on the Ouarzazate heights, cuts through the massif. Berbers, who live in small villages and cultivate the high plains of the Ourika Valley, make up the majority of the population.
A hydroelectric dam near Barrage Cavagnac has formed the artificial lake Lalla Takerkoust. The lake is also a source of fish for the community’s fishermen.
The Middle Atlas is the northernmost of Morocco’s three major Atlas ranges, and it spans the entire country. The Moulouya and Oum Er-Rbia rivers separate the range from the High Atlas, and the Sebou River separates it from the Rif mountains.
The main coastal plains of Morocco, which are home to many of the country’s major cities, are to the west, while the high barren plateau that lies between the Saharan and Tells Atlas is to the east. The Jbel Bou Naceur is the range’s highest point (3340m).
The Middle Atlas receives more rainfall than the ranges to the south, making it an important water catchment area for the coastal plains and a biodiversity hotspot. It is home to the majority of the Barbary macaque population on the planet.
The Tell Atlas is a 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) long mountain chain in the Atlas mountain ranges that runs from Morocco through Algeria and Tunisia. It runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast and is the northernmost of two roughly parallel ranges that gradually approach each other in the east.
The Saharan Atlas is the southernmost of the two ranges, and they meet in eastern Algeria. In Morocco, the western end of the Tell Atlas range is near the Middle Atlas range. The Hautes Plaines high plateau lies immediately to the south of the Tell Atlas, with lakes in the wet season and salt flats in the dry.
What are the Atlas Mountains of Morocco Famous for?
The Sahara Desert is separated from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts by the mountain range. It has several passes that connect the coast to the Sahara Desert. Toubkal, the highest peak in the range and North Africa, is found in Morocco. It stands at a height of 4,167 meters (13,671 feet).
Look down if you ever fly over Morocco’s High Atlas Range. You will be treated to a spectacular visual display that you will never forget. Massive layers of brightly colored rock crumpled up like paper. Sharp ridges weave their way across the desert, bobbing and weaving. Ancient volcanoes spewed swaths of black basalt. Layered outcrops of rock jutting from valleys at strange angles, resembling zebra stripes.
How High are the Atlas Mountains of Morocco?
The High Atlas Mountains of Morocco stretch hundreds of miles inland from Morocco’s Atlantic coast (near Agadir) to the Algerian border in a northeasterly direction. The range’s tallest mountains are found in the western section, with peaks rising above 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). Although the elevation drops in the central and eastern portions, the scenery remains stunning.
How the Atlas Mountains were Created
Geological processes have shaped the Atlas Mountains of Morocco over hundreds of millions of years. Many of the world’s continents were still bunched closely together after the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea during the early Jurassic Period (201 to 174 million years ago). This part of Morocco was part of the African plate, close to the Eurasian and North American plates’ boundaries. The crust thinned so much as the three plates separated that a tear opened up, forming a rift valley that eventually filled with ocean water.
Large blocks of Earth’s crust fell downward as the crust thinned and the rift opened up, forming broad valleys known as rift valleys (grabens). Horsts, which are elevated blocks at the edges of grabens, have become fault-block mountains. The collision of African and Eurasian tectonic plates drove these mountains even higher during a later phase of intensive mountain building in the Cenozoic (66 million years to present).
Interesting Facts About the Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains of Morocco are a series of ranges separated by large areas of land known as plateaus, rather than a continuous chain of mountains. The Sahara Desert is separated from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts by the mountain range. It has several passes that connect the coast to the Sahara Desert.
Toubkal, the highest peak in the range and North Africa, is found in Morocco. It stands at a height of 4,167 meters (13,671 feet). Morocco’s mountain Ouanoukrim has the second and third highest peaks in the Atlas range. Timzguida, at 4,089 meters (13,415 feet), and Ras Ouanoukrim, at 4,083 meters, are the two summits (13,396 feet).
Small villages, rather than towns, make up the majority of the population in the Atlas region. The Berber People, a North African culture with thousands of years of history, are the most prominent and numerous of the Atlas populations.
Many of the plant and animal species found in the mountains are unique to Africa, and are often more similar to those found in Europe; many are endangered, and some have already become extinct.
The Atlas Mountains of Morocco were home to the North African Elephant until it became extinct in ancient Rome. The Atlas Bear, which is now extinct, once roamed the mountains. It was Africa’s only native bear. It was heavily pursued. The last one is thought to have been killed or died in the late 1800s. The Barbary lion, also known as the Atlas lion, is a subspecies of African lion that was once found in North Africa, including the Atlas Mountains, but is now extinct in the wild.
Natural resources abound in the Atlas. Among other resources, there are deposits of iron ore, lead ore, copper, silver, mercury, rock salt, phosphate, marble, anthracite coal, and natural gas.
Flora and Fauna of the Atlas Mountains
The Atlas cedar, evergreen oak, and many semi-evergreen oaks, such as the Algerian oak, are among the mountain flora.
The Barbary macaque, Barbary leopard, Barbary stag, Barbary sheep, Atlas Mountain badger, Cuvier’s gazelle, northern bald ibis, Algerian nuthatch, dipper, and Atlas Mountains of Morocco viper are some of the species that live in the region. The Atlas bear, North African elephant, North African aurochs, and bubal hartebeest were all once found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, but these subspecies are now extinct. Barbary lions are now extinct in the wild, but their descendants can be found in captivity.