12 Prominent Atlas Mountains Facts

One of the most prominent mountain ranges in Africa can be found in the northern part of the continent.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting facts about the Atlas Mountains.

1. The range stretches all across North Africa

The Atlas Mountains are located in the utmost northern part of Africa. It forms the natural border between the most famous desert in the continent, the Sahara Desert, and the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean coastlines.

It stretches all across the northern part of Africa and has a total length of 2,500 kilometers (1,600 miles).

Atlas Mountains location map
Location of the mountain range / Wiki Commons

2. It’s located within the borders of 3 countries

The Atlas Mountains are located within the borders of 3 countries in North Africa. From west to east these are:

  • Morocco
  • Algeria
  • Tunesia
Atlas Mountains facts
View of the mountains / Tola Akindipe / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

3. The highest mountain is located in Morocco

This highest area of the Atlas Mountains can be found in the western part of the mountain range in Morocco. This region is referred to as the “High Atlas” and contains several peaks over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet).

It’s also here that the highest mountain in North Africa can be found called the “Toukbal.” This mountain stands majestically at a height of 4,167 meters (13,671 feet) above sea level.

Atlas Mountains interesting facts
Toukbal Peak / Source

4. It got its name from the people living in the Atlas Mountains

The majority of people living in the Atlas Mountains are living in small villages. The population living here are referred to as “Berbers,” a culture that has a history of thousands of years and originally lived in a kingdom named “Numidia.”

That’s why most historians agree that the name of the mountain range is derived from a word in the Berber language. The word mountain in the Berber Language is either “adrar” or “adras,” and it’s assumed that this word was transformed into “Atlas” over the centuries, giving the mountain range its modern name.

Berber Village Atlas Mountains
Berber Village / Ashraf Billy / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

5. The range was formed during 4 geological eras

Like all other mountain ranges of the planet, the Atlas Mountains were formed in a process that took millions of years. It’s stretched over 4 distinct geological eras of the planet:

  1. Paleozoic Era – About 300 million years ago.
  2. Mesozoic Era – 252 to 66 million years ago.
  3. Paleogene Era – 66 to 23 million years ago.
  4. Neogene Era – 23 to 1.8 million years ago.

During the Paleozoic Era, the continent of Africa actually collided with America, a process that formed the western region of the Atlas Mountains referred to as the Anti-Atlas, and later the Appalachians in North America as well.

During the Mesozoic Era, these continents were separated from each other again and the base of the modern Atlas Mountains was formed.

During the Paleogene and Neogene Periods, The tectonic plates of Europe and Africa shifted towards each other and uplifted the Atlas Mountains to the point they are today.

Atlas Mountains fun facts
The mountains / Michal Osmenda / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

6. The final geological process helped to create some other mountain ranges

The High Atlas is located in the western part of the mountain range and was formed because the southwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula pushed against the African tectonic plate near the Strait of Gibraltar.

In this process, the Iberian Peninsula was also squeezed against mainland Europe, a process that formed the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France.

To a lesser degree, this process also contributed to the formation of the Alps further east, the most extensive mountain range in Europe!

Atlas Mountains in the clouds

7. The mountain range consists of 6 distinct subranges

As the Atlas Mountains stretch all across the utmost northern part of Africa, we can distinguish 6 separate subranges:

  • The Anti-Atlas – Located in the southwestern corner of Morocco.
  • The High Atlas – The highest area of the mountain range in Central Morocco.
  • The Middle Atlas – Located in Central and northern Morocco.
  • The Tell Atlas – A mountain ranges stretching over 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) in all 3 countries.
  • The Aurès Mountains – The utmost eastern part of the range in Algeria and Tunisia.
  • The Saharan Atlas – The southern area of the range which borders the Sahara Desert in Algeria and Tunisia.
Saharan Atlas of the Atlas Mountains
Saharan Atlas / Pixabay

8. The peaks of the High Atlas are covered with snow during winter

The most fascinating and most definitely the most picturesque subrange of the Atlas Mountains is the High Atlas. That’s because about half the year, the peaks are covered with snow.

This snow remains on the peaks until the Spring and the area is very well suited for winter sports as well with “Oukaïmeden” being the most popular of the 3 ski resorts located here.

High Atlas snow
High Atlas Snow / Ralf Steinberger / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

9. The Atlas Mountains are extremely rich in natural resources

Just like for example the Ural Mountains, the Atlas mountain range is extremely rich in natural resources.

These include but are not limited to iron ore, lead ore, copper, silver, mercury, rock salt, phosphate, marble, anthracite coal, and natural gas

Atlas Mountains natural resurces

10. A particular tree species is native to the Atlas Mountains

While vast parts of the Atlas Mountains look rather desolate, many areas are also covered with trees and magical forests, especially various types of evergreen and semi-evergreen oaks such as for example the Algerian oak.

One of the most remarkable Atlas Mountains facts is that it’s also home to its own native tree species in the pine family called the “Atlas Cedar,” which grows in both Morocco and Algeria.

Atlas Cedar forest in the Atlas Mountains
Atlas Cedar Forest / CastielSagan / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

11. The range is home to a lot of dangerous animals

As you might have expected, this mountain range is home to a lot of animals as well. One of the scariest Atlas Mountains facts is that some of these are pretty dangerous as well!

Some of the creatures roaming around in this part of the world that you want to avoid include the Atlas mountain viper, an extremely venomous snake, and the Barbary leopard, a subspecies of the African Leopard which is one of the biggest cats on the planet.

Other animals you can come across in the range are the Barbary macaque, the Barbary stag, Barbary sheep, Atlas Mountain badger, Cuvier’s gazelle, northern bald ibis, Algerian nuthatch, and dipper.

Leopard Atlas Mountains
Leopard / Pixabay

12. Many animals living in the range got extinct in Roman times

One of the most intriguing Atlas Mountains facts is that some areas of the mountain range were actually part of the Roman Empire. This means that the Ancient Romans extracted a lot of resources from the mountains, including animals that were living here back then.

The Romans are the main reason a lot of species went extinct because they imported them to Europe to be used in their bloody spectacles which featured animal hunts and executions, held in amphitheaters all across the empire.

Some of the animals that were used during these deranged events were the Atlas bear and the North African elephant, which are now extinct in the region.

The Barbary lion managed to survive the Roman Era but got extinct in the wild when firearms became used for hunting. They do, however, still exist in captivity!

Barbary Lion in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria in 1893
Barbary Lion in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria in 1893 / Wiki Commons