For millennia North Africa, including the nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Egypt, has served as a crossroads for the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Starting well before the Christian era, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans and Greeks mingled with the Amazigh peoples. Also known as Berbers, they are thought to be the original inhabitants of the region, along with Africans from south of the Sahara Desert.

Following the Arab conquest of North Africa in the 7th century CE, the Imazighen gradually converted to Islam and over generations were assimilated into Arab communities. They played an important role in the Arab conquest of Spain in the 8th century and built empires in North Africa and Spain in the 11th to 13th centuries. To this day Imazighen still preserve aspects of their cultural identity, and they divide themselves into different confederations that speak distinct languages in addition to Arabic.

North African arts include variations of delicate pottery, beautifully embroidered and woven textiles, elegant woodwork, leatherwork and metalwork, and intricate silver and gold jewelry. The North African collection of jewelry and photography assembled by Xavier Guerrand-Hermès over several decades provides insight into the region's changing societies. These compelling images show daily life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while the wide range of jewelry illustrates the diversity and enduring beauty of North Africa's artistic traditions.

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