The Wonders of Morocco Road

The Wonders of Morocco Road

A road that consists of groves and pastures at the beginning, tents of cedar and snow in the middle, and sand at the end which stretches like a carpet, or rises like hills and towers. Had diviners told us about what we would see before we started our journey, we would have thought it a fairy tale; we wouldn t have travelled from one country to another, or left one province for another; we wouldn t have planned to change the means of transport or carried a time machine to live all seasons in one day. But it was just one car which carried us from the town of Meknès in the west to Ziz Oasis in the east within Meknès Tafilalt in the Kingdom of Morocco. It is geography that makes history, it changes when it ascends a mountain, takes on colour when it descends a plain and is decorated when it sees a city.

A road is exactly like a human being; it lives to a definite age; it is born, then grows up until it comes of age. When it reaches old age it loses its features. The road we had to follow witnessed different life cycles. It was a shelter for shepherds and farmers, a track for merchants and travellers, a course for sultans and kings. Part of its life was a passage for rebels and colonists until the years of independence lit it. Over the years it witnessed several civilizations and historical epochs. The question with each step was: Which life cycle will our road go through today?

Fast-flowing, wasted water

When you reach the town of Meknès, you will discover an absolute rule: Every historical city has two parts: old and modern (French colonists started building modern Meknès in 1920). Fifteen old gates connect both parts. Like all other cities, Meknès has two faces. These are separated by Bou Fakran valley. This is a Berber word meaning Owner of Arab Crocodiles ; old Arab names were Felfel and Aboulamaer ; modern names are Maarfoof Spring and Dar Doura !

The source of the valley s water is a cave on the top of Bou Zakour mountain (known as the Wind Cave , in the Middle Atlas) at the foot of which there is a place called Mazatwal (cow repellent in Berber) full of springs which pour out into Bou Fakran valley. The 50 - km-long Maaroof Spring gives 40,000 cubic metres of water daily, as suggested by some French studies 75 years ago, a quarter of which was then wasted.

A royal city

Meknès, like other royal cities in Morocco: Marrakesh, Fez and Rahat, was a royal city when Moulay Ismail chose it as his seat of government from 1673 to 1726. Old Meknès still maintains many aspects of a royal city walls, gates, palaces, stables... as well as a prison.

Beside the historical gate which leads to Moulay Ismail Casbah I read the following on a plaque in neat Moroccan handwriting (with a translation in French): By order of His Majesty King Al-Hassan II, may Allah defend him, this plaque was put up on 22 March 1997 during the ceremony held by a ministerial delegation from His Majesty s government and attended by Mr. Frederico Mayor, UNESCO Director General (The designation of historical city of Meknès as a world heritage site).According to the agreement on the protection of would cultural heritage, the historical city of Meknès was added to the list of world heritage sites in Shaaban AH 1417/ January 1996.

This designation underlines the extraordinarily high value of this cultural heritage and preserves it for humanity at large. The historical city of Meknès is a satisfactory, comprehensive representation of the architectural, civilized structure of a Maghrib capital in the 17th century, combining complete harmony between the elements of Islamic and European thinking and planning . Since we are in Tafilalt or Filala as it is commonly known we remember Bou Hassoun Bou Damima, or Ali Bin Muhammad, son of the famous Sheikh Sidi Ahmad Bin Moussa Al-Hassani Al-Samlai Al-Jazouli, whose rule covered the Moroccan desert and stretched to Filala. During his rule he arrested Sijilmassa s chief sharif, Moulay Sharif Bin Ali on 16 March 1638, but did not humiliate him in prison. He gave him a woman from the desert tribe of Wadya who was donated to him Jarrar clan. He married that woman in prison and she gave birth to Ismail, who became Sultan Moulay Ismail and founded Meknès as his seat of government.

Sultan Moulay Ismail came to the throne in AH 1082/ AD 1672, the third of three brothers who founded the Alawi dynasty and reinforced Moroccan unity: Muhammad, Rasheed and Ismail. In the following lines we will show where their rule began. A beverage seller in his traditional clothes stood in front of Sultan Moulay Ismail s palace, but soon afterwards we realized that he earned from photographs more than he did from beverages. If you pay him reasonably he will pose for your camera, otherwise, he will go!

A casbah, a dome and a vault

A casbah in Morocco is the equivalent of a castle in the Arab East. It is Alcazba in Spanish and Alcazova in Portuguese. Casbahs are the most important building in cities whose people use them as shelter for resistance in the event of a sudden attack or a local revolt. Casbahs are located in such places that overlook cities and roads, but in plains they are like fortified small towns, square or rectangular in shape, with mosques, stores and houses, and the Sultan s or leader s house in the centre.

Having made Meknès his seat of government, Sultan Moulay Ismail built casbahs at strategic locations along the coast, from Mehdiya Bou Zeneiqa, or internally along the roads which connect the capital to Madyuna, Marrakesh, etc. In his book Al-Bustan , historian Al-Zayani said Ismail built seventy six castles in Morocco, which still exist. In every casbah there was a 400-3000-strong army of slaves with their weapons, equipment, horses and families. The commander of each casbah was responsible for maintaining his area s security.

French colonialism exploited the casbahs and moved from one casbah to another in occupying the country. Tadla casbah, e.g., which Moulay Ismail built at the Fez-Marrakesh road junction and stationed his son with 3000 troops of Al-Bukhari army to protect the Sultan s crossing the bridge on Um El-Rabie river, attracted the French who used it as a base for seizing the rest of the region and a springboard for suppressing the Atlas tribes. It was from that casbah that the French army crushed Banu Milal s mountain uprising on 15 May 1915 and marched to occupy Banu Milal in the following year.

The existence of casbahs always reminded the tribes of the need to maintain stores and pay zakat directly to the slave army stationed there, as well as the need to take care of the horses. That coincided with a period of security during which women and non-Muslims moved freely from Wajda to Wadi Noon.

We went in and out through the two-leaf casbah door, a big leaf and a small one which allows people in. The architecture represents the building style at the time: everything is spacious, which pleases the eye. The centuries-old sundial is still working extremely accurately. A small distance from Sultan Moulay Ismail s casbah stand the Amassadors Dome a small compact building, like a giant cottage, with a green top and two side booths. On the signboard two lines read: The Ambassadors Dome, established by Sultan Moulay Ismail in the late seventeenth century AD. It was here that the Sultan whose kingdom was extremely prosperous, received foreign ambassadors, who were perhaps unaware that they stood on the biggest prison in the world! A few metres away we reached a flat gate, like a well opening , leading to the bottom of the earth.

We followed our guide. There were two-stage stairs before we plunged into complete darkness though it was day time. Only lamps with faint light lit our way. We were told that the prison in which thousands of lawbreakers during the reign of the Sultan were put stretched infinitely. The authorities set up barriers so that visitors may not lose their way. Light also came from ceiling glass-covered apertures. I looked at the place with giant pillars, high ceilings and arches thinking that if Morocco s Antiquities Authority turned this place into a tourist site and operated an internal train all along it and granted licences for art galleries, museums and handicraft shops, Meknès would have any equally enjoyable underground twin city.

A road and a companion

For over fifty years, and in more than one thousand and nights journeys, a group of guides from different nationalities and languages accompanied Al-Arabi s mission worldwide. A guide mediating between the Arab traveller and a spoken dialect, or requesting permission to use someone s picture as a cover photo, one of 600 photos which appeared in Al-Arabi, or leading to meet an official or a humble or wealthy family.

There was one or more guides in every city. I remember Razzaq in Ahmedabad (India); Mia in Beijing; Muhammad Ezzat from Kashgar in Xinjiang (North China); Julia in Bisceglia (Italy); Samira in Istanbul; Hassan in Ankara; Lila , Zeinat and Raisa Khanoun in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan (Russia); a number of German and German Arab guides in the German cities of Berlin, Bonn, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Dortmund and Cologne; Ahmad Al-Hassani and Al-Jalali Mustafa in Ouarzazate (Morocco); Choi Abu Bakr , Janan and Yusuf Abdul Fattah in Seoul, in addition to scores of other friends.

Guides were the only people who could break down the language barrier. In Surat in the Indian state of Gujarat, e.g., the owner of a small textile factory talked in his native language, and our guide gave an interpretation in English and we reported the story to our readers in Arabic!

It is interesting to have as our guide someone who acted as our guide on a previous journey, as was the case for our guide in and around Khartoum, media person Muhammad Jabbara. It is more interesting to meet twenty or more years later, as happened when we met Mrs Mawlooda in Shersabz (Uzbekistan), the birthplace of Amir Timur.

As I remember these guides and companions, I wish to thank our companion on our current long journey from Meknès to Marzouka in Ziz Oasis. After we met writer Abdulkarim Al-Allam, who arranged a meeting with the governor of Meknès Tafilalt, Dr. Hassan Orid, originally a university professor and novelist. Al-Allam introduced us to a friend of theirs who was our guide in the following days. Having made preparations for the journey we had to hire a car signing a cheque for millions of dirhams. Our guide, who drove the car, signed the cheque. In this way our guide, critic and journalist Dr. Hassan Makhafi, professor of Arabic at Faculty of Arts, Meknès University, played a number of roles: guide to a place he is fully familiar with; experienced car driver and volunteer who paid the deposit until our return. Once more, many warm greetings to Al-Arabi s journey guides in the past and forthcoming fifty years!

A farewell to Meknès

From Meknès we moved south west to Marzouka, i. e. from urban regions to the desert, from Bou Fakran valley to Ziz valley, and at each stop on the Wonders of Morocco Road we will have a story or an anecdote. As we were leaving the city, we explored its best-liked scenes. It started with three villages: Meknèsa Taza, Meknèsa Al-Zeitoun and Tajrarat. Meknèsa is the name of the tribe which came from the east and settled in the fertile Bou Fakran valley and founded the city.

Near the casbah s gate, not far from the Dome, there was a square which reminded its visitors of Al-Fana mosque in Marrakesh: traditional dancers, street vendors, folk medicine practitioners and countless bystanders.

It was crowded everywhere: at the car park, at school gates, at the vegetable market. Strangely enough, you could pracitse shooting chalk sticks inside the market, and if you hit your target you will be given tin shots to shoot again.

Interestingly, the Ismaili Casbah s wall was visible from more than one corner. It was 25 km long upon completion of the Casbah (Building began in 1672). The Casbah was built behind the wall on the Mariniya Casbah land and another space which its owner added. Despite the vast area of the city, only a small part in the north was designated as a residential area which was occupied by the Sultan, chief storekeepers, soldiers and servants. This part included a magnificent complex known as the Grand House , School Castle and Hadrash Casbah. The Grand House was the first building that Moulay Ismail put up and it took eight years to complete. The Casbah was full of castles; however, the Sultan built new mosques and rebuilt old ones. Al-Anwar mosque in said to have been built of about 200 pieces of marble, and had a wide elegant yard with a high dome in the middle. Only the mosque s door has survived!

We left Meknès and went down on olive tree-lined road. As the road rose gradually, green was buried under the snow cut by cedar trees. Wonderful postcards showing that the place is charming and the roads are fascinating.


Whenever we passed by a road sign, our guide gave a brief or a long account of the history of a place, a local story or a linguistic anecdote. The first road sign to see was that of El-Hajeb, the capital of a region with the same name within Meknès Tafilalt. It has a mild climate, but the temperature sometimes reaches 40°C in summer. It is located midway between Ceuta north and El-Tawoos south. It was founded in 1880 during the reign of Moulay Al-Hassan I, as indicated by the ruins of casbahs, the buildings which formed the urban centre of that area. The trees, fields and groves around us no doubt show that farming is advanced in that place. The car took us up a plateau on which the city was founded and developed.

A city which combines the features of mountains, plateaus and plains, which makes it a mix of urban and rural. The population are engaged in livestock farming as well as rain-based and irrigation agriculture. El-Hajeh is rich in springs, such as the springs of Khadem, Madani, Al-Zahabia and Bou Taghzaz. The soil is fertile, with 500 mm average annual rainfall, underground and surface water resources, 146,000 hectares of arable land. Roads connect the city to major economic centres, such as Fez, Rabat, Casablanca, Kenitra and Tangier. The numerous rural roads which help market farm products make farming more important than its economic and commercial aspects.

Ifrane... Paris of the Atlas!

As we were crossing Timhideet , our guide told us that it was famous for its sheep, as the many pastures around the town indicate. Our next destination receives us with two lions at its gate, a stone and a snow one. We arrive at Orti , as it was called in the past meaning grove , or the city of Ifrane , which means caves , in reference to the many caves round its heights. It is mild in summer, fine in autumn, snowy in winter and flowering in spring. For this reason it attracts tourists all year round who enjoy all that it offers: broad roads, wide squares, houses with sloping roofs and red bricks, pure air; that s why it is popularly known as Little Paris . It is a summer and a winter resort for the rich and the Europeans (over 13,000 hotel beds of various classes, in addition to village inns), thanks to its dense forests, snowboarding, distinctive architecture and Atlas folklore.

Ifrane s National Park is over 53,000 hectares in area. It combines open spaces and heights covered with cedar forests, which abound in Morocco, in addition to springs, valleys and caves. The two lions refer to real Atlas lions which live with other species of wild animals, mainly tigers, among 37 species of forest animals, mainly mammals, in reserves, including monkeys, in terms of quantity, in addition to 142 species of birds and 33 species of reptiles, frogs and marine life and vertebrates which live in the National Park s lakes and rivers.

According to a tourist report, the area flourishes with the coming of summer. Tourists run away from the cities and inner areas to spend the summer in Ifrane and Middle Atlas area. Moroccan tourists and expatriates abroad account for 58% of all tourists. The number of French, Spanish and British tourists rose by 14.76%, 48.1% and 215.79% respectively last year. The month of July alone accounts for 33.54% of total tourist/nights all year round. Isn t Ifrane little Paris?!

Palace architecture

There is a distinctive style of building in Morocco s oases between the Atlas slopes and desert sand, known as palace architecture . These palaces still survive, though they are made of brick. The palace has a guard function. In an area which is short of arable land and water, security is important, and the palace is responsible for providing and protecting water resources, dams and canals. Shortage of arable land caused heavy demand for vertical - rather than horizontal expansion of buildings, taking into consideration the tribal dimension in terms of the values of respect and fraternity.

The palace s architecture basics include an external wall, main gates, public squares, tribal alleys and house, a mosque, one-storey house. After walking through the palace gate, which is in a sense a micro city, we found a spacious foyer. In the past, chairs were put in all sides of the wall and the foyer where foreigners were received and tribal elders met. Visitors then moved to the right or left to protect the heart of the castle from dust and invaders. There are handicraft shops in the palace. The mosque s guest house is used for mourning and weddings as well as a place where children and the young play and tell tales at sunset. The palace s alleys are roofed to protect them from sandstorms and the harsh sun, and to use its upper level for accommodation. When sunlight penetrates the roofs, eyes get adapted to seeing in the darkness and avoiding bright light.

Palaces have died out, their function eroded and their buildings collapsed as a result of rapid population growth, the replacement of internal palace administration with external government agencies, opening on external markets with their different economic activities, immigration, study, the media and excessive car use. Palaces today are badly in need of two things: First, reconstruction and preservation of their heritage; second, using them as tourist attractions with hotels and restaurants. There are excellent reconstructed models which affirm that this historical architecture can be preserved for many generations to come.


After going down a mountain road on which we saw the seven colours of the rainbow telling fairy tales on a blanket of snow covering the mountains around us, we passed by a cave and entered a tunnel and then felt a sense of relief when we saw faraway crescent-like lights on the outskirts of Errachidia. After a cold day and a warm night which we stayed in a big castle - like hotel, we found our car covered in snow! A hotel worker used hot water to remove the snow, then we set off to and around Errachidia.

At first sight, visitors to the city recognize that it is modern and make sure of that when they know that it was founded in 1956 when its name was the Market Palace . It consists of four communities, eight municipalities and 39 village communities. From among the cities around it we visited Erfoud and Rissani. People and farmers around Errachidia are beset with many problems due to climate change, snowstorms and frost which cause not only crop and livestock loss but human loss as well. The adverse results of snowstorms particularly at Riche , Ayt Hani , Akdim and Emlsheel include traffic disruption and temperatures of -11°C during the day and -13°C at night

Al-Hassan Al-Dakehl Dam s lights were our guide to Errachidia at night. We were told that its water level and the force of the overflow of water at Ziz valley flooded the land along the river course and damaged their crops. The hardest hit areas were Azro Palace , Tazouka and Mishqalal . Irrigation canals also suffered heavy damage. According to a local source, losses during one month included the flooding of 34 km of irrigation canals, the loss of one underground tunnel, the collapse of 3750 meters of protective walls, the loss of 250 hectares of corn, the damage of 35,000 olive trees, 10,000 apple trees, 6,000 palm trees and 9,000 almond trees, in addition to the death of 1552 sheep and goats!

Tariq Bin Ziad Centre

The news of frost and the damage it caused made us look for something positive to get rid of the gloom. Nothing was better than visiting the Tariq Bin Ziad Research and Studies Centre. At the centre s door in Errachidia (the headquarters is in Rabat) I remembered the words of its president, the Governor of Meknès Tafilalt Dr. Hassan Orid, in one of his lectures: Morocco s cultural and educational options must not make Moroccans forget the Berber dimension, nor must the current approaches and foreign influences help forget the Arab dimension .

It is a leading centre of Berber and desert as well as nationwide research, as indicated by the titles of its publications, such as History of Morocco or Possible Interpretations , The Social and Political Origins of the Local Elite , Some Aspects of Pre-History Berber Civilization , and tens of other books in Arabic and French during more than a whole decade. The centre also produced a CD containing a selection of Middle Atlas songs. Most of the books in the centre s library are donations from Moroccan and European scholars. The library s official who accompanied us showed us all rooms in the two-storey library which has a wide courtyard. As a token of gratitude from Orid he dedicated two research rooms in memory of two of his school follows who died young. The centre is preparing itself for an enlightenment role not only in training, as there are rooms on the second floor for the accommodation of researchers, which recreates the role of enlightenment centres in their heyday. Work is also under way in a number of its sections, mainly the tent, which recreates desert life.

On the Rissani-Erfoud road we knew that that area was part of the Mediterranean. We are now in the heart of the desert far from the sea, but the Wonders Road never stops astonishing us. We stopped at a special shop on the road where fish and other marine life fossils millions of years old are sold. They sell the heart of the sea in the heart of the desert!

Ancient Sijilmassa

Opposite Rissani s gate stand the ruins of Sijilmassa, the second Muslim city founded in Muslim Morocco after Qayrawan, and the capital of the first independent state in the Maghrib. The city was founded by the Banu Midrar dynasty in AH 140 /AD 757. Thanks to its location it became a commercial hub between north and south, and east and west, and its name in the annals of Arab history is associated with the gold trade. Economic prosperity earned the area political influence which extended to Daraa valley, Aghmat and Fez before it became part of Maghrib empires and kingdoms. Only ruins are left of Sijilmassa, so we consulted historians and encyclopedias about the bygone city s history.

Aboul-Qassim Simku Bin Wassol Al-Midrari Al-Safri, the leader of Meknès Al-Safri dissidents, made Sijilmassa his seat of government, but made Issa Bin Yazid its first ruler to avoid conflict among rival Meknès factions, and to establish the principle of equality among all Muslims and the right of each to be a leader regardless of race or colour, in addition to the large African population at the time, particularly in view of the fact that most of Meknès tribes had not settled yet by then. Another purely economic reason was to attract Sub-Saharan caravan trade.

Issa Bin Yazid Al-Aswad was recognized as leader by all inhabitants of Sijilmassa. His rule spanned 15 years, to AH 772, during which his achievements included building irrigation canals, creating gardens and orchards, and settling nomad tribes. With the arrival of Meknès tribes, Issa was killed and was succeeded by Aboul-Qassim. Under the Murabit dynasty which decided to unite Morocco, major commercial centres, including Sijilmassa, came under control to cover the costs of its military operations. The city flourished under mainly due to the caravan trade whose routes were controlled by the Murabits.

Having direct control over major Sub-Saharan centres, such as Tombuktu and Oudagist, Sijilmassa became the commercial hub of the country. Since their control of Sijilmassa in AH 450/AD1045 and for 30 years, the Murabits had struck their coins in the city only, under the name of Abou-Bakr alone, and were struck in Marrakesh, Aghmat, Fez, Telemcin and Andalusia after his death. Of the 77 Murabit coins in the National Library in Paris about a half, or more exactly 31, are struck in Sijilmassa mint. This leading economic role made the city a target in Muwahid political plan (AD 1139-1145). During the Murin age (AD 1255-1393) it remained a major city in Morocco, but its commercial role diminished following the change of trade routes to the Atlantic Ocean and control by Maaqil tribes of major caravan routes and centres, the Murins giving priority to the western route and their preoccupation with the political and military problems resulting from the Christian march towards Andalusia as well as internal strife.

Sijilmassa deteriorated and was wiped out at the end of the Murin rule around AD 1393 as a result of heavy taxes and tribal conflicts. It thus disappeared from the historical, political, economic and social arena, and disappeared almost completely from subsequent historical literature. The famous Arab traveller Ibn Battuta visited it during the second half of the Murin rule, or more exactly in the autumn of AD 1351 coming from Fez.

Sijilmassa s current demographic structure is based on the Berbers, who consist of three groups: First, Zinata, who include the Meknèsa tribes who established the city; second, Sinhaja, the largest group in the area, most of whom settled when the city was brought under Murabit control led by Abou Bakr Bin Omar Al-Lamtouni and Yusuf Bin Tashfin in AD 1054; third, Masmouda, who most probably settled when the Muwahids assumed control of Sijilmassa AD 1139-1145. Though few, its tribes were able to extend their influence over commerce, the army, the judiciary and administration. The Arabs had settled in Sijilmassa since the Islamic conquests in the second half of the seventh century AD. It is this group that must be given credit for spreading the principles of Islam in the area. Among the Arab tribes were Banu Hilal and Banu Maaqil, who began as nomads, then settled.

Moulay Al-Hassan Al-Dakhel, the founder of the Alawi dynasty, was among the Arab sharifs who, according to most historical resources, did not appear in the area until the second half of the 13th century. He settled in Sijilmassa in AD 1265 and his descendants succeeded in uniting the Maghrib under its rule starting from the second half of the 17th century.

Sijilmassa s cosmopolitan population consisted of Andalusians (some historical sources say they shared in building it); Africans, who came to the area through caravan trade; non-Muslims, who contributed to the area s economic boom, particularly in the areas of trade, mint, textiles and leather industry; ploughmen, a blackish group of unknown origin, probably the descendants of ancient African races-Jitols, Nomidians or Ethiopians. With thriving trade with Sijilmassa and elsewhere trade routes were measured in stages, depending mainly on the number of wells. Accordingly, the road from Sijilmassa to Taghza was 20 stages, to Oudghasht 51, to Olil 60, to Ghana /Kaw 61and to Takroor land 90.

Sijilmassa s exports included wheat, dates, grapes, salt, textiles, jewellery, pottery, leather, wooden products, cosmetics, spices (henna, clove, cumin), alcohol, books and manuscripts. Imports included Ghanaian gold, leather and ostrich feather from Oudghast, oriental silk and Andalusian pottery. What indicates Sijilmassa s economic status at the time is that Andalusian Umayyadas bought Morocco s products,especially desert gold, through Ceuta, Fez and Sijilmassa. Even Andalusian gold dinars were minted in the names of the Umayyads in Nakour, Fez and Siglamsa. An important collection of these dinars dating back to the end of the fourth century AH/ the end of the ninth century / the beginning of the tenth century AD was discovered in Aqaba, Jordan in April 1992. The collection included 29 coins out of 32 minted in Sijilmassa. That Sijilmassa s coins were found in relatively faraway places indicates again its economic status. Moreover, half of Fatimid tax revenue (about 400, 000 dinars) was collected through Sijilmassa.

A deserted village and a blue spring!

I don t think anybody has ever been the only inhabitant of a whole village, except in the imagination of film writers and novelists. But the Wonders of Morocco Road excites your imagination. As we were travelling on a muddy road, Dr Makhafi said: If the car s owners had known how rough this road is, they wouldn t have hired it to us! Our guide led us as if there had been a compass. In less than an hour we reached a village locally known as Fearless , in reference to its sole inhabitant who occasionally goes there. His name is Abdulrahman. We toured the deserted village freely. The mosgue s well is still lit with electricity waiting for visitors buckets. On the roofs you can see the deserted roads. There are many similar villages whose inhabitants deserted them in search of livelihood elsewhere. Abdulrahman was called. His eyes looked like the green tea he made for us. He kept talking until the voice of the muezzin of a nearby mosque was heard. He joined two of his friends who performed ablution from a spring round the village. After that we went to a popular place, and on the road we stopped at some villages which we knew were populated from the cooking smoke.

The following was written in poor Arabic and French handwriting on a signboard describing the place we descended to on an almost vertical stony stair: Kingdom of Morocco, Ministry of the Interior, Errachidia Province, Madghara Sharif Community, Blue Spring Lamsaki, Admission: 5 dirhams. Opening hours: 8 a.m. 7.p.m. Note: Resolution 1 of 8 September 1995. Municipality Chief .

Near the Blue Spring, a pool with green sides getting its water from a bottomless cave we saw several handicraft shops selling textiles, silver, wooden and other goods. Mawloudi, the desert singer, invited us to his shop and home where he gave a special performance with two of his colleagues using stones of different sizes to produce different sounds. The folk singer visits Europe to present a variety of Atlas arts. At home he sells records and antique musical instruments, audio equipment, cameras, etc., some of which go back to the days of colonialism.

The international desert music festival

The lively scene reminds me of this festival which is organized by the Tariq Bin Ziad Research and Studies Centre. This and other festivals and traditional celebrations support Tafilalt s cultural and art infrastructure. As the centre s director Dr. Mustafa Tiliwa said, the festival was designed to bring about cultural and economic dynamism, develop talents and open new horizons for the area s inhabitants. The festival is based on two things: First, to recreate desert music; second, to draw attention to the natural and human resources of Tafilalt desert and oases which allow them to attract national and foreign investments.

We are now in Marzouka in Ziz Oasis where the festival is held annually. At the end of the Ziz valley trip through the Wonders of Morocco Road, Tafilalt is full of a lot of wonderful scenes as seen in Marzouka s sand dunes where nature, history and art mix. Marzouka is 150 km from Errachidia, and the nearest town is Rissani, which is 40 km away. The three-day festival attracts thousands presenting art and cultural experiments worldwide. Desert music is reborn here in a purely desert environment, and on the sand dunes Arab, French and other music mix giving one international taste.

On the sand dunes of Ziz Oasis in Marzouka I engraved Al-Arabi s name... in acknowledgement of arrival at a place which unified the music of the world. Stars appeared after sunset, and the wind almost carried the sound of music which musicians played in the festival in previous years mixed with the songs of caravans which moved from and to Morocco in olden times. The singers have disappeared, and the caravans stopped, and the cities have been investigated, but man remains to recreate life and be the only eternal wonder.


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


On the sand dunes of Ziz Oasis, at Marzouka, Ziz valley, in the easternmost part of Morocco, the spirit of the caravans which crossed to the east remains in the form of traditional clothes, camels and sunset scenes

Historical gates of Meknès, the city which was added to the list of world heritage sites in 1966, according to the agreement on the protection of world cultural heritage, as a satisfactory, comprehensive represention of the architectura

"The Ambassadors Dome”, a giant cottage, with a green top and two side booths. On the signboard is written: "The Ambassadors Dome, established by Sultan Moulay Ismail in the late seventeenth century AD”

Near the Ismaili Casbah’s gate, in Meknès; not far from the Dome there was a square which reminded its visitors of Al-Fana mosque in Marrakesh: traditional dancers, street vendors, folk medicine practitioners and countless bystanders

After crossing a flat gate like a well opening leading to the bottom of the earth. There were two-stage stairs before we plunged into complete darkness though it was day time. Only lamps with faint light lit our way

Dr. Hassan Makhafi, Al-Arabi’s guide (left) talking to writer Abdulrahman Al-Allam, the Governor of Meknès Tafilalt, Dr. Hassan Orid (centre right) and author Ashraf Aboul-Yazid

A panoramic view of new Meknès as seen from the other end of Bou Fakran valley

The town of El-Hajeb is in the middle of the road between Ceuta north and El-Tawoos south. It was founded in 1880 during the reign of Sultan Moulay Hassan I. As seen from above, most houses show that traditional ovens

When the road rose to cross the Middle Atlas Mountains it was covered with ice as far the eye could see. However, our road was clear of snow, thanks to snow ploughs which work all day long

Ifrane’s National Park is over 53,000 hectares in area. It combines open spaces and cedar-covered heights. These trees welcomed us on every snowy road

In Errachidia region we visited Lamsaki Blue Spring, a pool with blue sides, whose water comes from a bottoless cave

Busy roads and deserted palaces. Two pictures of the wonders of the road to Ziz Oasis. From the deserted palaces there is a village locally known as "Fearless”, in reference to its only inhabitant who occasionally goes there

Busy roads and deserted palaces. Two pictures of the wonders of the road to Ziz Oasis. From the deserted palaces there is a village locally known as "Fearless”, in reference to its only inhabitant who occasionally goes there

The reconstruction process goes on steadily to preserve mud palaces and their rare style. Pictured is an example of he results of this process which is sponsored by Sijilmassa Society for Culture, Development

Opposite the gate of the town of Rissani we look at the ruins of Sijilmassa, the second Muslim city founded in Muslim Morocco after Qayrawan and the capital of the first independent state in the Maghrib. It was founded by Banu Midrar dynasty in AH 140

Having travelled to Casablanca, then to Rabat and finally Maknès, we went east passing by El-Hajeb. We entered Errachidia region at Riche, next the city of Errachidia, then Ofus and Erfoud

The front of the reconstructed Al-Faida palace which has been converted into a museum and an art gallery, from which photographer Sulaiman Haidar photographed the small paintings of Moroccan clothes shown at the right of the pages

At the door of Tariq Bin Ziad Research and Studies Centre in Errachidia: a leading centre of Berber and desert as well as nationwide research. Its library holds books donated by anthropologist Edmond Burro (1920-2004)

Recreation of palace and casbah building in Morocco. Alawi Centre for Studies and Research at Rissani

Almost all village women on the roads and in the markets of the towns and villages we passed by were covered from head to foot, except for the eye

Almost all village women on the roads and in the markets of the towns and villages we passed by were covered from head to foot, except for the eye

Everything is bought and sold in the markets of Erfoud and Rissani and other small towns. Among the goods are antiques from damaged homes which attract buyers who value wooden and copper handicrafts

We stopped at a special workshop between Rissani and Erfoud where fish and other marine life fossils millions f years old are sold. They sell the remains of the sea which has receded in the heart of the desert

Green space, a snowy road and a rest house… We went down the Wonders of Morocco Road

Among traditional handicraft shops near the Blue Spring, Mawloudi, the desert singer, invites us to his shop and home where he gave a special performance with two of his colleagues using stones of different sizes to produce different sounds

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