samedi 24 novembre 2012


A few kilometres from Ouarzazate on the Marrakesh road, at a height of 1160 metres, stands the casbah of Tiffoultoute, a historic property of the Glaoui family. Built more than two centuries ago in the characteristic light ochre-coloured hardened clay, it was probably restored at a later date. In the past, its inhabitants represented a threat for Makhzen and Ouarzazate as well as for the surrounding area. Today the casbah boasts a hotel and restaurant and is simply an attraction for passing tourists who wish to enjoy the magnificent view over the valley furrowed out by the Ouarzazate wadi.
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dimanche 6 mai 2012

The dunes of Merzouga

The Erg Chebbi - the sand dunes at Merzouga - are one of the great sights of Morocco. They are reached most directly along the 3461 road south of Erfoud, which is surfaced for the first 16Km, then gives way to 35Km of piste.It is along this road that the landrover tours , to catch sunrise at the dunes. If you can't afford these, it way be possible to join up with other tourists doing the trip , either the night before or at dawn . Your presence may be welcome as an extra shoulder to push the car if it gets trapped in the sand. 
You can, alternatively, reach merzouga by way of Rissani - or complete a circuit by travelling back this way. The merzouga-Rissani route is covered in a southeast to northwest direction; it is served by local transit and landrover taxis.
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samedi 19 mars 2011


TAMEGROUTE is an interesting and unusual village. At first sight, it is basically a group of ksour and kasbahs, wedged tightly together and divided by low, covered passageways with an unremarkable Saturday souk and small potters'co-operative. Despite appearances, it was once the most important settlement in the Draa valley, it appearances, it was once the most important settlement in the Draa valley; it appears on nineteenth-century maps -produced in Europe - as Tamgrat or Tamagrut, surrounded by lesser places whose names have little or no resonance today.
It owes its importance to its ancient and highly prestigious zaouia, which was a seat of learning from the eleventh century and, from the seventeenth century, the base of the Naciri Brotherhood. Founded by Abou Abdallah Mohammed Ben Naceur (an inveterate traveller and revered scholar), this exercised great influence over the Draa tribes until recent decades. Its sheikhs (or holy leaders) were known as the "peacemakers of the desert " and it was they who settled disputes among the ksour and among the caravan traders converging on Zagora from the Sudan. They were missionaries, too, and as late as the 1750s sent envoys to preach to and convent the wilder, animist-minded Berber tribes of the Atlas and Rif.
Arriving in the village, you'll likely be "adopted" by a guide and taken off to see the Zaouia Naciri (8am-12.30pm and 2-6pm daily; donations expected), the entrance to which is on a side-street to the left of the main road (coming from Zagora).If you are not 'adopted' or prefer to explore unaided, look for the tall white minaret to the left of the main road.
The zaouia consists of a marabout (the tomb of Naceur, closed to non-Muslims), a medersa (theological college - still used by up to 80 students, preparing for university) and a small libary, which welcomes non-Muslim visitors and where you will see illuminated korans, some on animal hides, as well as twelfth-century works on mathematics, medicine and history. The sanctuary, as for centuries past, is a refuge for the sick and mentally ill, whom you'll see sitting round in the courtyard; they come in the hope of miraculous cures and/or to be supported by the charity of the brotherhood and other benevolent visitors.
The library was once the richest in Morocco, containing 40,000 volumes. Most have been dispersed to Koranic Shools round the country, but Tamegroute preserves a number of very early editions of the koran printed on gazelle hide, and some interesting books, including a thirteenth-century algebra primer featuring western Arabic numerals, which, although subsequently dropped in the Arab world, formed the basis of the West's numbers, through the influence of the universities of Moorish Spain.
The potter's cooperative is on the left as you leave Tamegroute travelling towards Tinfou. Visitors are welcome(Mon-Fri, 7am) and there is no pressure to buy. If you want to see the production of pottery in its simplest form, you will find this an ideal opportunity. Do not be surprised to find the green glaze, on finished items, reminiscent of Fes pottery. This is no accident; the founders of the Naciri Brotherhood wanted to develop Tamegroute - to city status, they hoped. Thus, they invited merchants and craftsmen from Fes to settle in Tamgroute. Two families, still working in the pottery, claim Fes forebears.
More recently, in 1995, the pottery enjoyed further patronage, in the form of a state grant to purchase two gas-fired kilns. This is part of a project to revive the fortunes of the Draa valley. You will see elegant bowls thrown from the local clay on a foot-operated wheel and then the sun-dried "biscuit" stacked in seven traditional kilns built into the slop. Spinifex (known locally as jujube) and sagebrush raise the temperature to 1000°C, producing the green-glazed ware in a single firing. The minerals for the glaze colour are found locally (copper) and near Tata (manganese).
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lundi 17 janvier 2011

Moroccan pre-Sahara

the Moroccan pre-sahara begins as soon as you cross the atlas to the south.It is not sand for the most part -more a wasteland of rock and scrub -but it is powerfully impressive. The quote from Paul Bowles may sound over the top. but staying at M'hamid or Merzouga, or just stopping a car on a desert road between towns, somehow has this effect.There is, too, an irresistible sense of wonder as you catch a first glimpse of the great southern river vallys -the Drâa, Dadès, Todra, Ziz and tafilalt. long belts of date palm oases, scattered with the fabulous mud architecture of kasbahs and fortified ksour villages, these are the old caravan routes that reached back to Marrakesh and Fes and out across the Sahara to Timbuktu, Niger and old Sudan, carrying gold, slaves and salt well into the nineteenth century.They are beautiful routes, even today, tamed by modern roads and with the oases in decline, and if you're travelling in Morocco for any length of time, they are must. The simplest Morocco tours Marrakesh-Zagora-Marrakesh, or Marrakesh-Tinerhir-Midelt- can be covered in around five days, though to do them any degree of justice you need a lot longer.
The southern oases were long a mainstay of the precolonial economy. Their wealth and the arrival of tribes from the desert, provided the impetus for two of the great royal dynasties :the saadians (1154-1669) from the Drâa Valley, and the present ruling family, the Alaouites (1669) from the tafilalt. By the nineteenth century, however, the advance of the Sahara and the uncertain upkeep of the water channels had reduced life to bare subsistence even in the most fertile strips. Under the French, with the creation of modern industry in the north and the exploitation of phosphates and minerals, they became less and less significant, while the old caravan routes were dealt a final death blow by the closure of the Algerian border after independence. The pattern of the last twenty-five years has been one of steady emigration to the northern cities.
Today, there are a few urban centres in the south; Ouarzazate and Er Rachidia are the largest and both were created by the French to 'pacify' the south; they seem only to underline the end of an age. Although the date harvests in October, centred on Erfoud can still give employment to the ksour communities, the rest of the year sees only the modest production of a handful of crops-henna, barley,citrus fruits and uniquely roses-the latter developed by the French around El Kelâa des Mgouna for the production of rose-water and perfume in May. And to make matters worse, in recent years the seasonal rains have frequently failed. Perhaps as much as half the male population of the ksour now seeks work in the north for at least part of the year.
Tourism brings in a little money, particularty to Ouarzazate and Zagora - once the Gate of the Desert (fifty-two days to Timbuktu) but it too has declined in the 1990s, leaving many hotels empty or, in the case of Ouarzazate, unfinished.

South to Zagora: the Drâa oases

The road from Ouarzazate to Zagora is wide and well maintained, though it does seem to take its toll on tyres. As in the rest of the south, if you're driving make sure you have a good spare and the tools to change it with. If you're on the bus, get yourself a seat on the left-hand side, for the most spectacular views. Although Zagora is the ostensible goal and destination, the valley is the real attraction. Driving the route, try to resist the impulse to burn down to the desert, and take the opportunity to walk out to one or another of the ksour or Kasbahs. Using local transport, you might consider hiring a grand taxi for the day - or half-day - from ouarzazate, stopping to explore some of the kasbahs en route; if you intend to do this, however, be very clear to the driver about your plans.

The lake and over the Tizi n'Tinififft
The route begins unpromisingly: the course of the Drâa lies initially some way to the east and the road runs across bleak, stony flatlands of semi-desert. After 15km a side road,leads down to the El Mansour Eddahbi dam and reservoir which you can see from part of ouarzazate. In 1989 freak rains flooded the reservoir, and the Drâa, for the first time in recent memory, ran its course to the sea beyond Tan Tan.
on the main road, the first interest comes just beyond AÏT SAOUN, one of the few roadside villages along this stretch, where a dramatic change takes place. leaving the plains behind, the road climbs, twists and turns its way up into the mountains, before breaking though the scarp at the pass of Tizi n'Tinififft (1660 m). From the summit of the pass there are fine views to the north, with the main Atlas mountains framing the horizon.
The pass is just 4km beyond Ait Saoun. Beyond it the road swings through a landscape of layered strata, until finally, some 20 km from the pass, you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases - a thick line of palms reaching out into the hazeand the first sign of the Drâa kasbahs, rising as if from the land where the green gives way to desert.

Tamegroute and Tinfou

Tamegroute (19km from Zagora) is reached by a good asphalt road (6958) down the left/east bank of the Drâa, just past the Hotel La Fibule. Take care that you get onto this, and not the old road (6965) to M'hamid on the right/west bank of the river. Tinfou lies 10km on from Tamegroute at a point marked on the Michelin map as "Dunes".

South to M'hamid

The Zagora Oasis stretches for some 30km south of the town, when the Drâa dries up for a while, to resurface in a final fertile belt before the desert. You can follow this route all the way down: the road ( 6958/6965/6954) is now paved over the full 98km from Zagora to M'hamid, and with a car it's a fine trip, and with the option of a night's stop near the dunes at Tinfou, or beyond. If you don't have transport, it's a bit of an effort; there are buses to Tamegroute and further south to M'hamid, but times are inconvenient : the CTM leaves Zagora at 4pm, and arrives at M'hamid at 7pm, and there are local buses which leave Zagora later for Tamegroute only. It is possible to charter a grand taxi for an early morning departure, however, which would not be too expensive if you can find a group to share costs, and limit your sights to a day visit to Tamgroute and the sand dunes near Tinfou.