The road from Erfoud to Ksar El Khorbat
Short Description. I explored the khattara irrigation system in Majha Fezna. Near Tinejdad, I went to the Oasis Museum in Ksar El Khorbat and the Water Museum in Source Lalla Mimoun. Eventually, I spent the night in a camping ground near the entrance to the Todra Gorges.
After passing Erfoud – a small town with reddish houses, dusty streets, and women well-muffled-up in their headscarves and djellabas, I stopped at a big tent (khaima) near Majha Fezna village. There, two Bedouin brothers, Karim and Hamid, managed the visit to the underground irrigation system of the oases (khattara).
The khattara irrigation system consisted of a network of pits up to seven meters in depth. The main pit captured the groundwater, which was then hauled through an underground canal and irrigated the oases located 10-15 kilometers away from the mountains. The access pits were used for the construction and maintenance of the irrigation system. For example, you could climb down through a dark tunnel to one of the underground wells, where a bucket hung by a wooden lever.
Karim and Hamid were Bedouins from the Arabian Peninsula. They spoke Arabic and, before settling down, they had a nomadic lifestyle – they lived in a tent with donkeys and sheep. At the moment of my visit, they lived in the nearby village of Fezna and managed the visit to the khattara irrigation system. After the tourist groups left, they invited me to have tea with them. When they found out I would write a book about Morocco, they insisted on having a tajine with them for lunch.
From Majha Fezna, the road crossed a desert region where wicker fences prevented sandstorms from flooding the asphalt road. A shepherd cursed me when I took pictures of his sheep. Here and there, wild camels freely crossed through the scenery dotted with isolated palm trees and acacia trees.
A town near the desert, Tinejdad featured reddish houses, unpaved dusty streets, and small shopfronts on the ground floor of the houses. In the town center kids ran unbothered everywhere. At the exit from Tinejdad, a bridge crossed a river toward the fortified village of Ksar El Khorbat. In Ksar El Khorbat, an old mud-brick house had been partially refurbished as the Oasis Museum. In addition to that, the other part of the house hosted a traditional guest house.
Ksar El Khorbat – the oasis museum
As I had an ICOMOS membership card, the president of the local NGO asked the painter Rachid Bouskri to guide me through the museum and the dark underground streets of the ksar. Rachid had been painting for twelve years. He showed me his paintings and told me he studied French and arts in Meknes (one of the four Imperial Cities of Morocco) and graphic arts in Casablanca. Above all, he even had a few painting exhibitions throughout Morocco. However, his heart was in Tinejdad where he was born. There, the NGO sold the artists’ work and used the money to restore the ksar.
Ksar El Khorbat had been founded in 1860 and had 152 houses. Rachid showed me all the restoration works made by the NGO in the village: pavements, sewage, water, and electricity. Only 50 families lived in the ksar before the restoration works but after that 87 families moved there due to better living conditions. Nevertheless, not all inhabitants could pay for utilities. Some of them preferred to take water from the recently restored public well. In addition, approximately seven persons lived in a house, aside from animals (chickens, cows, sheep). The inhabitants named the streets after the name of the tribe living in that neighborhood (for example, Ait Irbiben, Ait Ikablin). Besides, 33 people worked in the Ksar El Khorbat NGO (museum, restaurant, and guest house), and most of them preferred to live in the ksar.
Cobblestone streets led to the central square (asarag) opening as a public space near the fortification walls of the ksar. The inhabitants of the ksar often met in the 3000-year-old square – the place where feasts (weddings, fairs, souks) and other celebrations took place. The mud-brick houses in the ksar had several floors with small windows and crenelated terraces on the last floor. In this environment, inner courtyards were the only way to bring light inside the agglutinated houses of the village. From place to place, streets went out from the dark gangways and you could see a bit of sky.
The Oasis Museum displayed local instruments, simple drawings, and old photos. It ingeniously explained the life, importance, and role of oases in the sub-Saharan region. Informative panels explained how carpets were woven on big looms and how ceramic vessels were baked in specially-built earth ovens. Also, many old prayer books were displayed in rudimentary shop windows. After visiting the museum, Rachid showed me Gite Ksar El Khorbat – an old house dating from 1860, entirely built of mud-bricks and refurbished as a guest house. The guest house had ten rooms, a minimal conference hall, and even a small swimming pool. All rooms displayed colorful Berber carpets, camel-wool blankets, and wrought-iron furniture.
After visiting Ksar El Khorbat, the president of the NGO and Rachid invited me to have lunch with them and even to stay overnight in their small guest house – Gite Ksar El Khorbat. They ate tajine for lunch while I had chicken escalope, yogurt with apples and date syrup, and then, typical Moroccan tea. The restaurant of the guest house (the place where caravans once stopped) featured a palm-tree garden and pergolas with colorful flowers.
Local people founded the Ksar El Khorbat NGO in 2004. Its president had worked in Spain and witnessed how cultural monuments were restored in Europe. In 2006-2007, they had a collaboration with the Architecture School in Barcelona. In the following years, they continued to bring students from Europe for the restoration of the ksar. Also, the president promoted the ksar as a tourism destination, but he did that only to small agencies to avoid mass tourism. Later in 2015, they organized the Solidarity Week, and many cooperatives came to sell their products at this event. As a result, they collected 600 000 euros at the event and invested the money in restoration works.
Sources Lalla Mimoun Museum – the water museum
After exiting Tinejdad, I craned forward to read the signpost pointing toward Sources Lalla Mimoun Museum. There, the calligrapher Zaid Abbou founded and built the Water Museum – his life work. He had collected exhibits for 29 years since he lived in Agadir. In 2002, he started to build the museum in his native region near Tinejdad but he completed it only in 2006.
The museum had four inner courtyards and each one captured a water spring from the area. Further, the complex featured terraces, pergolas, and small buildings, and it also displayed old wooden gates with comb bolts. In other words, the lock could be opened only by introducing a comb with a special kind of cogs. In the garden, several camel-hair Berber tents pictured the nomad life in the desert. Moreover, the museum also displayed old prayer books, the Koran, and even ancient texts written on papyrus and rolled inside reed trunks. In the last building, informative panels explained the construction techniques used to built houses of sun-dried clay-and-straw bricks, but also richly painted wooden beams and rafters.
In one of the courtyards, Zaid explained to me how they measured the irrigation time with a „water clock.” A bowl with a hole in the middle was filled with water and raised into the air. The water dripped out in a certain amount of time. This amount of time measured an irrigation time unit. So Zaid made a knot on a straw for each emptied bowl. Each family had the right to an irrigation time measured by knots on a straw depending on their social status and size of land.
When I entered the room displaying old books, I told Zaid how much I liked old books. He said he liked them too. Before I left, he unexpectedly gifted me a page from an old prayer book written in Arabic. He also wrote my name with distinctive calligraphy on the envelope.
Zaid made calligraphy with special inks, and each letter he drew had a meaning: love, freedom, and even a verse of the poet Khalil Gibran. Zaid sold a big calligraphy for 200 Dirhams and a postcard with a single letter for 50 Dirhams.
Tinghir was a typical Moroccan small town situated at the entrance to the Todra Gorges. After passing Tinghir, I stopped at a panoramic lookout point overlooking the oases preceding the gorges. The mud-brick villages mingled with the brownish mountains and rocky gorges in the backdrop. Abundant oases and cultivated land plots brought a verdant spot in the brownish monochromy of the scenery. In the parking lot overlooking the gorges, a Moroccan „allowed” me to take photos. After that, he told me I had to pay him 10 Dirhams for the parking (a vacant lot). I told him he should have informed me that from the beginning. Eventually, he gave up and left right away.
Women in the nearby village wore white, transparent veils as dresses or head coverings. A bit further, I stopped at Camping Le Soleil, situated near the entrance to the Todra Gorges. The camping site had simple pitches flanked by palm trees, a few Berber tents or mud-brick houses for rent, and a Berber restaurant.
If you want to read more about the road trip through Morocco, here are all the Travelogues from Morocco (x21).
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