Short Description. A private taxi took us from M’Hammid to Ammzerou (near Zagora), where I had left my rented car. At lunch, we strolled through Ksar Ait Benhaddou for a couple of hours. At dusk, we crossed the High Atlas Mountains via the Tizi N’Tikka Pass. We arrived at Naima’s home in Marrakesh around midnight.
Meriem had an early morning flight from Zagora to Casablanca. Mohammed had talked with a private taxi to take us along the Draa Valley: from M’Hammid (where the camel trek through the Sahara Desert ended) to Zagora (where the trek had started a few days before). The Draa Valley appeared very dry in this section. Low-altitude reddish mountains and typical mud-brick kasbahs dominated the valley. We stopped in the small town of Tamegroute – known for its desert pottery of colored plates and tajine cookware. Eventually, we went to the camping ground Oasis les Palmier in Ammzerou, where I had parked my rented car for four days throughout our trek in the Sahara Desert.
The road from Zagora to Ksar Ait Benhaddou
An endless road along the Draa Valley awaited us from Zagora to Ouarzazate (the same road I drove a week before when I had come from the Dades Gorges). Palm-tree oases abundantly grew along the 200-km Draa Valley. Whereas ksars with mud-brick houses dotted the border between vegetation and rocky desert (hammada). On the Oued Ounilla, a valley with little vegetation, the iconic ksar Ait Benhaddou appeared on the horizon.
We parked in Issiwid (a village built along the same river, but opposite to Ait Benhaddou). Then we quickly had lunch – sheep skewers with vegetables-rice and a tajine, at a Moroccan riad. After lunch, we wandered the traditional streets with traditional mudbrick houses. Piles of rubbish, hay, and mud-brick dwellings adorned with geometric Berber decorations flanked the dusty streets. Colorful stalls selling Berber shawls, jewels, and knives, as well as djellabas and masks flanked the narrow alleys of the village. From Issiwid we crossed the Ounilla River and reached the lower part of ksar Ait Benhaddou.
Ksar Ait Benhaddou
Ait Benhaddou was an important outpost on the caravan route that connected former Sudan with the imperial cities of Morrocco. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the ksar was a typical example of a compact fortified habitat of the pre-Saharan regions in southern Morocco. The settlement featured simple mud-brick buildings built in the XVII-XVIIIth centuries. Reddish dwellings crowded at the foot of a rocky slope. While a collective granary (igrhem n’iqadarne) surrounded by a fortification wall dominated the settlement from a hilltop.
We explored the narrow, winding streets of the ksar, then passed the main mosque. After that, we climbed to the fortification from the top of the village. The abrupt streets passed through vaulted corridors built on the ground floor of mud-brick houses. Not many people lived in the village and only a few buildings seemed entirely restored. Most of them collapsed or seemed abandoned while their inner courtyards looked more like residual space. But on the walls of some houses, signs with the inscription ‘Gladiator’ pointed toward the place where scenes of the famous movie had been cast.
Noble families built approximately eight kasbahs in the ksar’s neighborhood near the river. Their volumes featured defensive corner towers with a richly decorated cornice. The imposing kasbahs could easily be distinguished by their mighty walls on the backdrop of the built dwellings mass. We entered Kasbah Ait Ougrem – a large fortified mud-brick fortified dwelling, developed on several floors, around an inner courtyard and four defense corner towers. The kasbah had minimal spaces with little basic furniture. On the ground floor, it featured a kitchen with an earth oven built directly on the ground. Next to the kitchen, it had a meeting area with colored bedspreads and Berber carpets. In the kasbah’s courtyard, a donkey reminded of the traditional ‘Berber car’ (the most encountered mean of locomotion in Morocco).
The road from Ait Benhaddou to Marrakesh
We left Ait Benhaddou late in the afternoon (around 6 p.m). When I called her, Naima assured me that I could arrive at her house in Marrakesh even late at night. I bought a Coca Cola, then set off to Marrakesh. During the whole road trip, Mohammed was my co-driver and helped me whenever I needed. The winding road first climbed toward the High Atlas Mountains, then snaked down to Marrakesh. We reached the Tizi N’Tikka mountain pass right before dusk. After we passed it, the sun disappeared behind the serrated ridges of the mountains.
The Tizi N’Tikka pass (2260m of altitude) marked the highest spot where cars could cross the High Atlas Mountains. The current road connected Marrakesh to the oases in southern Morocco. It bypassed the old caravan route that once connected the imperial cities with the Draa Valley. I drove the only 200 kilometers from Ait Benhaddou to Marrakesh slower than I had expected. The traffic conditions featured a dreadful combination of pitch-darkness, drizzle, and the dazzling headlights of the cars coming from the opposite direction. Mohammed soon became a specialist in turning on and off the high beams. Finally, at midnight, I enjoyed driving on the streets of Marrakesh when the traffic had already reduced to the minimum and was less terrifying.
If you want to read more about my trip through Morocco, here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x 21).
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