From Erfoud to the Todra Gorges, passing Ksar El Khorbat – Morocco

17 Feb

From Erfoud to Ksar El Khorbat

Short Description. I stopped at the khattara irrigation system from Majha Fezna, where I had tea with Karim and Hamid. Near Tinejdad, I went to the Oasis Museum in Ksar El Khorbat and to the Water Museum in Source Lalla Mimoun. I spent the night in a camping near the entrance to the Todra Gorges.

Long Description

After I left Camping Tifina, I passed Erfoud a small town with reddish houses, dusty streets, and women well-muffled-up in their headscarves and djellabas. After I passed Majha Fezna village, I stopped near a big tent (khaima). There two Bedouin brothers (Karim and Hamid) managed the visit to the underground irrigation system of the oases (named khattara).

In general, the 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 from the mountains. The access pits used for the construction and maintenance of the irrigation system rose above the ground. I climbed down through a dark tunnel to one of the underground wells, where a bucket suggestively hung by a wooden lever.

Majha Fezna: near one of the pits of the khattara irrigation system

Majha Fezna: near one of the pits of the khattara irrigation system

Karim and Hamid were Bedouins from the Arabian Peninsula. They spoke Arabic and before settling up, 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 all the tourists departed, 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.

Majha Fezna: with Karim and Hamid who showed to me the khattara underground irrigation system

Majha Fezna: with Karim and Hamid who showed to me the khattara underground irrigation system

From Majha Fezna, I drove through a desert region where wicker fences prevented sandstorms to reach the asphalt road. A shepherd cursed me when I took pictures of his sheep. Wild camels freely crossed the scenery dotted with isolated palm trees and acacias.

I arrived in Tinejdad, a town near the desert, with reddish houses, unpaved dusty streets, and shopfronts at the ground floor of the houses. Kids ran unbothered everywhere. At the exit from Tinejdad, I crossed the bridge over a river and went to the fortified village of Ksar EL Khorbat. In the ksar, an old mud-brick house had been partly refurbished as the Oasis Museum. The other part of the restored house became a traditional guest house.

Ksar El Khorbat

The President of the Local Heritage Association Ksar El Khorbat saw my ICOMOS card when I entered the museum. He immediately asked the painter Rachid Bouskri to guide me through the museum and through the dark underground streets of the ksar. I gladly walked with Rachid through the ksar and appreciated that kids no longer annoyed me to give them something. 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. He even had a few exhibitions throughout Morocco. However, his heart remained in Tinejdad area where he was born. The association sold the artists’ works and used the money to restore the ksar.

Ksar El Khorbat was established in 1860 and had 152 houses. Rachid showed to me all the restoration works made by the association in the village: pavements, sewage, water, and electricity. Only 50 families lived in the ksar before the restoration but after that, 87 families lived 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 communal well. Approximately seven persons lived in a house, aside from their animals (chickens, cows, sheep). The inhabitants named the streets after the tribe that lived in that neighborhood (i.e. Ait Irbiben, Ait Ikablin). In addition, 33 people worked in the Ksar El Khorbat Association (museum, restaurant, and guest house) and most of them preferred to live within the ksar.

Ksar El Khorbat: asarag - the main square in the ksar

Ksar El Khorbat: asarag – the main square in the ksar

Rachid led me through the paved streets of the village to the central square (asarag). The square suddenly opened as a public space near the fortification walls of the ksar. The inhabitants of the ksar met in the 3000-year-old square, a space where feasts (weddings, fairs, souks) took place. Built of mud-bricks, the dwellings in the ksar had several floors, with small windows and crenelated terraces at the last floor. 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 one could see the sky.

Ksar El Khorbat: typical street in the ksar, with my painter/guide Rachid

Ksar El Khorbat: typical street in the ksar, with my painter/guide Rachid

The Oasis Museum displayed local instruments, simple drawings, and old photos. It ingeniously explained life, importance, and role of oases in the sub-Saharan area. Typical carpets were woven on big looms, while ceramic vessels were baked in specially built earth ovens. Many old prayer books were displayed in rudimentary shop windows. After that, Rachid showed me Gite Ksar El Khorbat. – an old house dating from 1860, entirely built of mud-bricks, refurbished as a guest house (10 rooms, and even a small swimming pool and a minimal conference hall). All rooms displayed colorful Berber carpets, camel-wool blankets, and wrought-iron furniture.

Ksar El Khorbat - refurbished in a restored mud-brick house inside the ksar

Ksar El Khorbat – refurbished in a restored mud-brick house inside the ksar

After the official visit through Ksar El Khorbat, the president of the association 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, 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 stopped once) featured a palm-tree garden and pergolas with colorful flowers.

Ksar El Khorbat: with Rachid and the president of the Association Ksar El Khorbat

Ksar El Khorbat: with Rachid and the president of the Association Ksar El Khorbat

The local people founded the Ksar El Khorbat Association in 2004. Its president had worked in Spain and witnessed what a true cultural heritage restoration meant in Europe. In 2006-2007, they had a collaboration with the Architecture School from Barcelona. Many students worked at the restoration of the ksar. The president continued to bring students from Europe for the restoration of the ksar. In addition, he promoted the ksar as a tourism destination, but only to small agencies in order to avoid mass tourism. In 2015 they organized the Solidarity Week and many cooperatives came to sell their products. They collected 600 000 euros as a result of the event.

Museum Sources Lalla Mimoun 

After the copious lunch in Ksar El Khorbat, I did no longer feel like visiting another place. However, at the exit from Tinejdad, I craned forward to better read the signpost that pointed toward the Sources Lalla Mimoun Museum. There, the calligrapher Zaid Abbou constructed the Water Musem from scratch – his life work. He had collected the exhibits for 29 years since he had lived in Agadir. In 2002, he started to build the museum in his native area near Tinejdad, and he completed it only in 2006.

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun - the main entrance gate

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun – the main entrance gate

The museum had four inner courtyards – each courtyard captured a water spring from the area. Terraces, pergolas, and small buildings with old exhibits were scattered over a large surface of terrain so that a visit to the museum required some time. The museum displayed old wooden gates with comb bolts (that is, the lock could be opened only by introducing a comb with a certain type of cogs). Several camel-hair Berber tents simulated the nomads’ life in the desert. In a small building, Zaid displayed old prayer books, the Koran, and even old texts written on papyrus and then rolled inside reed trunks. Another part of the museum displayed the construction techniques used to built houses of sun-dried clay-and-straw bricks, but also richly painted wooden beams and rafters.

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun - old tools and instruments

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun – old tools and instruments

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. Zaid made a knot on a straw for each emptied bowl. Depending on their social status and the size of their land, each family had the right to a certain irrigation time as measured by a number of knots on a straw.

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun - method for measuring time for irrigation

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun – method for measuring time for irrigation

I told Zaid 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. On the envelope, he wrote my name with a distinctive calligraphy. He made the calligraphies with a special ink, 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 Dh, and a postcard with a single letter for 50 Dh.

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun: Zaid Abbou - the calligrapher painting beautiful letters

Museum Sources Lala Mimoun: Zaid Abbou – the calligrapher painting beautiful letters

I headed toward Tinghir, a typical Moroccan small town situated at the entrance to the Todra Gorges. At any given moment, 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. In a few irrigated areas, abundant oases and cultivated land plots brought a verdant spot in the brownish monochromy of the surroundings. In a parking lot overlooking the gorges, a Moroccan „allowed” me to take photos. After that, he told me I had to pay to him 10Dh for the parking (a vacant lot). I yelled at him with my improvised French that he should have told me that from the beginning. He gave up and left right away.

I left the parking lot and passed a few women who wore white, transparent veils (as dresses or head coverings). After a few more kilometers, I stopped at Camping Le Soleil, situated near the entrance to the Todra Gorges. As most of the camping grounds in Morocco, the campsite had simple pitches flanked by palm trees, a few Berber tents or mud-brick houses for rent, and a Berber restaurant.

From Erfoud to the Todra Gorges is my diary about the road trip from Erfoud to the Todra Gorges in Morocco. My road trip from the Todra Gorges to the Draa Valley can be found in the following travel journal – From Todra & Dades to the Draa Valley. And here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x…..).

Have you been to Morocco or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked about Morocco or what you’re interested to see there.

Want to subscribe to my travel diaries? Just leave your email in the subscription form below and you’ll be notified when I publish a new travel diary.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

  • Share on Tumblr

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.