Traveling along the “Road of a Thousand Kasbahs” in Morocco gives you an opportunity to see a LOT of Kasbahs. Like there really are thousands of them. After looking at so many you finally have to visit one so we spent an hour or so exploring the UNESCO preserved Glaoui palace at the Taourirt Kasbah in Ouarzazate.
Kasbahs were basically citadels built along caravan routes to protect the flow of trade across the Sahara to the seacoast cities of Casablanca and Rabat. Made of adobe, these structures offer exotic architectural detail and a window into a history pretty much unknown to those of us who grew up studying the History of Western Civilization in high school and college. The Taourirt Kazabah was built in the early 19th century by the Glaoua tribe of Berbers. The head of the tribe, the Pasha, lived to the north in Marrakech but the palace that bears the tribal name was an important stronghold in the Glaoua network of tribal power south of the High Atlas Mountains.
History aside, Kongo was fascinated by the architectural detail of this 300-room palace that contained a souq, reception rooms, harems, and kitchens. It’s a rambling maze of rooms, anterooms, passageways, and stairways, that takes off in all directions. This is the kind of place that makes you want to go back home and makeover everything in your Southern California pseudo-Spanish whatever into a mini Moroccan Kasbah. Like what monkey wouldn’t want his own secret harem stashed away?
Like so many architecturally significant buildings in Morocco, the ceiling decorations are really over the top. You constantly find yourself with a kink in your neck from looking up.
Kongo was particularly intrigued by the hundreds of unique doorways and windows that afforded views into other parts of the Kasbah complex.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting Kasbahs, or actually just about any place in Morocco, is to always keep a few coins in your pocket. Coins seem to be the hardest thing for Westerners to come up with. They always have bills, but you really need those 5 or 10 Dirham coins to make things right with the toilet minders and they are pretty much anywhere there’s a comfort station.
We were led through the Kasbah by our trusty and knowledgeable guide, Said, who knows quite a bit about Kasbah history and Morocco.
Now some parts of the Kasbah are still in ruins. A small group of villagers still live in adobe dwellings built off the back walls of the palace and you can see their homes from the various windows in the palace. UNESCO has paid for much of the restoration and there is a cooperative art gallery that also generates funds for the upkeep.
That famous pickup line, “Meet me at ze Kasbah” uttered by Charles Boyer to Heddy Lamar in the classic movie Algiers, filmed (in Hollywood) in 1937, was never actually used in the movie. It’s one of those classic movie quotes that never happened. BUT it was used in the trailer to the movie. Just keeping them honest…
Here’s a link to a conservation project by the Getty Conservation Institute to help preserve these historic Kasbahs.
Travel safe. Have fun.
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