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near Rissani, Meknès-Tafilalet (Morocco)
I started from Rissani, reached by bus from Fès.
The paln was to cycle bach to Fès but, before undertaking this task, I lingered quite a bit in the Erg Chebbi - Tafilalt region. This is captured in the present track. THe main locations featured are
- the central Erg Chebbi, accessible straight from Merzouga
- the lake of Merzouga, where I saw plenty of flamingoes
- the northten end of the dunes, with the Yasmina resort;
- the loop with the kasbahs and ksars of the old Sijlmassa region.
Note that I did not cycle to Taouz, where the asphalted road ends.
I ended made this track end in Erfoud. A further track will cover the Ziz valley from Erfoud to Midelt.
PHOTOS AND DESCRIPTION: WORK NOT YET COMPLETE
Below, I report the description of my panorama "Land of Sijilmassa" http://www.panorama-photo.net/panorama.php?pid=13097
Sijilmassa, of which nowadays only poor ruins remain, was in the Middle Ages one of the most powerful towns of the Maghreb. Its wealth was bound with the trade route which joined the gold mines of the Ghana Empire to Egypt. This was a shifting route: according to the climatic conditions, the desert was either crossed directly or partly circumvented - in which case Sijilmassa became a favourite stop at the NW corner of the route. Not only gold was traded, but also ebony, ivory, salt and slaves. The town was founded in the VIII century (some sources convey a precise date, namely 757), and collapsed in the XIV century due to internal feuding. There are different highlights in its long history, beginning with the visit of Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah, the founder of the Fatimid dynasty, the one marking the only Shiite parenthesis in the Sunnite history of the Maghreb. According to the Wikipedia page (which I strongly advise to read) there was even a legend according to which the Mahdi [the "guided one" who should come, together with Issa that is Christ, to rule in the last years before the Last Judgement] would come from Mesopotamia to Sijilmassa.
The great Moroccan traveller Ibn-Battuta, who in 1325, when he was 21, set off from Tangier by horse to reach Mecca and become a hajj ("the one who has performed the pilgrimage"), perhaps not knowing at the time that he was going to reach also India, Indonesia, China, Samarquand a.s.o., mentions Sijilmassa when describing Quanzhou, which for him is the largest harbour in the world, and writes: «In this town, like in any other in China, every house owns a garden and also some fields all around, like in Sijilmassa in our country, and this is why all towns are so large. The Muslims, moreover, stays in their own quarter, separated from the others».
Apropos of this latter remark, let us note that in Sijilmassa lived many Jewish people, who where massacred when the town was taken by the Almohads. The Almohads (al-muwahaddin, "those who believe in the unicity of God") were the second great Berber dynasty who ruled the Maghreb and el-Andalus, the first having been the Almoravids (al-murabitin, "those who live in sacred sites"). The Almoravids, too, had been very harsh with the rich commercial city, destroying all the musical instruments and closing all the wine shops.
This photo has been while following the classical 20-km circuit of the oases around Rissani, the modern town risen no more than 2 km away from Sijilmassa. With a détour of 4 km one reaches the rock hill hosting the ksar of Tinheras, the ksar being an adobe-built fortified village, of which in the photo one sees only the last buildings close to the hilltop.
At Tinheras all the streets run under the buildings, sustained by wooden beams (the wood used being of course that of the palm tree); one can easily imagine the underlying reason thinking at the summer temperatures of the region! I did not have a quiet life in the dark, narrow and steep streets: I was pushing the loaded bicycle among a crowd of curious and shouting children; I had also a big stone thrown to me by a woman when I was photographing the pictoresque street where she was working. At the end, I abandoned the ksar pretending to take the direction Rissani; as soon as I was out sight, the crowds of the curious disappeared, such that I turned back and climbed the hill from the other side, where nobody hassled me, and where I enjoyed the present view on the surrounding palmeraie.