Is this the Middle Ages or modern Morocco? Are those men sultans? Is this a medieval battleground? Before you stretches a tent city, built around a courtyard. These tents, by today’s standards are opulent and luxurious. Rich Moroccan carpets and killims cover the floors. Tapestries are hung on the walls in traditional reds and greens. Once inside, outside walls cannot be seen. One passes through arches and battlements into rooms that speak of wealth and royalty. It seems as though time has stood still.

One would think that he is watching Sultans of old meting out justice, supervising the collection of taxes and gratuities, and administering to his peoples. You get the feeling that any moment, a fierce Ottoman warrior, dressed in shining armor, brandishing his sword in the name of Allah will appear. Nowhere in the line of vision do you see anyone in modern attire. All those present are dressed in traditional Moroccan gandouras and djellabas. Local dignitaries, tribal sheikhs, and powerful landlords of old are all there along with renowned horse breeders.

Welcome to the world famous Horse Festival of Tissa, held every year. The dates are never set well ahead of time, so the time of year often changes. This simple market town, located an hour’s drive from Fez, comes to life as though it were pictured in a illuminated manuscript about medieval times. Most of the residents in and around Tissa are corn farmers. Area around Tissa is belies the fact that not that long ago this land was filled with herds and young warrior-herdsmen guarding them out of black tents. When enough rain came, they would plant corn. Now with irrigation and modern machinery, the herds are for the most part gone.

However, the heart and pride of the horsemen never left. Originally, the festival was held in honor of Sidi Muhammad ben Lahcen, a man of God of the 15th century. Now it is an elaborate horse show. Men come to show off their pure bred Arabian stallions, Barbary mares and the Arab-Berber horses. They compete for prizes, wear elaborate costumes and show off their mounts. To bring the Horse Festival of Tissa to a close, there is a huge parade in the stadium. The Horse Festival of Tissa is truly a magical experience.

by Carole Morris

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