Koran in Tamegroute Morocco
Set on the southern edge of the Draa Valley just before Morocco’s Erg Chigaga Sahara Desert, the little village of Tamegroute (Tamgrout) may be easily ignored by passersby who are not aware of it’s existence. From the outside, the small pre-desert town goes almost unnoticed with its typical sand-colored houses that blend with the aridness of the backdrop.

It’s hard to believe that such a seemingly undistinguished village could house what was once considered to be the richest library in North Africa with almost 50,000 volumes collected from all over the world. But that is exactly what Tamegroute is: a surprising gem on the outskirts of the Sahara housing one of Morocco’s most interesting pieces of history.

The Birth of a Religious Movement

Tamegroute’s fascinating history begins 400 years ago in the 17th century when Sidi Mohammed bin Nasir became a teacher at the desert town’s zawiya (a religious sanctuary and school) originally established in the 11th century. Sidi Mohammed bin Nasir was a theologian, scholar and physician who composed a collection of writings on fikh, pieces of poetry and treatises on Islamic law. He also founded a new religious movement: the Naciri brotherhood, a key Sufi movement of moderate Islam. Soon, this movement branched out into other parts of Morocco and Muslims of this brotherhood became known as peacemakers and missionaries.

Thus, under Sidi Mohammed bin Nasir, the Tamegroute zawiya was renamed Zawiya Nasiriyya (also spelled Zaouia Naciria) and it became the seat of the Naciri brotherhood. When Sidi Mohammed bin Nasir finally passed, he was succeeded by his son Ahmad. This began a tradition of a father-to-son succession that has continued until today.

An Exquisite Collection

Sidi Ahmad bin Nasir led an incredible life, making six pilgrimages to Mecca throughout his lifetime that became year-long journeys through countries such as Ethiopia, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, and Iraq among many others. Throughout his travels, Ahmad took the opportunity to establish new branches of his father’s religious movement and to collect a variety of books that he carried back to Tamegroute. When he passed away, the already exquisite library became the richest one of its kind in North Africa with a plethora of books covering such diverse topics as algebra, astrology, religion, poetry, medicine, and much more.

You may feel disappointed that today the incredible 50,000 volume collection has been reduced to a little over 4,000 books, but don’t fret! The 45,000+ books that are now “missing” from the library at Tamegroute have actually been donated to other museums and learning centers in Morocco to be showcased and studied by experts.

The pieces of writing that remain in Tamegroute will still leave you astonished. Some of the volumes housed within the walls of this historical library include a host of impressive examples of the Koran, ancient books on various topics including an illustrated dictionary of animals, as well as illuminated transcripts with beautiful calligraphy. However impressive these may be, the star of the show is definitely the 13th century Koran engraved on a patch of gazelle skin. You won’t be allowed to photograph inside the library so make sure to take your time while you’re there and really take in as much of this phenomenal collection as possible.

Witness a Miracle

This impressive ancient library is set within the walls of the 17th century Zawiya Nasiriyya which also houses Sidi Mohammed bin Nasir’s mausoleum, the graves of eight marabouts (important Muslim leaders or teachers) and a medersa (madrasa).

The religious importance of these tombs regularly attract visits who are often mentally and physically ill and who seek refuge here. They come to pray daily for healing and atonement by the barakah (or the beneficent force of God) of the Nasariyya. Some stay for months, waiting for God’s forgiveness and a miracle to heal them.

Perhaps such a miracle will come, but perhaps the real miracle is how this incredible zawiya has been able to survive the test of time and preserve within its walls the magical essence of an ancient by-gone era. Even though the journey to the small desert town of Tamegroute may be tricky and you will have to pass through an intricate weave of above- and below-ground alleyways to reach the zawiya, it will all be worth it when you get to witness one of Morocco’s best kept secrets.

Getting Here and Beyond

Visiting Tamegroute requites getting off the beaten path in Morocco – a speciality of our team at Journey Beyond Travel. One itinerary we have that does this (and one of our favorite) is our Wild Sahara Erg Chigaga Trip. If you’d like to chat to travel experts, feel free to give a shout to our renowned team!

Photo by: jasminejennyjen


Maria Inês PintoThis article was co-authored with Maria Inês Pinto, a young Portuguese freelancer born with a passion for writing and travel.She has spent her life hopping around different countries, having lived in Canada, the US, India and Ireland. Now residing in Portugal, she is planning to move to Mozambique soon to pursue her third passion: humanitarian work. In her free time, she travels and writes about her adventures.