Venture off into the edge of Ouarzazate and discover one of Morocco’s most spectacular historical legacies of wealth and power. Just on the edge of this quiet Moroccan city, you’ll find Taourirt Kasbah, a citadel set against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. As far as fortifications are concerned in Morocco, this is one of the most impressive of its kind. With almost 300 rooms and a true maze of passageways, steps, and keylock doors, it’s easy to feel lost within this immense structure that only connects to the outside world through a narrow entrance doorway.
A Powerful Clan
Originally built in the 19th century, the Taourirt Kasbah was owned by the el Glaoui clan, a family that had a powerful stronghold of one of Morocco’s most significant southern caravan routes to West Africa. This power and wealth made the clan one of the country’s most influential families. Its most notable member was Thami El Glaoui, also known as the Lord of the Atlas, who was the Pasha of Marakesh between 1912 and 1956.
Thami El Glaoui was an intriguing figure whose character still leaves many Moroccans torn today. On the one hand, he was a ruthless despot seizing all opportunities for wealth and power that came his way. Having become the head of the Glaoui clan after the death of his elder brother, Thami El Glaoui is probably most remembered for the role he played during the French colonial rule over Morocco. In exchange for complete power over the High Atlas and other southern regions of the country, the Lord of the Atlas aided the European country in overthrowing Sultan Mohammed V. While this leaves many Moroccans believing him to be a traitor, Thami El Glaoui’s vast successes as a warlord and chieftain have made many see him as a fine man too.
Regardless of the particular opinions of the man, it is undoubted that Thami El Glaoui left a lasting impression on his fellow Moroccans and on the course of the history of his country. Although he officially resided at Telouet Kasbah, it was at Taourirt Kasbah that his dynasty’s sons, cousins and extended family spent their day-to-day lives assisted, as always, by servants, craftsmen and builders numbering the hundreds.
A Maze Within
Today, you can visit the imposing building and lose yourself in its maze of infinite rooms, slim passageways and sharp steps. The cobweb of structures that make up the kasbah have resulted in multi-level towers rising out of small ksours (one-family kasbahs) and a bewildering plethora of alleyways and stairwells.
Within the kasbah itself, you will discover uniquely shaped and sized rooms decorated with plaster work, mosaics and painted stucco. The almost 300 rooms vary from reception rooms, to harem rooms and palace kitchens giving you a chance to witness what life was like for a powerful Moroccan clan.
As you make your way up to the top floors of the kasbah, you may start to get the feeling that you’re just seeing the same empty white-wall rooms over and over. But don’t rush through these. Take your time to peer out through the low-lying windows and admire the small details on the wooden ceilings. You’ll come across beautifully adorned Arabic chambers on the top floors.
Although the kasbah is well-preserved today, a part of it is still in ruins. The rooms available to be visited are part of a restoration project that took place with the support of UNESCO. But if you’re looking for an authentic feel of what life is like today in the ancient kasbah, head to the back of the building. There, you’ll find some Moroccan families who still inhabit the ruins and who will be extremely keen to show you inside their home for a small fee ranging from 15 to 20 dirham.
If you stop by Taourirt Kasbah in the evening, take a moment after you visit the palace to enjoy a drink at the café terrace. There, you will be able to witness a splendid Saharan sun set over the village of Taourirt. It will be the perfect way to finish your day of exploring right on the edge of the desert.
Ready, Set, Go!
If you are considering adding a Moroccan stamp to your passport, our renowned team is ready to help you put together what will probably become the best trip of your life! The country is becoming such a popular destination, that it’s good to plan six months or so in advance. Reach out to the JBT Team and see how we can make Morocco come alive for you!
Taourirt Kasbah by Mariya Foteva; Commissioned by Journey Beyond Travel
This 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 on her blog, Pretty Little Things.