The route of a Thousand Kasbahs is possibly one of the most fascinating experiences ever, especially for someone who wants to get to know Morocco in depth. Following the itinerary you will see some famous and also some lesser known places. You will discover exotic paradises and the way of life of the Berber people. Let’s go deeper into this journey.
What is a Kasbah?
The term “kasbah” may sound strange and, to some extent, even ambiguous. Based on its etymology, the Arabic word “kasbah” is translated as a “central part of a city” or, more colloquially, as a “fortress”.
However, this word corresponds to two very different types of architecture. First, we have the kasbahs in the north of the country, such as the Kasbah of the Oudayas in Rabat, the Alcazaba in Chaouen or the Kasbah in Tangier. They are fortified buildings that once served as a place of residence for a governor as well as other administrative and military spaces were added.
Second, we have the southern kasbahs, which functioned as a place to host wealthy families and as a meeting point along trade routes.
These two types, although seemingly similar, are actually quite different. The first type in the North is linked to Muslim culture. These are in fact also present in the Spanish Muslim heritage and reffered to as alcazabas. The second type in the South is related to Berber culture. While Muslim kasbahs were built to last as cornerstones of future cities, Berber kasbahs were located at strategic points with no initial intention of perpetuating or expanding. This is noticeable in the construction materials, mostly adobe, which requires constant maintenance in order to prevent structural collapse.
We will talk about the second group of Kasbahs that dot the route. These kasbahs are the ones that travellers usually refer to when they talk about their beloved Moroccan culture.
The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs
Although the name may seem like an exaggeration, designed to attract the tourist’s eye, it’s actually in line with reality. There are more than a thousand kasbahs in the southern region of Morocco.
The kasbahs are in different states of conservation, some in better shape than others. Some are located in the plains, others are in higher places. They can be very different in certain regards, while at the same time sharing common elements (commonly a rectangular layout with 4 defensive towers and a single entrance access, as well as several upper floors for different uses, usually the first floor for the grain storehouse, the second for the kitchen and workers, and the third for the family). These form an infinite series of variations.
It’s not the purpose of this article to list them all, but to just give enough detail to allow us to understand how different they are from one another. The journey will allow us to discover the variety of natural landscapes that serve as a prelude to the Sahara.
We propose starting in the city of Ouarzazate, which is where Atlas Studios (the largest in the world) and also the Kasbah of Taourirt are. This kasbah is one of the best preserved in the whole country and residence of the representative of the Glaoui, the family that administered the region by means of a feudal system.
Before starting the route, we first go back down national route 9, to reach Aït Ben Haddou 30 kilometers (19 miles) away. This ksar (that is, set of kasbahs) overlooks the Ounila River and is surrounded by crops, palm trees and fruit trees. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, although its popularity is due mainly to having been the scene of many films such as “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gladiator” and “Babel” among many others. The panoramic view from a height on the access road is a must-see.
We continue along the Ounila valley for 20 more kilometers (12 miles) until we come across the Kasbah of Telouet, in an apparent state of abandonment if we look at its façade but with a diametrically different interior that has sometimes been compared to the Alhambra in Granada.
Then we return to Ouarzazate and take national route 10. The next stop on the way is the palm grove of Skoura and the Kasbah of Amridil, in a more than enviable state of conservation and inside of which we see items used in daily life from centuries past.
On the way to our next discovery we will pass through the Valley of the Roses, an essential stop especially in spring, in which the flowering of the damask rose, resistant to cold and drought, paints the valley.
Later we will be able to enjoy the Tinerhir valley, which has a 20-mile-long gorge (30 km) and walls that rise to 1000 feet (300 m) in altitude. On a hill, the Kasbah of El Glaoui looks down over the valley and, although it’s of little architectural interest since it’s in an obvious state of ruin, it’s still well worth going up to its location to have a unique view of the landscape.
Then we take the R113 road, which later connects to national route 12. We reach the Tazzarine Oasis and later the N’kob oasis, both located at the foot of the Jbel Saghro massif.
It’s worth stopping in Tazzarine to see its rock carvings, but the second oasis is especially interesting, a vast palm grove that houses more than 50 kasbahs. Although the majority are in a deep state of deterioration making it impossible to go in them, in few places like this it’s possible to see the expansive landscape of a date farm dotted with signs of ancient civilization.
If we continue the route we cross national route 9 again, and we must decide whether to turn right or left.
Turning to the right, we will return to Ouarzazate, but not before passing through the Agdz citadel, which is located in the Draâ valley, almost 200 kilometers (125 miles) long. Inside the city is the Kasbah of Caid Ali, a 19th-century fortress that has been renovated and converted into an inn. On the outskirts is Tamnougalt, where two kasbahs are located, one of the same name and the other called Kasbah of Caids, where various movies were filmed.
If we have enough time it’s best to turn left toward the Kasbah of Oulad Othmane, which dates from the 17th century and which, like the one in Agdz, is also well maintained thanks to the income provided by its hotel industry.
We have to keep going at least to Tamegroute to discover a type of kasbah that we haven’t seen as of yet: a buried kasbah, in order to withstand the high temperatures due to its closeness to the desert. This city also houses a library that contains the largest number of ancient Arab manuscripts in all of North Africa. Now, we change direction returning to Ouarzazate by way of Agdz, which we have already described above.
An experience worth a few days
The proposed route is 2 to 4 days, so we have to spend the night; Fortunately, there are suitable accommodations all along the route. There are even some ancient kasbahs available for travelers who want a more authentic accommodation experience.
This is just a humble effort to paint the greatest architectural heritage in Morocco in a few brushstrokes. If you have been in the area and want to contribute by adding something that surprised you, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments.
If you want to know more, visit our page on the Sahara.