Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs – Morocco (21.02.16)
South of the High Atlas Mountains, between the high snow-capped peaks and low-level Sahara Desert massif, the ‘Valley of One Thousand Kasbahs’ sits prettily, as if out of an exotic fairy tale. Mountains, gorges, deserts, oases and fortified kasbahs surprise you at every turn.
Dominated by the dramatic dry mountain scenery, with a sprinkling of palm tree fringed oases and harsh mountain terrain, the people of this southern region of Morocco appear to have made peace with their surroundings. The patchwork of small Kasbah settlements nestles up against rock escapements, steep valleys and spreads over flatter desert-scapes, and their self-sufficient lifestyle seems hardly to have changed over the centuries.
Certainly their mud brick fortifications, as well as rocky outcrop locations, cope admirably with the fierce change in desert and mountain temperatures. Heavily fortified, the larger Kasbah structures stand as loud and proud as any mediaeval northern European castle.
Travelling south from Marrakech, across the Tizi n Test Pass, you drop down into the Ounila Valley and continue on towards one of southern Morocco’s most extraordinary preserved giant fortified towns, Ait Ben Haddou. It’s as unscathed today as it was when it presided over the former 17th century Sahara caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh.
The local earthen clay architecture, as shown in these photos, is rightly revered the world over as one of Morocco’s most impressive traditional desert settlements. Understandably it was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Equally impressive are the routes south to Zagora, and east along the Vallee du Dadés (also known as ‘Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs’) towards the giant sand dunes of Erfoud. Quarzazate, the capital of the region, gives way to dozens of spectacular Kasbah buildings. Lining the road through to Boulmaine, Tinghir and Errachidia, they look like immaculate museum-worthy puzzle structures. The ever-changing light throws out a kaleidoscope of patterns, charged by distant storm rainbows, bright twilight sunsets and constantly changing dusty pink, red and orange desert rock formations.
As you leave the larger settlements on the fertile river plain, you climb higher up into the splendid mountain gorges with their wonderful valley views. Dadés Gorge and Gorge du Toudeha twist and curl higher towards the snow line, as the Vallee du Dadés disappears below. Whether driving, walking or riding atop a four-legged friend among children chasing goats along shepherd paths, you soon succumb to the Atlas charm with sleepy mountain hamlets.
The sheer scale and peace will remain deep in your travel memory for many years to come.