For anyone interested in touring Morocco’s kasbahs or ksars, I highly recommend starting with Kasbah Taourirt, the Pasha Glaoui’s former palace in Ouarzazate. Its location was strategic for trading routes and in the 1930’s when the Glaoui ruled the South was then considered one of Morocco’s largest Kasbahs. As a Moroccan traveler you can explore its nooks and crannies to discover its history and often local female painters who sell their art inside as well as the many quality silver shops just steps outside the Kasbah.
The word kasbah has two meanings. The first meaning of a kasbah is a fortified village, such as the mountain village of Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In some cases, the word is used to describe the old medina quarter of ancient cities throughout the Middle East and North Africa, such as in Algiers. Kasbahs are essentially attached earthen houses that were built and coexist in a sprawling pattern, which also contain structures for other uses such as bath houses or granaries. Built out of adobe (mud and straw), they were usually situated on a mountain hillside to make defense easier.
The second meaning of a kasbah, which refers to that of Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate, was a place for the local caid (leader) to live which demonstrated a sign of wealth, and also as a place for defense when the city was under attack. In this case,Kasbah Taourirt once served the dual purpose of being both an administrative center, as well as a fort.
For this reason, kasbahs were generally built with high walls and either no windows, or very narrow windows to keep out arrow attacks.
Kasbahs in southern Morocco are generally built on a rock base. Rammed earth is used for the load-bearing walls, which are usually about two feet (60 cm) thick.
Lighter-weight adobe is used on the top story for ornamental work.
Kasbashs are generally started on a rectangular pattern, three stories high, with a tower rising from each corner. Off of that, with time, the kasbah expands with additional rooms and passageways being built in a twisting, turning pattern, without any organized plan. This is the beauty of exploring a kasbah, that one never knows whether around the next corner it will turn, or twist, or go up or down.
Kasbah Taourirt, located in the center of Ouarzazate, a Southern Sahara city and often referred to as “the door to the desrt” is one of the first kasbahs worth visiting on a Sahara Tour. Kasbah Taouirt’s impeccable exterior architechture offers a good understanding of how kasbahs were constructed centuries ago and will enable you to have a better appreciation when you visit other kasbahs in Morocco such as Ait Benhaddou Kasbah and Kasbah Telout.
When visiting Kasbah Taourirt, make sure to have your Morocco Travel Agency provide a historical guide so that you are able to ask questions about the history of the era, construction and be guided throughout it’s maze like interior walls.
Pasha Glaoui–was once known as one of the richest men in the world. Today some of his former residences are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Much of the Kasbahs in the Southern region of Morocco have been restored and while not to their original grandor can lay claim to being simply magnificent. Most of the rooms Kasbah Taourirt are very plain however its interior architecture and exterior are majestic. The fun in exploring any ancient Kasbah comes from wandering through the maze of passageways. Kasbah Taourirt, like Glaoui’s other kasbahs, consists of approximately 300 rooms, and was built to house up to 1,000 slave sand family members. According to a historical guide who mans the front entrance, Glaoui had four official wives and 20 legitimate children. He also had 14 concubines and a total of 60 children all together. Included in the kasbah rooms were stables and garrisons, public reception and ceremonial rooms, domestic living quarters, as well as school rooms for the children.
Many interesting architectural features can be found inside the Kasbah Taourirt. Traditional dyes were used to color in the ceilings tiles that include saffron for the yellow, henna for the red, mint for the green, indigo for the blue, and kohl made from crushed galena (lead ore) for the black. Other ceilings are made out of decorative thatched palm fronds and bamboo, which in some cases are painted, in others, plastered over.
In the photo above, it appears that windows might have been closed up, but this is not the case. Found throughout the kasbah, these were ledges made for candles.
Many famous films include scenes that were filmed in Kasbah Taourirt. Some are: Lawrence of Arabia; The Harem; Diamond of the Nile with Michael Douglas; Rules of Engagement; Prince of Persia; Terres du Lumieres; The Mummy; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité; and Tés au Sahara (Italian).
When visiting the Ouarzazate, region, make sure to begin your tour at Kasbah Taourirt before exploring Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO world heritage site as this will give you a head start and background of appreciation that you can bring along during your Kasbah tour.
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