The area between Anmiter and Tamdaght or Ait Benhaddou is known as the Ounila valley - the Ounila river runs through it - though I have seen some guide books refer to it as Paradise valley - the locals dont seeml to call it this though.
This road was originally the road that the Glaoui rulers kept rule over as it was part of the caravan routes down through South Morocco to Mali and Mauritania and other countries of the sub-Sahara and there are still several Glaoui kasbahs enroute.
Until recently this road has remained in use with many villagers along the OUnila river as it makes it way down through almost Grand Canyon looking landscape and for all these years has been rough piste or dirt road - but as so stunning and picturesque a popular route for 4x4 excursions.
I actually did this road in 2004 in a normal car which was amazingly beautiful but very rugged and the 55 kms from Anmiter to Ait Benhaddou took us 5 hours!! Just recently a new asphalt road has been made and we drove this road this February 2012 with many almond trees in blossom in the fertile areas that follow the river winding throuh the valley and again in June - stunning! a new top must do route for normal car drivers!!
Theres a few places to stop for coffee along the way and I noticed a new hotel in addition to quite a number of signs advertising gites.
Its still not signposted at the main turn off to Telouet that it is now a normal route through to Ait Benhaddou.
Before the 'modern' palace was built in the 1900's where the Glaoui pashas lived there was an even older palace built in the late 1700's - remains of which are still on the grounds and make for an interesting roam around.
Locals live, play and work right closeby - descendants of the slaves and workers that were bound up in the daily requirements of the palace Lords - which accounts for the number of very dark skinned peoples - brought up from the Sahara and Sub-sahara - who live in the Telouet area amongst the berber peoples. And of course more recent immigrants into the town and area.
Through the years Ive lived in and visited Telouet Ive noticed with the number of tourists - which is really probably not many - that come through Telouet theyve either come whizzing in as part of a huge agency entourage of 4x4 vehicles - stopped for lunch at Telouet Auberge and then taken for a fast tour of the inside of the palace and then whizzed off again - the lucky ones get to see the carpet shop and be taken for a walk through the ruins and around
the slave quarters on the way to the beautiful rooms that remain inside the 'modern' palace.
The even luckier ones with inside knowledge - eg the ones who come via Jackies House or know locals - stay and appreciate the area!
As you wander about the ruins are the exciting little telltale signs of the beauty and grandeur that was here before us - going and gone - the huge cracks that seem to have appeared in the main entrance building of the remaining buildings that can still be entered of the newer palace bring home that 2 or 3 years ago my connections living in Telouet reckoned that only 4 years remained in which the public would be able to enter to see the last of the opulent rooms of the Glaoui - following the loss of the oldest palace which is in total ruins absorbing back into the earth that it was made from.
The village off the main road that runs through Telouet is the original village of Telouet.
Its a fascinating old village with narrow streets and pathways making their ways in and around the mudbrick houses often closely linked or built on top of one another - with interesting doors and doors and windows placed to maintain privacy in the lives of the families living so closely together here - with their animals as well.
Being so close to the palace there are excellent views to the palace from all directions.
Ive several times enjoyed so wandering around the streets and pathways to see and capture what beholds! Especially on a day with glorious day in spring!
This is probably the most photographed view from the Kasbah! A shot of Telouet and its mosque framed by the ornate filigree metal window frame.
Surrounding the alcove are more examples of typical tiles, but I'm afraid that my photo is too dark to show these clearly.
The iron grille work is a common feature of the older palaces - from the days of the harem, when the women could look out, but not be seen by those (i.e men) looking from the outside.
The area of ground outside was probably equivalent to the mechouar, or Judgement Hall, of the older Royal Palaces - where parades and Fantasias would have been held by the Glaoui brothers to impress their guests and visitors.
Another purpose of the mechouar was for public executions - I would imagine that it was quite likely that these took place too.
Moving further into the Kasbah, we passed under this glass skylight Again, You get an idea of the deterioration of the place in the destruction of the walls, and the missing glass panels.
I quite liked the contrast of the blue sky and the teracotta mud walls
From my picture You can see how the Kasbah is deteriorating, with some idea of how it might have looked.
Above the arch are remnants of a green tiles, green being an important colour in Islam - Many of the important Mosques around the world have green tiles in their decoration.
You can also see how this structure is made - mud bricks, covered with more mud. The red colouring comes from the iron rich earth of this area. This is a typical way that buildings are constructed in Southern Morocco. The mud bricks are sometimes strengthened with straw.
While we were waiting for the Guardian of the Kasbah, Mohammed our guide told us about the history of the Kasbah and its dark past. (I'm getting around to writing this on my Intro page)*
To be continued....
We visited this Kasbah after leaving Ait Benhaddou, on the way to our overnight destination of Tighza.
To be honest I was getting a bit 'kasbah-ed out'!
The previous night we'd stayed at Ait Benhaddou (although strictly speaking this is a ksar!), prior to this I'd visited a few kasbahs in the Valley of A Thousand Kasbahs, plus the Glaouis other well visited kasbah in Ouarzazate!
So slightly less enthusiastically, I joined our group, who were following our leader towards the entrance. We waited while the guardian of the kasbah hurried to collect his huge keys to let us inside.
From the outside the kasbah was quite ruined in parts, and I was very surprised to hear that this was quite a modern abode- The remaining part was built in the late 19th to mid 20th century- completed in 1945!
Well - I really enjoyed visiting this Kasbah - it was quite stunning inside, and it was quite shocking to hear that this might not be here for much longer - follow my tips and You'll find out why!
Eventually the carpets had been chosen, haggled over and a price agreed. So we left the carpet shop (We'd return again the next day on our way back from Tighza for those who'd purchased carpets, to collect them).
Setting off later than planned - we still had an hours walk to the Gite from the car park, and we had to load the mules with our overnight pacs, before it got too dark to see.
The scenery was still stunning, especially in the late afternoon light. Shadows formed interesting patterns on the sides of the green coloured slopes.
Apparently the red colouring of the mountains is due to the iron ore, the green colouring is from the copper deposits.
To be continued..
I'm afraid that I didn't get much of a look around this town, apart from a couple of snatched views as our mini bus turned around. If I'd known how long we were going to be waiting for those in our party who wanted to buy carpets, I'd have wandered down for a look around
I'm afraid that this is one of the bugbears of being on an organised tour - a few times I would have liked to have stopped off to look around a small town, or a busy market. I suppose that it would have been the same if I'd travelled by public transport though.
Ah well I might get the chance again. Hopefully If I do return it will be on a Wednesday or Thursday to visit the weekly markets too.
So from my seat on the bus I spotted some old metal washing powder signs - (a trip down memory lane!), a couple of mules waiting patiently - no doubt their straw panniers would soon be filled with provisions, and a few shops including an Artisan centre. I've just realised that on looking closer at my pics, I've taken a pic of the Auberge Telouet (Which I've read about a few times)
Opposite the Kasbah, I noticed this small building with a teracotta and green tiled roof, there didn't appear to be any windows. Our guide informed us that it was a tomb for a saint.
Now that's as much as I know- he wasn't able to tell us who the saint was, and why they were buried there.
Anyone else know?
As our mini bus bumped along the road, we could see the kasbah in the distance- soon we'd be out and stretching our legs!
Telouet looked to be an interesting town, surrounded by fields and the backdrop of mountains of the High Atlas range.
We drove past a carpet shop - not realising then that we would be stopping here, both later that afternoon and again next morning.
To be continued....
Here You can see a closer picture of the zillij tiles that decorate the walls of the central reception hall.
Although these zillij tiles and designs were crafted during the 1940's, they are very traditional in the way that they were made and in their patterns.
This artform is believed to have originated from Byzantine and/or Moorish (Andalucian) mosaics.
Palaces and mosques had walls, floors and sometimes ceilings decorated in the richly coloured tiles, many formed by intricate geometric patterns. As we now know Islamic mathematicians were centuries ahead of their Western counterparts in understanding the complexities of geometry.
The craftsmen are known as zlayiyyah.
Designers study a prolonged apprenticeship of learning the mathematical puzzles, and practising drawing the patterns until skilled in designing these intricate patterns. They are based on the circle. Stars (with 6, 8, 16 or more points being the most common) and rosettes appear in many repetitions, sometimes in 2d or 3d effects.
The tiles are made from pure clay, any impurities being extracted. After being cast into rectangular tablets they are laid to dry hard in the sun. After smoothing and flattening the tiles are dipped into enamel - coloured using natural dyes such as tin, zinc, magnesium, copper and lead oxide, then heated in a kiln.
The next stage involves cutting of the tiles to shape and size - sometimes to the size of a thumbnail - using a hammer (manqash) - which appears unecessarily large for the delicate work involved - it is double sided with sharp blades.
The tiles are then hand smoothed.
After sorting into sizes and shapes, the patterns are assembled on site.
Meticulous arrangements of colours and shapes, repetition of pattern, symmetery and interlacing tiles are all typical features seen in these rooms.
The Central hall of this kasbah is the main reason for visiting Telouet- I was quite stunned by it!
It wasn't so much the amount and quality of the traditional al - Andalus craftwork - I'd seen other examples in Marrakech (decorating the inner rooms of the Bahia Palace, and the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa as well as the Saadian Tombs - ( which I understand was one of the influences for the extensive work) and The Alhambra Palace in Granada. I think it was the contrast from the bleak exterior and its crumbling walls and the fact that these treasures were housed in a mud walled building, that was intentionally being allowed to decay.
It was hard to remember that the zellij tilework, stucco panels, inlaid cedar wood ceilings, silk woven panels, Italian marble floor tiles, had all been created and fitted here, beginning in 1942!
300 master craftsmen were employed, and took 3 years to complete the work seen. This was to be a Palace of 1001 nights or Xanadu!
to be continued....