Three more palaces

The sixty-year history of the rise and fall of the house of El Glaoui in Morocco, of course, affected not only the five palaces (or six along with the bonus one in Tinghir) mentioned in the previous post. After all, during these sixty years, bot the El Glaouis and their opponents built, occupied or defended many more palaces and kasbahs. Below I will tell about three (or even six) of these.

The huge kasbah of Tamdaght or Tamdakht stands at the southern end of the Ounila Valley – almost as a counterpoint to Telouet, the nest of the El Glaouis, in the northern head of it –, where the Ounila and Mellah rivers converge. At this point, the valley already opens up to the southern plain, and its inhabitants are no lonber the Berbers of the Atlas, but the Arab tribe Ait Haddou who moved here from the south. The El Glaouis had to start the conquest of southern Morocco with this kasbah. As Gavin Maxwell writes in The Lords of the Atlas:

“Squarely on this route, on the lip of the river gorge, stood the gigantic fortress of Tamdacht, as imposing in its grandeur and the desolation of its surroundings as Telouet itself, and an infinitely more beautiful structure. Dissident tribes from all the region had united at this fortress under the leadership of one Ali n Ait Haddou, and their numbers were so great that they invited open war with the Glaoui. Ali closed the caravan route from the south, pillaging and murdering those who would not turn and go back the way they had come.

‘Dues’ from the caravans formed an important part of Madani El Glaoui’s revenue, and he sent his young brother T’hami to take the fortress by storm. T’hami rode from Telouet at the head of a harka two thousand strong. His progress down the valley of salt was slow; three times the carriage of the Krupp cannon broke as it lumbered through the loose boulders behind the struggling mules, but on the afternoon of the second day it stood on a commanding eminence three hundred yards from the castle, and beyond the range of the defenders’ flintlocks.

T’hami opened with a bombardment of thirty rounds on the outer walls, built of pisé, some fifteen feet high and six feet thick. These had something of the effect that a sandbag has upon a rifle bullet; but the cannon did breach the wall in three places. However, the rifle fire from the castle – and from thousands of natural caves that honeycombed the high mud cliffs flanking the river – was so intense, and the breaches so narrow, that the besiegers lost many lives without ever reaching the main walls of the castle.

Tamdacht might have withstood the siege had it not been for the presence of a traitor in the camp. During a lull in the attack Ali made a gesture of defiance by opening the great door of the castle and showing himself to the enemy. It was a fine gesture, but inadvisable, for when he turned to re-enter he found the door closed and bolted behind him. Alone and without protection he tried to flee, but T’hami’s men rode him down, hacked his head from his body and carried it back upon the point of a lance, while his mutilated body trailed at rope’s end behind another horseman. At the sight of these things the garrison of Tamdacht surrendered, but many of them suffered the same fate as Ali, for T’hami had become annoyed by their prolonged resistance and the loss of Glaoua lives. For some years after this all resistance in the South disappeared.”

Tamdaght Castle, since the El Glaouis made it their regional headquarters, is now desolate, as are the other about thirty former El Glaoui fortresses. Yet it could be a tourist magnet for the area here, just six kilometers north of the world heritage site Ait Ben Haddou, the only ksar still reached by tourism. Especially because it has a fame, as the North African scenes of Gladiator were shot in front of it. Its huge ironed wooden gate is opened by a single old guard at nine in the morning and closed at four in the afternoon. The halls still show traces of the former decoration that follow those of the palaces seen earlier. The clay walls are decaying in many places, but could still be restored.

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Behind the kasbah is a huge garden all the way to the river, with palms and almond trees. The pattern of planting and the remains of the canals suggest how gorgeous this garden could have been when it was still in care. Across the river rises a huge loess wall with a multitude of natural and man-carved caves. According to the local tour guide, Ahmed – who has a small café next to the kasbah, under the marabout, the tomb of the local Muslim saint – this loess wall was the Jewish quarter of Tamdaght. These caves were inhabited by the few dozen Jewish families who went to Israel in the 1960s, but many of them still return every year, or send here the younger generation on vacation to get to know the old homeland.

Returning from the garden along another way, we reach an adjacent kasbah. This is Kasbah Ellouze, built by a branch of the lords of the ancient Tamdaght kasbah. This building shows what one can do with a kasbah with due care and of course investment. The clay palace was acquired a few decades ago by a French family who, keeping the original elements as faithfully as possible, turned it into a four-star hotel with a swimming pool and an excellent restaurant. There is a demand for this so close to Ait Ben Haddou. In addition to Ahmed’s café, a camel stable and an antique shop also stand in the service of tourism.

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The other story involves at least four kasbahs. It begins in Tamnougalt, which was the administrative center of the Draa river valley. Thead of the region was Caid (provincial governor) Bu Beker until 1924, when he resigned because he did not feel strong enough against the expansion of the El Glaoui brothers. He was replaced by his younger brother Caid Ali, who managed to gain the patronage of the then sultan Yusef (1912-1927) and then of his son Mohammed V, so it would have been risky for even an El Glaoui to openly challenge him. Pasha T’hami El Glaoui therefore tried to neutralize him in many ways: he built his own kasbahs right next to those of Caid Ali, gave him one of his daughters in marriage (which remained childless), and finally in 1947, when Mohammed V openly sided with the party of independence, and thus T’hami El Glaoui, trusting in the support of the French, felt he could finish with his supporters, marched in Tamnougalt, and put his own man in the place of the provincial governor. Later in 1951, when T’hami El Glaoui began to organize the resignation of the sultan, and Caid Ali refused to sign the demand of resignation submitted to every caid by the pasha, this latter forced him into exile, or in another version, made him imprisoned, where Caid Ali died the following year.

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The road from Ouarzazate to Tamnougalt in the Draa valley

This story is quoted by Astrid and Erika Därr in their excellent guide to southern Morocco from an elderly member of the family in Tamnougalt:

“An old man in a dignified blue robe, with a cigarette in the corner of his toothless mouth, tells the story of his family. He is over eighty years; he is the nephew of the penultimate caid of Tamnougalt. He is glad that a European woman wants to know something about his family. He begins the story.

Do you know what a long story this is? he asks. Do you remember Moulay Rachid? I ask if he thinks of the founder of the Alavite dynasty, the ancestor of the current king, who came to power in the middle of the 17th century. Of course, who else? After a short pause, as he significantly looks at me, as if ponderating whether I am worthy of hearing this story, he picks up the thread again. Moulay Rachid had been watching the decline of the then ruling dynasty for years, and it was clear to him that it was doomed to fall. Therefore he decided to take the fate of the country into his own hands and become a sultan. There was one great obstacle: Ben Michaʿil, the Jew, who always stood by the Sultan and protected him. Whoever wanted to come to power had to set aside Ben Michaʿil first – but how? He shared his dilemma with his closest confidant, Ali Ben Mansur, a sharp-witted Berber from the Rif Mountains, who devised the following diabolical plan. Michaʿil was famous for his greed for gold. So a large chest of gold was made for him, which accommodated Ali and two other Berber warriors. It was sent to Michaʿil. He opened it, the warriors jumped out, and killed him. The new dynasty thus came to power through an assassination that followed the well-known scheme of the Trojan horse.

The old man asks me whether this story sheds a bad light on his family, because, as you might guess, the reckless Ali Mansur was none other than the ancestor of the Adt al-Qaïd family, who still live in the kasbah. I point out that this was not the only case of a violent takeover, and that he personally no longer has to make a question of conscience out of it. He calms down.

In return for the service Ali Mansur and his two brothers performed for him, Moulay Rachid appointed him the caid (governor) of the Draa valley. He raised the first kasbah in Tamnougalt, which still stands today. Jalil, the old man’s second-nephew guides me through the castle. With a torch in his hand, he leads me from courtyard to courtyard, explaining the secrets of clay architecture, and telling a lot of stories about the building. From one kasbah we get to the top of the other, because after the first kasbah many others were raised, two in the same ksar, and some nearby, each in the sight of the others: a long chain of kasbahs that follow the river all the way to Zagora. All of this remained in the hands of Ali Mansur and his descendants for centuries, until the mid-1940s, when the family was deprived of its title. And not only of the title, but of their possessions, lands and kasbah, in short, of their honor. The culprit in this was the French colonial system, or rather the Berber tribal chief who collaborated with them, T’hami ibn Mohammed al-Masouari al-Glaoui.

As I ask about this man, silence sets in, and anger sits on the face of the old man, who until then was so peacefully and beautifully telling me the story of his family. “A traitor”, he hisses, “not worth to mention”. Of course, I start to be interested in this man who was sentenced to oblivion by the Moroccan authorities. All that can be learned from the Southerners is that the El Glaouis were traitors. The mention of their name is followed by an outburst of rage. However, if you search the literature a bit, it turns out that such beautiful kasbahs like Telouet or Taourirt in Ouarzazate are due to them.

T’hami El Glaoui fought for the supremacy over the Draa valley with the support of the French. The caids held themselves with the support of the sultan and the local population until the mid-1940s, but then their resistance was broken. Si Ali, the last caid of Tamnougalt was forced into exile, his family memebers were driven out of the country, and some of them imprisoned. Even today you can see the witnesses of the rivalry between the caids loyal to the sultan and the El Glaouis, supporters of the French: the kasbahs built in the region from the early 20th century. Both families tried to overcome the other by building a new kasbah. Wherever there was a caid’s kasbah, the El Glaouis built their own in its immediate vicinity. Eminent points, such as the hill before Tamnougalt, were “occupied” by the construction of a kasbah. The El Glaoui kasbahs are becoming increasingly desolate these days, only one or two being reluctantly restored in the sign of the increasing tourism. Of course, the old man does not speak about this.

However, the rule of the El Glaouis did not last forever. In 1956, T’hami ibn Mohammed had to humble himself before sultan Mohammed V. He soon died, his estates were confiscated, and his family emigrated to France. His defeat brought victory to the other family. The Adt al-Qaïd family regained their estates for their unbroken allegiance to the sultan. The caid system was no longer restored, but the family’s honor yes, and Si Ali could die in peace. He left ten kasbahs for his descendants. Most of them are still inhabited by the family, two of them can be visited. One is the ancient kasbah in Tamnougalt, and the other the Qaid Ali kasbah in Asslim ksar near Agdz.

The old man smiles and instructs his grandson to bring me another tea. He asks me if I want to hear another story about the fearsome Abd El Krim, who fought against the French. I nod enthusiastically. He lights a cigarette, sips from his gorgeous tea, and begins to tell the story…”

The Glaoui kasbah, built against the caid’s kasbah in Tamnougalt, still rises there on the hilltop before the entrance to the ksar. Seen from the road, it seems intact, only when you turn up the hill and enter it, you can see how badly it was treated by time. Next to it lies the large cemetery of the Jewish quarter of Tamnougalt, surrounded by a new wall at the expense of the descendants living in Israel.

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The other kasbah mentioned by the Därrs stands ten kilometers further west, next to Asslim ksar above the town of Agdz. In fact, the century-old Asslim ksar was the ancestor of the town of Agdz: the latter was born only in the 1930s, when the French established a military airport on the open field south of Asslim, along the Draa. Next to the airport, a market has developed for the supply of the military, and this became the seed of the market town of Agdz, with its beautiful arcaded market square. The inhabitants of Asslim moved to the town: the ksar is now uninhabited and desolate. Only the three kasbahs next to it are still alive today: Caid Ali’s ancient kasbah, next to it the representative kasbah built by him in the 1920s, and further south, next to the cemetery, the impressive Kasbah des Sables, built by T’hami El Glaoui to block the road to Agdz.

The Kasbah des Sables

The ancient kasbah is inhabited and restored by one of the descendants of the family. He also runs a guest house in it, called Kasbah des Arts. The towers of the kasbah offer magnificent views around the landscape, the Draa valley, the palm groves that mean the richness of the region, the decaying Asslim ksar, and, to the east, the pagoda-like Mount Kisen, below which lays Tamnougalt. Caid Ali may have often watched it from here, thinking with nostalgia and anger of his ancient lot, honestly acquired by his family and dishonestly snatched away by the traitor.

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The Glaoui and other palaces mentioned above and in the previous post

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