A Complete Guide to Marrakech – City of Morocco

I was fortunate to be entrusted, still young, the opening of the Muslim College of Marrakech, and I am not about to forget the joys of this creation. Upon my arrival, in September 1936, two orders of research immediately occupied me: knowledge of the Moroccan city (the Medina), and as a result, the establishment of the directory of its streets, which were both necessary for the good performance of my duties. And that’s how, starting from the plan of the districts of Marrakech, I gradually extended my curiosity to its big families, then to its monuments and finally to all its history. These latter tasks presented serious difficulties.

Ben Youssef Mosque, Marrakech
Ben Youssef Mosque, Marrakech

There was no specialized library in Marrakech. The important collection of manuscripts and printed matter of the Ben-Youssef Mosque was well put in order and saved from the disaster by my care, but if the legal literature, essential source for the study of the social and private life of a country or era, occupies a large place there, the historical documentation proved to be extremely weak. The administrative library of the General Secretariat of the Province contained some interesting works, but too few. I live in the obligation to gather at the College, even the necessary documentation. And it was not without difficulty despite the generous donations from the Institut des Hautes-Etudes Marocaines and the General Library of Rabat. Orientalists know the scarcity and the price of certain books or collections of magazines, and my means and those of the establishment that I managed were not always sufficient to meet purchases, which I sometimes had to give up. However, the college library, now Lycée Mohammed V in Marrakech, now has unique documentation on southern Morocco. The dear ones will, however, have to bring all their vigilance to the distinction, always compulsory until the beginning of the XXc century, between the direction of Morocco (city) and Morocco (country).

The discovery of new manuscripts as part of our program, but it was in vain. The late Lévi-Provencal, MM. G.S. Colin and Allouche have been exploring southern Morocco for far too long to hope for further sensational discoveries. With what pleasure would we have hailed the work of some scholar who would have spoken to us about life in Marrakech under the Merinids or the great reign of Ali b. Yusuf, the Almoravid! It was necessary to resolve to accumulate details are taken everywhere, legal decisions, unpublished inscriptions, unexpected mentions of small local events, poetic allusions, and even data of folklore to manage to fill the gaps and connect the scattered elements of our documentation.

At the same time, my research focused on the iconography of the city. It is quite rich but almost always second-hand, therefore without great archaeological value. The large print by Adrian Matham, the engravings by Hôst, are, however, of considerable importance for the knowledge of the imperial kasbah.

The plans brought me the most useful contribution. The extraordinary document of 1585, found at the El Escorial by R.P. Koehler, has made it possible to elucidate many of the numerous problems posed by the Casbah; the plan of the French merchant Lambert published since 1867 and never used in France, we do not know why, those of captain Larras, dated 1899, finally the “aerial view” of the city in 1917, represent working instruments of a high value. We must also cite the thousandth plan drawn up in 1924 for the city’s municipal works department from aerial photographs. Marrakech was certainly one of the first cities in the world to be able to use such a document.

We could have expected a lot from the registers (hawàla) where the pious foundations were recorded. It was a disappointment. Despite the importance of the institution under the Saadians, the records preserved do not go back beyond the nineteenth century. In addition, no inscription devoted to some pious foundation was found.

The Sommiers des Domaines which were established following a Christian letter from Moulay Hasan have been taken over by the administration of the former French Protectorate, but they only provide details, sometimes contradicted by legal documents.

If the public records have not been of much help to me, the private records do not exist. Without them, it isn’t very easy to reach the truth, if ever it can be, and to establish solid foundations for a historical construction. It was by chance that I came across a collection of letters kept by the family of a former Muhtasib from Marrakech, but these documents are recent and quite unfortunate for urban history.

The details provided by this work on the history of Marrakech would be much less interesting if the Inspectorate of Historical Monuments of Morocco did not take the initiative not only to start important excavations on certain limited historical places but also to do conduct, at my request, surveys. Both made it possible to confirm hypotheses whose consequences were not negligible. Archaeological excavations have singularly served the fame of the Almoravids and returned Marrakech its birth certificate: the casbah of Abü Bakr.

Given the poverty of our written sources, the critical use of monuments seemed essential to make a contribution, not to the history of Moroccan art, but to that of the city, which is the object of this work and that the annalists make us know very little about. The Muslim West is no exception to the common rules of science.

If the study of the main buildings of the city was easy after the masterful publications of Mr. Henri Terrasse, my duties were nevertheless often an obstacle to visiting religious monuments. The curiosity of the researcher must have sometimes given way to the discretion of the Muslim headteacher or disconcerting passive resistances. I don’t regret anything since I knew it, but the district of my investigation.

A publication parallel to this gave the results obtained by my epigraphic research. They are far from being as negligible as I first thought, and they give us, especially for the Saadian and Alawite dynasties, details that we would vainly seek elsewhere.

Oral surveys among the population of the city, where old families are rare, have not been very successful. I was told in 1936 that not a single inhabitant of the city could boast that his father and grandfather were born in Marrakech.

I must, however, point out that an old mason, son, and grandson of masons employed by the Alawite dynasty in Marrakech, gave me precise unpublished information, most of which withstood the overlaps. I believe that these details are as valuable, no more, but no less, than those that a literate Moroccan scholar could have put in writing a century ago.

Ultimately it is the texts of the geographical and historical works of Arab authors that served as the basis for our work, and we know all the difficulties they present for the historian of Western Islam. The late Lévi-Provençal called them back a long time ago. The reason is that Muslims, even from the Maghreb, do not ask themselves the same questions as Westerners. They oppose a scientific conception of our scientific conceptions, which leads them to lose interest in the sense of history. The concern to understand evolution does not appear in their works. History is in their eyes, only a successive series of happy or unhappy events by which the divine will manifests itself and where man is absent. We rarely have a common thread to find what Vécrivain wanted to say or guess what he did not say. It is in this sense that Lévi-Provençal was able to speak of the discouraging aridity of the historical sources thanks to which, however, in thirty years, he succeeded in entirely renewing the medieval history of Muslim Spain and the Maghreb.

Let us add that the historians of Morocco by conceiving the history that, according to the central authority, are more able to write well than not to flatter and make little room for the essential elements constituted by the urban populations and the problems that they posed.

Useless to insist after ‘Ibn Haldün on the exaggerations of the Western Arab historians, so poorly able to appreciate the numbers, nor the plagiarism which is still in Islam, as with us in the Middle Ages, “the most innocent of the world. ” The author (who may still be alive) copies, often naively, someone from his predecessors without subjecting the facts or details reproduced to verification. He sometimes embellishes them for moral ends because the chronicles always have a distinctly religious tendency: anecdotes and marvelous details hold a very large place, are dangerously mixed with truth, and very few are critical reflections. Moral honesty is not in doubt, but the concern for truth and accuracy remains superficial, and, for a European spirit, the careful study of the historical sources of this country too often reveals them partial and biased. One rarely feels “the shock of the authentic” at their contact because the perpetrators always hide behind their authorities and do not say, or very rarely, what they saw. They almost never testify; the case of Baydaq, the Almohad, is an exception, so his Memoirs are of considerable interest.

I have obviously read most of the books that provide information on Marrakech. But I do not pretend that my bibliography is absolutely complete. Firstly because it identifies with that of Morocco which, as we know, is huge and still imperfectly known, secondly because I did not believe I should include second-hand work that did not learn anything or publications without any scientific or literary character and each page of which would require numerous corrections. To point out all the errors made about Marrakech seemed to me without interest.

It would be difficult today to write the history of Marrakech without the documents that Lévi-Provençal has already published and without the multiple details that are given to us by the numerous publications of Mr. G.S. Colin. Our work owes a lot to these two masters.

Four Arabic texts make a large contribution to the knowledge of the history of the city, the Kitäb ​​al-Istibsär, development of the work of Bakri, which deserves a new scientific presentation, the road of Ibn Fadl-Alläh al – “Umari, translated and annotated by Gaudefroy-Demombynes, the Almohad part of the Bayän of Ibn ‘Idäri, which Mr. Huici has just translated into Spanish and the Hulal al-Mawsiya which the same author has translated into the same language by following the edition of M. Allouche. Finally, the Almoravid part of the aforementioned Bayän, still handwritten and incomplete, provides unique details on the events which surrounded the creation of the Marrakech camp. By confirming our beliefs and our deductions, it allowed us to rectify familiar errors that should not have stood up to scientific truth for so long.

We must point out here the meager help that Ibn brings us Haldun. Not only did he never come to Marrakech, but he did not pay much attention to South Morocco, about which he is poorly informed. This is not the case of Leon J’Africain, who at COnSacré in Marrakech very useful pages, and everywhere reproduced, but which are far from being worth those he wrote On Fez, then capital of Merinides.

As for the Cherifian history of Marrakech, it owes a lot to the publications of the great organizers of the incomparable collection of unpublished sources which all, gone forever or always at work, will have worked well for the knowledge of the Moroccan past, even distant. The Africa of Marmol and the History of the Sheriffs of Diégo de Torrès are essential works for the entire Saadian period and remain precious for the period, which immediately preceded it.

We must also mention two Moroccan names who have well deserved from Marrakech: Muhammad ibn al-Muwaqggqit, recently deceased, whose two lithographed volumes constitute a topographical directory of celebrities of Marrakech of great practical value, the cadi “Abbas b. Ibrähim, whose first of five volumes (out of ten to be published) from his dictionary of illustrious people of Marrakech and Aghmat has collected, but without subjecting it to the rules of criticism, abundant documentation on the capital of the South and on its history.

Finally, let us add with gratitude the notice dated 1867, from the French merchant Paul Lambert whose information is still valid and the details still essential to understand the evolution of Marrakech in the nineteenth century. These are the basic works of understudy’s history of the city.

We may be surprised not to see cited here some English authors whose literature on Marrakech is abundant, especially in the nineteenth century, but generally, these travelers or these diplomats were only interested in the picturesque ”Only the relation of lieutenant Washington (1830) seems to us to be specially pointed out.

This is how I unearthed shreds of history while respecting what was inexplicable. I did not easily resign myself to neglecting the men who lived this history, but in truth, the people of Marrakech escape historical analysis. Among all the adventures that we will describe we rarely meet it, and still, we arrive at it by imposing on us a psychological effort, after all questionable, because we cannot perfectly judge these ancient times from ours, we do not we no longer have the same way of seeing and appreciating. So I was careful.

If I multiplied the analyzes and if I never hesitated to dissociate the facts to describe them better, I did not feel free to make gratuitous assumptions, and I contented myself with saying the little that I knew or that, in good faith, I thought I understood. I planted milestones so that a happier one would write a better story later. My development does not pretend to solve all the problems; nothing is finished.

The complexity of the facts still to unravel would have required the researcher an encyclopedic spirit that I do not have, and this is what is specific to urban problems, particularly in Islam: they are only treated by collecting the most diverse data from linguistics, archeology, ethnography and the history of religious institutions. The immense field of urban studies is thus constantly increasing. It is gradually revealing combinations of elements that are as relevant to the human sciences as to the natural sciences. But have I put, following the article by P. de Cénival in the Encyclopedia of Islam, only a little order in place of disorder, and after what perplexities! That this long work was not wasted.

Its writing will have been greatly facilitated by the publication of the History of North Africa by M. Ch. A. Julien, reviewed by MR Le Tourneau, of the History of Morocco by MH Terrasse and of Muslim Architecture d ‘Occident of MG Marçais. These three works allowed me to quickly go over the general historical conditions which governed the destinies of the city. It was useless to repeat – and not so well – the presentations which one will easily find in these now-classic textbooks.

The dynasty presented the history of the city. It was the best means of exploration, certainly Without originality, but which had the advantage, by refusing to arbitrary alignments, to connect better with the publications of which we have just spoken.

Several plans and sketches, most of them unpublished, and numerous photographs were chosen solely for their documentary, and historical value will provide this book with an illustration that will make it easier to read.

In principle, we were inspired by the “Rules for editions and translations of Arabic texts” by M. R. Blachère and the late J. Sauvaget, but the transcription of the Arabic and Berber words is that which is recommended by the Institut des Hautes Etudes Marocaines.

We have preserved in geographic ROMS, a few tribal names, tick words, and civilization terms the spelling that has been adopted either in Larousse, where they are numerous or in the Blue Guide to Morocco of the late P. Ricard. We wrote, for example, Koutoubia, but the index will give the exact transcription Kutubiyya, in its place, with reference to the popular transcription.

Our information ends on February 1, 1957, with rare exceptions.

For the concordance of the Christian and Hegirian eras, we use the Tables of H.-G. Cattenoz.


An ESC. Annals (Economies, Societies, Civilizations).
Arch. Mar. Moroccan Archives
B.A-F. Arab-French Library.
B.E.P.M. Bulletin of Public Education in Morocco.
B.E.S.M. Economic and Social Bulletin of Morocco.
B.S.G.M. Bulletin of the Geographical Society of Morocco.
B.S. Géogr. Paris Bulletin of the Geographic Society


CH.E.AM. Center for Advanced Studies of Muslim Administration.
C.R. Ac. I: et BL. Reports from the Academy of Inscriptions and Beautiful Letters.
E.l. Encyclopedia of Islam.
E.L2 Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition.
E.L.O.V. School of Modern Oriental Languages.
I.B.L.A. Institute of Beautiful Arab Letters.
L.E.O. Institute of Oriental Studies.
LF.AN. French Institute of Black Africa.
I.F.A.0. French Institute of Oriental Archeology.
LH.E.M. Institute of High Moroccan Studies.
JA. Asian newspaper.
R.A. African review.
R.E.I. Review of Islamic Studies.
R.G.M. Moroccan Geography Review
R.M.M. Muslim World Review.
S.LH.M. Unpublished sources of the history of Morocco.


  1. The geography of the Marrakech.
  2. The site.
  3. Marrakech Weather.
  4. The water.
  5. The Ground Table.
  6. The Khettaras.
  7. Local resources.
  8. The geographic region and urban life. The High Atlas Chleuh. The country of Rehamna Roads.

The Geography of Marrakech

Morocco, a country of more than 500,000 square kilometers, is between 36 ° and 27 ° 40° parallel north latitude, on the other hand, 12 ° and 2 ° west longitude of Greenwich. Its physical personality is made of sharp contrasts: if it borders the Mediterranean by a high wall, its low Atlantic coast opens widely to the winds of the ocean; it includes the highest mountain ranges in North Africa but also its most extensive plains. Finally, history has allowed it to bite on the steppe highlands of Orania and part of the Saharan shield.

The most original and lively part of this empire, the best known as well, is the vast western region situated between the hemicycle of the Atlas and the Atlantic Ocean. To the south of this immense succession of plains and plateaus, descending in tiers towards the sea, extends, at the very foot of the High Atlas, the Haouz of Marrakech. It is a flat and arid basin which descends, gently sloping, from the Atlas, the old Dren, towards its main collector, the Tensift wadi, and which then rises slightly towards the long peeled Sierra of the Dijebilet (the small Mountains).

This plain, whose major axis is oriented substantially east-west, has a length of 150 to 175 km and an average width of 30 km. It is a vast depression of complex synclinal origin, the evolution of which cannot be conceived without involving climate changes to which periods of backfilling and digging due to wadis descended from the Atlas.

The relatively uniform filling hides the irregularities of the primary basement, which appears in the plain in rocky points.

The traveler who quickly crosses this flat and dusty country may have the feeling of emptiness and uniformity, but for MJ Dresch, to whom we owe the best of our knowledge on the relief of southern Morocco, we can distinguish three essential parts, well individualized.

The Western Haouz, formed by the plains of the wadis Nfis, Mellah, and Chichaoua, where one can observe three series of steps from south to north, plain of Amizmiz and Sektana, plains of Tamesloht and Mejjat and plain of pink silts of Tensift.

The central Haouz, formed of low plains made entirely of gravel and spreading silt crossed by three powerful and destructive wadis: Ourika, Zat, and Rdat and where the mountain range of the High Atlas falls directly on the flat country.

The eastern Haouz, formed by the valleys of the Tessaout and Lakhdar wadis, which lead to the watershed of the Oum er-Rebia, while the first two parts are drained by the Tensift wadi.

But whatever the real complexity of Haouz, adds Mr. Dresch, the unity of the plain is not a simple illusion, a mirage caused by the dust and the vibration of distant places in the heat of the day. It is also a living whole that man has made and defeated for centuries, and it is in the middle of this “world apart” and, with more precision in central Haouz, that the city of Marrakech is located at 31 ° 37 ° 35 ° ‘latitude and 7 ° 59’ 42 ” longitude (Greenwich), at an altitude of about 465 meters.

The city is 155 km from Safi, the closest ocean port, 242 km from the economic metropolis of Casablanca, 530 km from Fez via Tadla, 225 km from Taroudant by taking the Tizi road n- Test. This central position vis-à-vis the whole country did not make Marrakech particularly suited to the role of capital, which it nevertheless played for a long time.

The Site

The Marrakech site has long struck travelers. It is difficult to imagine a more striking opposition in relief than the approximation of the heavy vertical mass of the Atlas, raising often snowy peaks at more than 4,000 meters and the infinite and arid plain which, starting from the piedmont, will come up against the steep slopes of the Djebilet.

In this monotony, emerge in the central part of the Haouz and near the Tensift, two small massifs of primary hills. The most important, the Guékiz, is only 527 m high, the second, the Koudiat al-Abid (the hill of black slaves), only 490, but they present, with the neighboring plain, such a sharp contrast that they appear much higher than they actually are. It is from their heights that the site of Marrakech is clearly defined.

4 km north, flows the Tensift, in a wide bed like that of the Rhône and which the floods of autumn or winter can fill in a few hours; 4 km east, we can see the ravine dug by a tributary of the left bank of the Tensift, the Issil wadi, born in the Atlas under the name Asif Tallakht. This torrent, almost always dry, can suddenly become violent, get out of bed and go to threaten on its left bank the old ramparts of the earth in Marrakech.

The history of the capital, until 1972, was written between the river, the ravine, and the Guéliz with the seven peaks. Never has the city dared to step over the Issil wadi, except to bury its dead, never has it tried to get closer to the river (when it wanted water, it lay down towards the Atlas) and she never tried to lean firmly on the nearby rock.

From the top of Guéliz, Marrakech, ancient Morocco, appeared before 1912, like a fabulous world of cubes, defended by kilometers of crumbling walls and dominated by the Koutoubia, majestically isolated in the middle of an oasis of a hundred thousand trees.

Marrakech Weather

If the climate of Morocco is to be classified among the Mediterranean climates which, as we know, are not only found on the shores of the Mediterranean but at neighboring latitudes, in California for example or in Australia, that of the region of Marrakech is a semi-continental variety of Mediterranean climate characterized by the high amplitude of extreme temperatures. It is enough to have crossed in August the plain of Haouz, in its non-irrigated parts, not to forget that summer is the dead season there like elsewhere in winter.

Temperatures and sunshine: The highest temperatures accompany the chergui, east wind, and the sirocco, south wind, which bring masses of Saharan air. These air masses, after crossing the Atlas, heat up as they collapse in the plain of Marrakech and sometimes reach the coast.

If the extreme values ​​that can be recorded in summer at Marrakech are not among the strongest in Morocco; at least it remains excessive. Temperatures above 40 ° can last for several days (average July maximum: 39 °). In winter, frosts are very rare (30 days in 25 years) and occur, especially during clear nights of the dry winter period (average of January minima, s °). It is easy to deduce from these January and July averages that the temperature differences can be very large in Marrakech.

The duration of sunshine is considerable in Haouz, where light has absolute purity and evaporation ruinous importance.

The distribution of hours of sunshine during the day varies a lot according to the seasons, and this diurnal variation has a markedly local character. In winter, sunshine is more lasting in the afternoon than in the morning: the opposite is true in summer. This must be attributed, for the winter, to the nocturnal and morning condensations which the sun dissipates little by little; for the summer, the clouds due to the updrafts which form at the end of the day above the superheated ground.

Precipitation: Even more than a relatively low total rainfall, the climate of Marrakech is characterized by infrequent rainfall, short durations, and especially by a long summer drought. Also, the rain is for this region, the dominant factor of the climate as well for the spontaneous vegetation as for agriculture.

In Haouz, there is a decrease in rainfall from west to east, as we move away from the ocean with a new increase as we approach the mountains.

The detail of the distribution of rains during the year shows that the rainy season which extends from October to April, presents two maxima in November and March, separated by a period of good winter weather, around December and especially January, which is the coldest months. This double oscillation of the rain regime is perfectly characteristic of the Moroccan climate and is found in all the stations.

The number of rainy days is naturally small and irregular; November is the most important month. Hail is not unknown and falls 5 to 10 days a year.

Precipitation is rarely long, but if torrential rains are exceptional, they do not exist any less, and Marrakech has often endured severe floods; Moroccan annalists have kept the memory of it for us. These heavy rainfalls are most often linked to stormy phenomena.

These indications would be incomplete if we did not mention the considerable variations which the quantity of rainwater may have from one year to the next. The history of famines is a sad illustration. Thus in Marrakech, where the average annual rainfall is 243 mm, it did not fall during; months, from February 1, 1931, to January 31, 1932, that 97 mm of water.

In the presence of such significant variations, one could wonder if the succession of wet and dry years was done at random or if it followed, on the contrary, some rules presenting a certain character of periodicity. Messrs. Debrach and Bidault were able, in their research, to detect three-year and six-year periods. The three-year period is the most marked, but it is not very constant.

We could also say that POUT Marrakech, one year in three, the drought is excessive – or even that one year in three the climate takes on the Saharan character.

As for snow, it is not unknown in Marrakech, but it is extremely rare and only stays on the ground for a few hours. In the Atlas, snow patches are maintained in crevices throughout most of the summers and, formerly, during this season, a mule convoy, in the service of the Sultan, was responsible for transporting ice between the high mountains and the imperial palace in Marrakech.

The atmospheric humidity passes like temperature by accentuated extremes. When the chergui blows, the hygrometer can drop very quickly to zero, especially in July, which is the driest month of the year (h = 33%), the wettest months being January and December.

Great droughts are naturally accompanied by low cloud cover, but mists are quite frequent in summer and completely obscure the view of the Atlas.

The winds: Generally, in Morocco, geography and isobaric situations regularly control the winds. In the interior, they have no privileged direction. In the Marrakech region, they are relatively infrequent (63% calm in winter, 68% in summer) and not very violent. North and northwest winds accompany good weather, clear skies and moderate temperatures in all seasons. If the westerly winds are cool and humid in winter, and generally followed by rain, in summer, with those of the southwest, they mark the climate of a very particular character. These are dry, generally hot, sometimes burning winds, which can bring temperatures over 35 ° and can exceptionally reach 45 ° on the plain. They mostly blow during the day.

Their characters are far from constant; sometimes they blow in violent gusts, up to a hundred kilometers an hour, lifting and transporting clouds of red clay dust and gravel and which can end in thunderstorms; sometimes, on the contrary, hot and dry air slowly invades the country in calm weather; hardly can we then speak of a wind, it is the slow invasion of a suffocating atmosphere. This wind, well known to Moroccans, is the chergui (the oriental).

The heat and dryness of the chergui can be explained, not only by its Saharan origin but also by a thermodynamic effect which, when it crosses the Atlas, links it to the fœhn of the Alps and aggravates its misdeeds.

The harmful physiological effects of these winds on humans, animals, and plants have given rise to numerous studies. They bring about a period of nervous excitement, which soon turns into depression and even into prostration.

Stéphane Gsell has found and translated two passages from African authors, which give exact descriptions of these effects. Victor de Vite, the historian of the end of the fifth century, speaks of a terrible drought from which Africa suffered in its time. Here is what he said among other details: If, by chance, some grass, vegetating in a humid valley, began to offer the pale color rather than green of the emerging fodder, immediately a burning, inflamed wind, ran up and completely dried out, for the storm, roasting all under this dry sky, had come to cover the whole country with its clouds of dust.

And Corippus, the poet of the following century, adds: Africa, which vomits flames, begins to burn the ground of its breath and destroys the force and the heat of the troops. All bodies are stretched under the breath of this fiery wind. The tongue dries up, the face blushes, the panting chest breathes with difficulty, the air passing through the nostrils is ablaze, the mouth burns, bitter and empty of saliva, the fire devours the dry throat, all the sweat escapes tissue and soaks the skin, but the harmful heat of the air dries it out and lifts it warm from the surface of the body.

All those who, in their life, suffered from the heat in Marrakech, have not a word to take away from these lines, which prove that the climate has not changed in North Africa since Roman antiquity, and even before.

General Features

According to the late G. Roux, former head of the Physics of the Globe and Meteorology Service in Morocco, to whom we owe all our documentation, the main meteorological influences which exert their action on the region of Marrakech are those of the polar front, desert, ocean, and latitude.

The polar front, which, with its procession of depressions, causes most of the rains, thunderstorms, storms, and cold waves in Europe, only affects the Marrakech region during the winter season, from November to April, and attenuated. Still, this period is generally cut by a period of good weather, corresponding to high barometric pressures, which often exceeds one month, and takes place around January. It is to the distance from the polar front that we must attribute in winter the calm of the atmosphere, the clearness of the sky, and the low rain.

The desert influence generates the hot summer, the hot winds, chergui and sirocco, and the thunderstorms of the beginning and the end of the summer, which accompany the Saharan depressions. These storms are often without rain due to the strong heating of the air.

The proximity of the ocean exerts its usual effects on the coast and, to a lesser degree, on the western part of the region of Marrakech: increased humidity, lower diurnal and annual variations in temperature, delay in temperature maxima, breezes sea, etc.

Finally, the geographic latitude of this region translates into the relative length of winter days. On the winter solstice, the length of the day in Marrakech is about 1.5 hours longer than in Paris; as a counterpart, the day is shorter there in summer.


When, after having traversed the arid expanses which separate the Oum er-Rebia from the Diebilet, the traveler approaches the palm grove of Marrakesh from November to April, there is no shortage of SUR, struck from the crossing of the Tensift wadi, by the number small streams encountered at all times that give life to the fresh and dense gardens bordering the road. This impression of abundance that he will acquire at his first contact with the city of the South will impose itself more and more on his mind, as he travels the immediate surroundings of the city, which he will see, in the gardens. of olive and orange trees, dispense the beneficial water without parsimony and that during walks his car will get muddy because the track will have served as a route for a nonchalant cultivator to bring distant waters to his garden. Everything contributes to inspiring this idea of ​​plethora / and waste: Aguedal and Menara gardens with vast pools of sleeping water, Bahia basins and large houses whose murmur never subsides, monumental fountains where the water carrier fills his skin, holes in the street, surrounded by a brat swarming in a puddle of mud, but at the bottom of which runs this dant clear water and, further away, dominating the whole, the sparkling mass of Grand Atlas whose white dress, attractive and promising, seems to conceal inexhaustible treasures. And the visitor – if he sees no longer – leaves with the vision of eternal snow, large canals to build, thousands of hectares to be delivered to irrigation.

How many hopes did such a quick visit to Marrakech give birth to, that a more in-depth study has shown to be impossible!

Does this mean that Marrakech and Haouz are poor in the water? Fortunately, this is not the case. There is no shortage of hydraulic resources, and they are of two types: some come from the diversion of surface waters, carried by streams, in torrential regime, fed by the marvelous reservoir that constitutes the high reliefs of the Grand chain -Atlas; the others are won by the capture of groundwater from the water table which permeates the subsoil and which, ingeniously drained by the original process of galleries, called khettaras, lead to the creation of artificial sources and the flow of water collected by simple gravity. In both cases, under the illusion of the horizontal, the steep slope of the alluvial cover of the Haouz is decisive.

The Tensift basin and the diversion seguias of the two different watersheds that make up the Haowuz, only that of the Tensift wadi interests Marrakech and its hinterland. That of Oued Tessaout is part of the hydrographic system of Oum er-Rebia.

The land surrounding Marrakech is mainly served by three tributaries of the Tensift: Ourika, Reraia, and Nfis.

These rivers have, by their seasonal regime and their appearance, the character of temporary torrents carrying a very variable flow according to the seasons and in direct correlation with the local rainfall incidents. They know an epoch of high water which corresponds with the rainy season and then present variations of amplitude often considerable with flash floods which coincide with the fall of the rains followed by prolonged periods of recession. On the tormented reliefs of the great chain, very conducive to runoff, these differences are only very partially corrected by precipitation, in the form of snow, on the mountains at high altitude and the gradual melting of snow reserves which disappear almost entirely in the first part of the hot season. The Atlas can also experience early or late snowfall, the rapid melting of which brings brutal floods. The winter period of abundance quickly succeeds that of scarcity and famine, interspersed with passing floods when thunderstorms break out in the mountains. As summer progresses, the flow of rivers, fed only by the rare springs which arise in the deforested and steep mountain, approaches the absolute low water level, which immediately precedes the first rains of autumn.

The Marrakchis naturally had the idea of ​​borrowing part of their water supply from these wadis, which emerge from the last foothills of the Atlas about thirty kilometers from the city. This idea was realized during the course of the 11th and 12th centuries. At that time, we built important diversion seguias on which we still have minimal information.

On each wadi open a large number of séguias, often more than fifty. These séguias all feed during floods, some during snowmelt, one or two during low water. Of the three main wadis reported, the séguias that have priority are precisely those that come to Marrakech. But these diversion waters hardly count in the supply of the city itself. With one exception, the seguia al-Bachia which comes from the wadi Reraia and which waters the Aguedal, they are used exclusively for irrigating crops throughout the region which extends 20 km south of the city over an east-west width of about 10 km. all this area is crisscrossed by a vast network of irrigation canavx which either belong to the State, or communities or more rarely to individuals, the most important of which follow the south-north slope of the land. They are joined to each other by other smaller canals which run obliquely from south-west to north-east or vice versa. The result is a kind of mesh whose complication is extreme and the layout inconsistent. They are subject to perpetual modifications according to the needs of irrigation from one hour to the next according to the picking of the cultivators; they fill up, dry up, change course, direction, flow, etc. There are only constants in the large bypass lines themselves, of which none reach the city walls.

In winter, the diversions spread out along the rivers and allow the fertilization of large areas; but, when the flow decreases, the diversions dry up, starting with those located furthest downstream, and there are soon only the privileged channels which have their grip at the level of the first foothills, at the very outlet of torrents in the plain, which feed on the modest summer flow.

These pipes do not have any original construction features. These are large, well maintained, deep seguias, with an ordinary width of about 1.50 m where the height of the water reaches on average 0.50 m, which runs over the surface of the ground and which are remarkable for the speed of their current. The manufacturers also made them describe a series of hooks, the reason for which can only be explained by the need to break and delay this too brutal current. The water of a seguia is shared between the various users according to old customs.

The water thus conveyed seems to be of fairly inferior quality. It comes out pure and clear from the wadis where it is trapped, but the clay of the terrains it crosses makes it muddy and cloudy. It is unfit for consumption by Europeans. Moroccans drink it willingly, and once the wealthy families of Marrakech used to get it for cooking because it was known to cook vegetables well.

The groundwater table

From the Chichaoua region in the west to the foothills of Demnate and Tenant in the east, the same water table shows itself continuously. It is a vital part of the agricultural economy, but it is irregular in-depth and inflow. It occupies an immense basin, the bottom of which is probably primary, where water circulates in all directions, in detrital formations of tertiary or quaternary age, which are very heterogeneous: sands, pebbles, free or cemented, embedded limestones, conglomerates, etc. , of essentially Atlas origin.

The question of primary artesian aquifers has not yet been definitively clarified. However, it is believed that the existence of such aquifers is unlikely.

It is also false to believe that as a result of the detrital composition of alluvial deposits, the soil and the subsoil are essentially permeable. On most of the plain, fine surface alluvium (silts and clayey silts) are on the contrary very little permeable, and therefore it is incorrect to say that the rains feed the aquifer. The water which falls on almost the entire plain trickles and does not infiltrate. This is a very important fact that hydraulic research in recent years has brought to light. The aquifer is only fed by the infiltration of water from the Atlantic torrents, most of it passing through the ground to the outlets in the plain on the coarse and impermeable elements of the debris cones. It would also be wrong to believe that water easily infiltrates through the deposits to stop at the primary base.

Although the phenomenon is not exactly established, it is generally believed today that water is suspended relative to the primary floor, thanks to the impermeable layer formed by oligo-Miocene alluviums.

The underground circulation takes place, throughout the aquifer, from south to north, but the aquifer has two different outlets: to the west, it feeds the Tensift, which serves as a gutter, general collector; to the east, it feeds the Oum er-Rebia basin through the lower Tessaout valley and the EI-Kelaa bottleneck.

As a corollary to this underground circulation, it will be noted that the salinity of the waters increases from south to north. At the foot of the Atlas, the waters are very pure, while at Tensift, the salt content is very high. This is a very important and very regrettable observation for Marrakech, and which probably had not escaped its founders.

This marvelous water table did not give rise around the city to real sources, and the inhabitants to obtain drinking water had to use first the wells, then the Khettaras.

There are only a few left, especially inside the ramparts; numerous observations made throughout the city prove that their number must have been considerable in the past. Their depth is variable and cannot be appreciated properly because they are very easily confused with the aeration wells of Khettaras. But we know that in Marrakech the water table is about twenty meters deep.

The Khettaras 

Maroccan Khettara subsurface irrigation channels for water
Maroccan Khettara subsurface irrigation channels for water

It is by far the most important and, therefore, the most attractive mode of supply in all respects. The Khettara is a long underground gallery that drains the water captured in the water table and which leads them to the irrigable surface by a regular slope lower than the general slope of the ground. This gallery, for the needs of its construction and maintenance, takes day and air by wells equally spaced (33). Captivating towards its origin, simple driving throughout the rest of its journey, the gallery is the soul of the Khettara. Wells are only organs necessary for its construction, as for its maintenance, and which can become harmful.

Khettaras are not born at random from the village. Three conditions must be met to decide on their construction:

  1. The existence of a large and shallow water table,
  2. A calm relief but with a fairly steep general slope,
  3. A fairly permeable aquifer, but with sufficient “hold”, the wells of the Moroccan Khettaras not being built.

For construction, we sometimes dig up to 40 m of depth, at distances varying between 10 and 20 meters (sometimes much less or a little more), a series of wells which a gallery then leads to their bases. As a result, barring an accident or deterioration, the Khettara everywhere is of sufficient caliber to allow a very curved man to enter and circulate there. Water flows to the bottom of this channel. After a long line of wells in chains, so characteristic of the surroundings of Marrakech, the Khettara approaches the level of the ground to the point of being exposed to it, and then the water generally circulates still for a certain time in the open sky constituting a simple Seguia. Finally, for the needs of urban distribution, water ends up in watertight masonry or terracotta pipes, which the Marrakchis call “gädous.”

The qädous are formed either from a cemented and covered masonry pipe or from a series of short terracotta pottery pipes that adjust to each other and are wrestled with plaster and oil. These pipes circulate on the surface of the ground, in which case they are protected by a brick vault of the rather fragile remainder, or else they are drowned in the masonry of the various constructions. Their size is very variable and naturally decreases constantly as the water supply runs out.

When the drain is well done, and the circumstances are normal, the flow is constant, but the Khettaras are exhausted when they are too close or too numerous to capture the same aquifer region.

The length of a Khettara is very variable, especially if we include its extensions, channels, and pipes. To consider only the underground course, the extent is considerable and can reach 4 to 5 kilometers; the Khettara then has nearly 300 wells. At least this is the maximum observed in Marrakech. We emphasize this notion because it is very far from what, to our knowledge, has already been written on Khettaras. These underground and mysterious conduits which run far across the countryside, lending themselves, by their complications and their multiplicity, to the errors of observers, have intrigued for a long time the rare travelers who entered the region before French pacification.

They generally believed with Leon the African and probably because of him that they brought to Marrakech the water of the Atlas taken at the very foot of the mountain. If the length of the Khettaras is sufficient to honor the merit of their builders, it is not such that the figures are given, twenty thousand, thirty thousand, etc., are not extremely exaggerated.

The Khettaras closest to Wens Tensift are much shorter due to the increase in the slope of the ground and the very presence of the river. This length decreases as one goes up the Tensift and the Khettaras manage to count no more than a dozen wells.


After the foregoing studies, it is clear that the resources offered by the Marrakech site for agriculture and trade are limited. The soil of the spongy or impermeable alluvial plain, the very harsh summer climate, the rain regime and the absence of sources are in principle not very favorable for the development of plant life.

The spontaneous flora is no less important. We must first mention the thorny jujube tree, with small deciduous leaves and large isolated tufts more or less tight which, in its true domain, covers immense areas and forms a particular landscape. It is a stubborn obstacle to cultivation, but it deserves special mention because, as it grows in loose and deep soil, when it is defended against the cattle tooth, each of its tufts can constitute a small reserve of ‘humus, and the land covered with huge jujube trees are, after clearing, the best in the region. The bush in the jujube, a veritable climax, most certainly once extended almost without discontinuity in the plain of Haouz, as evidenced by some remarkably isolated trees or miraculously spared bouquets, and many Muslim cemeteries inside which the vegetation was respected.

Along the wadis grows the Tamarix, which lives on all piles of earth and which has the rare advantage of being disdained by cattle, even by goats! In salty land, the watchman (Atriplex halimas) dominates with smaller species; soda, samphire, etc. The very perennial lookout prevents sheep and camels from starving to death in a bad year.

Saw palmetto, so widespread in Morocco, is completely absent in Haouz, much too dry for it. In spring appear the false mustard, cruciferous poeticized in Ravenelle, which covers thousands of hectares and gives a taste so disagreeable to the milk and the meat of the animals which feed on it, and also, by immense surfaces, mallows whose Moroccans appreciate berry fruits. Among the grasses, we must first mention quackgrass, then wild oats, the two plagues of irrigated crops.

All these spontaneous spring plants provide a mass of forage which is sometimes considerable, but which has two major faults: a short duration and a bad composition. The herbaceous period lasts only two to three months, and the Ravenelle dominates by far in quantity all the other species.

As for the cultivated flora, it is represented for the most part by barley, the cereal that requires the least water. Sown at the beginning of the rainy season, it ripens before the end of May, sometimes earlier, and provides fruitful harvests as long as the winter precipitation has reached its average height. Durum is also grown but does not succeed unless it is irrigated. The native corn has very fast vegetation and gives two poor harvests per year. Finally, the cactus is planted en masse by rural people inland lacking aquifer resources. All these plants, of the spontaneous origin or cultivated, are found in Marrakech even in the gardens and it is certain that the ground on which the city extends had to be sown also in the same way as long as it remained free of construction or became it again.

Mediterranean plants adapt admirably: the fig tree, at home since always, the olive tree, naturalized for millennia, the vine whose culture has never suffered from the Muslim prohibition that strikes wine, are the essential elements of the landscape from the suburbs of Marrakech, with, since the arrival of the French, the Australian eucalyptus which has invaded Morocco, giving useful wood and appreciated shade.

It seems difficult to forget the tall palm tree, which came from the East like the camel since it is today the quintessential tree of the city. But to tell the truth, if it grows well in the humid soils of Haouz, it does not bear fruit there very well, for lack of heat. It is, moreover, poorly looked after by native arborists. Its fruits, even harsh, are consumed by the poor population, its trunk is used for the construction of roofs and its dried fuel palms for lime kilns. M. Capot-Rey in a masterful book wrote a beautiful page on this biblical and Koranic tree (^ J. (PI. VII.)

Citrus fruits do admirably; plum and almond trees too: there are some beautiful varieties of these trees. Apricot trees can reach surprising sizes.

Along the wadis, grow many reeds whose local trade makes a significant use and traffic.

Among the market garden plants, one hardly finds anything but watermelons, whose water is drawn from paradise, would have said Mahomet, pumpkins, melons, and peppers as summer crops, and as winter crops, cardoons, carrots, turnips, and onions.

Finally, let’s say that Marrakech is the city of roses and flowers.

We, therefore, find a whole series of plant species perfectly suited to bright and dry summers such as rainy autumns and bright winters and which concentrate oil, sugar, and perfume in their fruits and flowers. The whole is remarkable and the care of man continues to perfect it.

The surroundings of Marrakech do not lack the mineral resources essential for the establishment of a real city. There is no shortage of building materials of unequal value. The Guéliz blue sandstones have been used since the origin for the shell of large constructions, a certain variety even lends itself to size (Koutoubia). On the other hand, the inhabitants quickly knew how to make lime using the limestone crust of tuff which is found not very deep in the very soul of the city. The summer never ran out of brick and pottery, which allowed the creation of a real industry. Sands are abundant in all the wadis beds.

Timber – except palm – has always been scarce in the suburbs, but there were in abundance, in the Atlas and its green valleys, cedar logs, walnut beams, cedar planks.

As for the food resources that the surroundings of Marrakech could provide to the city, they obviously had to depend on the activity of the populations, their number and the development of the soil by the irrigation works. They proved to be very important when the French took charge of the country’s development. They must have been in the past. In the absence of precise information, it can be argued that the supply of the city was easy, whenever the hostility of the surrounding tribes did not intercept communications and did not prohibit livestock (sheep and camels above all) to reach the urban slaughterhouses.


Thus, on examination, the not very encouraging characters that we are tempted first of all to attribute to the site of Marrakech diminish to a reasonable extent. This site proves to be favorable for the development of an agglomeration.

The climate is harsh in summer, but the sun is the great agent of public health. Historically, the most serious epidemics have always occurred in winter.

The subsoil of the city offers fairly thick benches of grainy alluvium, capable of withstanding enormous pressures (Koutoubia). The soil itself contributes to the general slope of the plain, however, the flow of water is quite poorly assured.

Building materials can be found at reasonable distances: in Guéliz for building stone, in the Atlas for wood, in Djebilet for millstone, mills, presses, and mortars. Their transport did not pose an insoluble problem.

The deep lands around Marrakech are numerous and vast, and their products fairly easily meet the needs of a large urban area.

But are these resources sufficient to justify the formation of a huge urban center? Couldn’t other points of the plain have more advantages than the site of Marrakech? In particular, all those who, closer to the Dir or the foothills, could by that very fact have been able to solve the serious and essential problem of water, still present in Marrakech.

To what can we attribute the fortune of this military creation?

We do not see an answer elsewhere than in the elements of permanent prosperity that offered him not the site itself but the geographical setting, because regional conditions in Marrakech are inseparable from local conditions.

  1. i) The High Atlas Chleuh (PI. III). – If the Haouz is a creation of the High Atlas by the game of the three phases of ablation, transport, and deposit of the materials torn from the mountains during geological times, it would only be a sterile gift without the reserves of Massive water, the powerful snow barrier of which in summer provides it with the moisture resources accumulated during the winter, while protecting it from the dreaded desert influences and invasions of grasshoppers.

It is to the High Atlas, and to him alone, that we owe on the latitude of the 32 * parallel, that of the confines of the Algerian Sahara, the existence of this zone, so privileged (it is irrigable) that it was the real interior province from which the unity of historic Morocco was achieved.

In its deep valleys, “corridors of life in the human void of the mountains” (J. Célérier), we harvest maize and barley, the basis of the agricultural economy of Chleuh peasants and we cultivate almond and walnut, the fruits of which are exchanged for manufactured objects. In its gardens, the bees will make their honey. In its alpine pastures every year the numerous herds of goats and sheep that make up the wealth of its inhabitants, always more numerous as one descends towards the plain.

From its forests come wood and charcoal. It’s often because of its salt mines or salt marshes that we often fought.

2) The country of Rehamna. – The Rehamna country is a peneplain which erosion has stripped of its sedimentary cover, but which has not been deeply dissected. On this thankless soil, no permanent rivers and the lowest rains in all of Morocco. This peneplain is bounded to the north by the valley of the Oum er-Rebia and to the south by the Djebilet, whose peaks peak around a thousand meters, carved into acute pyramids, to the Saharan, by the arid climate.

Everything betrays the Arab origin, the type, the costume, the language and especially the customs. Thus the Berber mountain opposes the Bedouin plain. This is the domain of pastors. Excellent shepherds, they did not work the soil, partly ruined by their flocks, only reluctantly.

It is a real country of steppes where one has, especially in summer, the desert impression. However, the fixity of the douars surrounded by the hedge of dry thorns of the jujube tree is at least as frequent as their mobility. Many of these centers, made of classic nouallas (huts), are linked to a water point, to cisterns surrounded by prickly pears, to a small wadi that was once barred to divert rainwater from the land always dry.

The Rehamna themselves have nothing to expect from their country other than livestock products (butter, meat, wool and skins), but these descendants of the nomadic hordes have at least the advantage of giving value economic to these recent steppes, which without them would remain unproductive, and to be the best customers of the city.

3) The roads. – Marrakech is in the center of a region which has the remarkable advantage of being at the point of contact of some great natural routes, imposed by the topography and especially by the needs of men. History has illustrated them.

The city is at the point of convergence of the great Atlas valleys which lead to the great passages, the Tizi n-Tichka (2,235 m) towards the countries of dates, Tafilalet and the Sahara, the Tizi n’Test (2,094 m) and the Tizi n-Maachou (1375 m) to the Sous and Mauritania; the latter, having the advantage of never being banned by snow in winter, was once the main official route between the Haouz and the Sous.

Towards the west, the plain, without any difficulty, leads straight along the Tensift to the ocean and its ports. Towards the east, by the old atlas piedmont road, it is the access to the Tadla and the old Fâzâz, and the shortest way to connect Marrakech with Fez and the easiest in the past, because it avoided the passage great rivers.

The combination of these elements is a guarantee of prosperity for urban life. All these regions, with an incomplete economy, a plain deprived of wood and charcoal, a mountain lacking in wheat and manufactured objects, steppes devoid of anything that is not produced by livestock farming, will establish currents of exchange which will allow thatch of them to obtain what it needs to live. But how can we exchange goods without markets, how can we redistribute resources without building up reserves? So many opportunities favorable to the development of trade, and therefore of urban life.

The roads will allow the arrival of raw materials that neither the Haouz, the Atlas, nor the steppes of Bahira produce themselves. The Atlas passes will see convoys of slaves and loads of gold dust from the Nigerian horizon pass by. Camels have never been lacking and the profession of camel-driver is noble: was it not that of the Prophet Muhammad!

Through the ports on the Atlantic coast, it is Europe, it is the world that has reached Haouz since ancient times. By the road to Fez, whether it be that of ancient Tâmasnà or that of T former Fâzâz, it is an Andalusian civilization that will conquer southern Morocco.

The geographical framework is therefore much more favorable than one could have thought in urban life. Besides, it met needs so real that some of its benefits and problems had been known long before the creation of Marrakech. The story of the little vüles of Dir who have stayed like Demnate and Amizmiz or who have disappeared like Aghmat or Neffis, is there to bear witness.

Already in these rural capitals, the people of the plains and mountains liked to meet there to exchange their products and redistribute them throughout the region and perhaps beyond. We will see later that historical sources, without having noted it with precision, sometimes reveal this invigorating trade between complementary regions, the most suitable for urban development.

But to believe that the geographical coordinates of Marrakesh mark exactly the crossroads where the roads of this country without measure “necessarily had to cross, wealth to develop and populations to come together, would be to fall back into the old errors of geographical determinism, which wanted to explain all human history.

It is all the central Haouz which marks the knot of the roads and not the very site of Marrakech which is not the “central point of the Maghreb” as an Arab historian suggests. And the slowness with which the man of these vast spaces found his capital eloquently confirms this conclusion.

Ultimately, the physical environment offered to man the possibilities of urban creation, but it is the man himself, by his choice, his tenacious will, and his “active adaptation” as sociologists say, who has been able to transform the virtualities of a site into a glorious success.


  1. – Morocco in the middle of the 11th century. The great tribes. Social, political and religious organizations. The kinds of life. Urban development.
  2. The Almoravid movement.

III. – The conquest of South Morocco.

  1. – Urban life in the twelfth century in southern Morocco. Neffis and Aghtnat.
  2. – The site of Marrakech before the Almoravidcs


Today’s Morocco was formed very late, and, in its very history, Marrakech only entered the 12th century. Little was known about this century. We know a little more today than the historical sources we have, especially Bakri, provide more data on northern Morocco and the Sous than on the region that interests us.

The great tribes.

We too often forget that North Africa had remained very populated during the centuries which followed the Arab invasion: the geographers are there to remind us of the multitude of human settlements in the country.

Morocco was in all its western part, from Ceuta to the Atlas, the country of the sedentary Masmouda (Masmüda) and it is with the existence of this block, extending in a continuous way from the Sous to the Mediterranean, that all of western Morocco must have formerly carried the name of Sous, a designation already attested by Yâqüt.

The Masmouda were divided into three groups: to the north, from the Mediterranean to the Sebou wadi, the Ghomara (Ôumâra); in the center, from the Sebou wadi to the Oum er-Rebia, the Berghouata (Bargwâta); to the south, from Oum er-Rebia to the Anti-Atlas, the Masmouda proper, which were subdivided into two groups: those of the plain and those of the mountain. The main tribes of the plain were the Dukkàla, the Banü Mâgir, the Hazmïra, the Ragràga, and the Hâha.

The tribes of the Grand Atlas, too numerous to list, were in place but already closely mixed with the nomads Sanhaja (Sinhâja) that the old routes brought more and more around the Sous, the Anti-Atlas and the Dra valley.

The Sanhaja seem to have populated the best of the Central Atlas and the Middle Atlas and even part of the Rif. Thus the Masmoudian occupation of Atlantic Morocco was opposed by a Sanhajian triangle whose summit was pushed towards the Mediterranean and whose base rested on the flourishing territory of Moroccan oases.

The third great Berber race, the Zanàta, nomads who came in successive waves in the footsteps of the Muslim conquerors, were represented mainly by the Miknàsa, the Banü Ifran, and the powerful Magrâwa. His tribes, without ever having formed a united and important block, mainly occupied eastern Morocco and infiltrated into Atlantic Morocco through the Taza corridor; they then formed principalities around the kingdom of Berghouata in Salé, Tadla, Aghmat. They mixed quite easily with the Masmouda and the Sanhaja, and their establishment in the plains, as in the oases, seems not to have affected the very character of their relations with the other inhabitants of Morocco in the eleventh century.


As for Arabs and foreigners, they were only a minority in Morocco in the twelfth century. Fez was still a Berber city, but Sijilmassa had attracted the Orientals, eager to take part in the profitable trade which developed between the two edges of the Sahara.

Thus, as M. H. Terrasse says, Morocco in the eleventh century remained purely Berber, except in a few towns or villages, and included elements of all the white Berber races. But the interbreeding, according to Arab geographers, had started in the southern oases which would have been populated, from the beginning, by the populations of color.

Social, political, and religious organizations.


Morocco, since the ninth century, was a conglomerate of Berber republics where political fragmentation was never the cause of anarchic institutions. The passion for independence, as well as the hatred of personal power, were unceasingly the motives of many tribal conflicts, but the mechanism of leffs had a calming and stabilizing power.

Morocco remained at this time outside the great history of the barbarian invasions, which swept over the Mediterranean world, and lived only happier. It will take nine centuries to find this era of peace!

Islam had nothing to do with this serenity; on the contrary, it had brought about religious wars, but the memories of the Khajism which had shaken the country hard only survived among the Berghouata alone. The Shiite influence only survived in a few places, especially in the South.

On the other hand, we have no valuable information about the Israelites of this time, and we ignore the importance of their rural Judeo-Berber communities. Finally, if we don’t know anything about the Christian tribes, it is probably because they no longer existed. According to Bakri, small centers of paganism still existed, which worshiped a ram god. These idolaters would have lived in the Grand Atlas. But it is undoubtedly under the veil of Islam, as has often been pointed out, that Berber paganism was best maintained and defended.

Officially Morocco was from the Idrisides, a land of Islam, with a Jewish minority, a land of narrow and dry Malekism, in accordance with the uncompromising Berber formalism, but opposed to the naturist tendencies of the old local cults.

Morocco remained a country of Berber dialects, which should be understood by all, but Arabic was gaining ground. It is characteristic of civilizing languages ​​to win over those who are less so. Yet Arabization, even in the North, did not follow the pace of Islamization, which had walked with great strides. The history of pseudo-Korans in Berber provides us with proof that the Berghouata and the Ghomara were attached to their old dialects – or that, at the very least, the Koranic language was not yet very widespread in these tribes.

The kinds of life.

The great nomads are only reported in the Sahara; they ignored agriculture and even the use of cereals and lived only on the product of their breeding and the income of the caravans which crossed their lands.

The Atlantic Saharan tribes seem to have been the richest and most powerful, but most of the Saharan traffic passed through the prestigious Sijilmassa, which already had a great history. At the other end of the desert, the city of Audaghost (Awdagust) fulfilled a similar role and enjoyed similar prosperity – but it was under constant threat from the black kingdoms. It was the still little-known era of the great prosperity of the Sahara. There were many cities and oases, flourishing trade, lasting peace, at least according to ancient authors.

It was undoubtedly also a time blessed for the North of Africa and, in particular, a large part of Morocco where peasant and sedentary life reigned. M. H. Terrasse writes: t All the geographers are ecstatic about the agricultural wealth of the Atlantic plains where mixes the productions of the hot countries and the cold countries and which fed an abundant and varied cattle. They insist that these sedentary Berbers lived in ease, dignity, and peace. Agriculture and breeding mixed harmoniously. The tree then held a great place in Morocco: botanical geography studies have shown that a large part of Atlantic Morocco had, until recently, been rich in forests. Al-Bakri describes Oujda as surrounded by forests and orchards. The Grand Atlas was, according to the same author, “full of forests, brush, and orchards. The oases themselves seem to have, apart from palm trees, owned more trees than today. The banks of the Middle Dra were covered with hedgerows and fruit trees. Throughout Atlantic Morocco, the orchards were numerous and flourishing: many times, the geographers point out the abundance, the variety, and the cheapness of the fruits.

The vine is often reported, but Arab authors never speak of wine. Sugar cane was known.

This peasant life would not be understood without the advantages of a sedentary life. The villages were numerous, often close together, sometimes fortified, but most often open, especially in the South.

This wealth and dispersion of the population cannot be imagined without security and, although we have no official testimony of it, we can think that peace reigned in the countryside.

Urban development.

Morocco did not have large cities, at least in the sense that we mean today, but it still had many medium-sized urban centers.

The Idrisides, Zanàta and Miknàsa chiefs were founders of cities; Fès, Meknès, Salé bear witness to this in the North of Morocco, but the South will not escape urbanization. Le Haouz had its two capitals: Neffis and Aghmat, on which we will expand further.

Morocco in the eleventh century was singularly close to the Capetian France and the countries of Western Europe. It was a country of well-to-do, hardworking, and enjoying peace and security. Islam had introduced its passions and its wars there, but the hardest moments had passed. The height of the Bughouata, however, was still a shadow for the Maliki intransigence, which sought to bring into the Maghreb the rigid rules of Koranic morality. One wonders to what extent in isolating South Morocco, this heresy did not allow it to keep forces intact when the North was more or less associated with the significant events of Mediterranean history. The Almoravids, whose movement will be born on the Saharan margin of Islam, will know how to take advantage of the wealth of men and resources of a country with immense potential.


It is a long story of which we will never know everything, and to try to understand it, we must go back far enough in the facts. In the IV centuries of our era, the massive introduction of the camel into the Sahara gave the great confederations of the Sanhaja tribes who occupied the two banks of the Sahara, a marvelous instrument of conquest. The great nomadism was born with the camel. What animal could have endured without drinking the many days of walking which separate two water points, two oases. Thanks to this auxiliary, the man had at the same time amount and a beast of load, milk and meat, and the possibility of making his coat, canvas, and leather harness. We understand that for the Arab tribes, the word which means camel (evil) has come to designate fortune commonly.

When Islam had entered the desert, ü gave these camel drivers, on whom weighed as on all the nomads of the world the massive inheritance of pillage and guerrilla warfare, the taste for religious conquest and that of temporal power.

The Sanhaja of the desert, the Sanhaja in the litham, because they had the lower part of the face veiled, were fixed at the ends of the Great Desert: Their country separates the black world from that of the Moslems, says Bakri. They formed numerous tribes or confederations, which, in Western Sahara, were in contact with southern Morocco. The most powerful of them was created by the Sanhaja of the Mauritanian region, which included the tribes of Lamtüna, Massüfa, and Gudàla. From the ninth century, these fierce Berbers had known how to impose their obedience on many Negro kingdoms and had installed their capital at Awdagust. This city was not just their capital, it was with Sijilmassa also one of the two poles of the transaharian trade where the caravans found, after the hardships trials, places of relaxation and security. The primary beneficiaries of this trade were the Sanhaja themselves. They knew how to have expensive paving, either the rental of their camels or the protection they gave to caravans.

After vicissitudes about which little is known, this Sanhaja confederation was re-united around the middle of the 12th century to retake Awdagust, which the black kings had captured.

It was around this time that circumstances brought together two men to whom the Alraoravids will owe their entire epic.

Yahyâ b. Ibrâhîm, head of the Sanhaja confederation, had noted, during his pilgrimage to Mecca, that his people did not respect all the divine prescriptions and all the maxims of the law. So in 1039, he brought back to the tribe a Moroccan scholar, “virtuous and skillful,” of Maliki rite, by the name of Abd-Allâh b. Yàsïn and native of a Sanhajian tribe, the Gazüla. From his installation among the Lamtüna the reformer began his teaching and quickly passed from theory to action. As ü loved nomads no more than the Prophet himself, ü became a rigid censor of their extremely relaxed morals. But he neglected to set an example, and his reforms were only accepted as long as his protector Yahyà b. Ibrâhîm.

This dead, the new head of the confederation Yahyà b. Umar could not prevent his contributions from chdisseï the reformer who took refuge in dan, a ribât (a military convent for the defense and propagation of the faith), founded on an island in Saguiat-al-Hamra. Yahyà b. Jmar and his brother Abü Bakr joined him. Despite the extreme rigor of the obligations he imposed on his faithful, naturally unruly, Ibn Yâsïn quickly saw the number of his followers increase for the greater glory of the Maliki doctrine.

The inhabitants of the ribât were the Murâbiün, a word that became Almoravides, including Spanish. If we neglect all the legends surrounding the beginning of this great adventure, the fact remains that Abd-Allàh b. Yâsïn and Yahyà b. Umar, the religious and military chief, very quickly found themselves at the head of a real armed force, made up of a thousand men. It was too much for the desert; these fanatic and poor soldiers, they had to be fed, therefore used. The first opportunity was seized with eagerness, and the request for help launched by the Sanhaja of SijAmassa against their zenet enemies the Magrâwa emirs enabled Abd-Allàh and Yahyà to fly to the aid of their brothers, in the name of trampled Islam.

Mr. H. Terrasse has clearly shown that this attitude if it was valid in form, did not presume anything substantive. The real reason for the attack on the empty Almoras is not to be found in the religious cause: the inhabitants of Morocco, like those of Sijilmassa, were certainly more Maliki karite Muslims than the Saharan reformers. These somewhat new champions of a rather thin religious cause had other reasons to surge towards Morocco. They hated black people, masters of the oases they coveted. They hated the Zenites who occupied the Moroccan gates of the Sahara, where the caravan lines ended, from where they drew the best of their power and their riches. They hated the Masmouda of the Atlas, who prevented them from leading their herds to graze on the plains of Sous.

It was above all a question of emptying the Sahara of the overflow of the population that happy years had probably caused among these strong races but fleeing the effort, where the natural selection only allowed to live the vigorous men, too full relative which it is not necessary not to exaggerate the importance. Mr. F. Braudel reminded recently that the victory of the desert was never a victory of numbers and that the Almoravid settlement crisis had not transported as many men as camels.

Religious migration was to be replaced by the great joyful and exhilarating raid, the initial motive of which, if we are to believe Ibn al-Atir, was the drought from which the Mauritanian regions suffered. This clarification would confirm, if necessary, the importance of the economic factor in the sudden expansion of Almoravid.


walled city of Tiznit, in southern Morocco
walled city of Tiznit, in southern Morocco

Mounted on camels on the side of which hung a large leather shield, the Almoravids were armed with spears and swords. A long veil concealed their lower face and fell on their chest, and another hid their forehead and head. It was thus equipped that they began their raids in the immense valley of Wadi Dra, where the camels of the Zenic emir of Sijilmassa grazed. The emir was killed defending his animals, and the camels were kidnapped.

Around 1053-54 Sijilmassa was taken, all the Magrâwa were created, and the city received a governor and an empty Almor garrison. Abd-Allâh kept the promises he had made in the desert, the jars of wine as well as the musical instruments were smashed, the non-Koranic taxes removed and the booty distributed according to Muslim rules. The fuqaha, by receiving their quint, thus began a fertile career in prerogatives of all kinds and in substantial advantages, often very far from the Koranic recommendations.

But the Zenetes, who had long enjoyed an (urban oasis civilization) (G. S. Colin), did not tolerate the domination of the coarse and brutal Saharans. A revolt was quick to rid the city of it by the massacre of its governor and its garrison.

When the news reached the desert, it was necessary to preach the holy war again with the Almoravides, to find men who wanted to leave their tribes again. The Gudâla refused to embark on a new adventure; wanting to punish them, Yahià b.cUmar was killed, and his brother Abü Bakr was designated to replace him at the head of the Lamtüna and part of the Gazüla.

This time the new chief took his precautions and organized a base of operations at the crossroads which go from Sijil- massa to Sudan and from Dra to Touat; the Tabelbala oasis was created, and the return of empty Almoras to the Tafilalet oases took place without a blow.

Then the Almoravids well led by two excellent warlords, Abü Bakr and his cousin Yüsuf b. Heap end, threw themselves on the valley of the wadi Dra, then on the Sous, and seized its two main cities: Taroudannt and Massat, that their masters do not seem to have been able to defend. The loot, according to the chroniclers, was considerable, thousands of camels, horses, and cattle, slaves, large amounts of money fell into the hands of the victors.

Then in 450/1058, the Almoravids under the command of Abd-Allah b. Yâsin left Sijilmassa again and headed for Aghmat. It is difficult to imagine these camel drivers in the big passes of the high massif of the Atlas. It is likely that they had to take either the easier pass of Tizi- n’Maachou, according to the Bigoudine-Imintanout route, or perhaps to be the path of the coast which was not however reported at the time by Bakri.

When they reached the plain, where Os was once again at ease, they easily took over the small towns of Chichaoua and Neffis and the lower Tensift territories.

But the rich city of Aghmat still had to be occupied. Abd-Allâh returned to seek reinforcements at Sijümassa and Abû-Bakr, strong with a body comprising 400 horsemen, 800 camel drivers, and 2,000 infantrymen, kidnapped him in 1058 to the emir Lagüt who took refuge with the Ifrenid prince of Tadla. The victors pursued him and, in turn, drove out the Ifrenite emir of his principality. Lagüt was taken and killed, and Abû-Bakr brought into his harem his widow Zaynab, originally from the Nafzâwa (south of Kairouan). She was famous throughout the country for her beauty and intelligence; we thought she was a magician.

The Almoravids then tried to subjugate Atlantic Morocco, that is to say, the country of the Bergbouata heretics. They passionately defended their independence during a fight Abd-Allàh b. Yâsm was killed and buried near the wadi Korifla, a tributary of Bou Regreg, where his tomb is still known.

The death of “Abd-Allâh was a severe blow! But why did he fight by exposing himself? Did he not remember the advice he had given himself to Abü Bakr, accompanied by lashes:” A leader must never enter the fray of combat because on his life or his death depends the salvation or the loss of the army.”

It was such a hard blow that the empty almora body remained, according to Ibn cIdârî, under the orders of Yüsuf b. TaSfin returned to its bases of departure, perhaps even it was forced there by the obstinate resistance of Berghouata. The real story of Marrakech will begin.


Before creating Marrakech, the Almoravid nomads had come into contact with urban life and were not reduced to inventing everything.

We do not yet have many details on their desert cities, Awdagust and Aretnenna; their sites are not determined. The ruined Tabelbala Oasis still exists, but we have very little information about what it was. Its old prehistoric site and its dialect are better known than its recent past.

Sijilmassa, founded in the middle of the wine century by Zenites, the Milcnàsa, champions of Kharéjite schism in the Maghreb, has had a great history that remains to be written. Its influence on southern Morocco, until its final ruin, was undoubtedly more important than one presumes it and its fame was carried very far.

According to a text, walls with stone foundations and the crowning of bricks would have made a belt to a city of great extent, where neighboring very compact built districts and large irrigated gardens, as still today in Marrakech.

South Morocco has better known other cities of lesser importance, no doubt spontaneously created by natives, on the northern edge of the Atlas, at the points where traffic and transport have to adapt to new conditions. They were simple village agglomerations established around a market in the middle of important olive groves, as today are Amizmiz, Demnate or Imintanout, and that their chiefs applied themselves to develop, without embellishing them, until the moment when the founding of Marrakech gradually led to their economic and political decline.

At that time, South Morocco appeared to us as a prosperous region whose Masmouda inhabitants occupied villages and hamlets made up of stone, brick, or adobe houses, with terraced roofs. They are men, according to Bakrî, active, knowing how to cultivate their lands, but eager for gain. Although mountain peoples are fairly refractory to human progress and to urbanization, some localities have been promoted by history to the rank of cities. The two main ones are Neffis, the city of gardens, and the double Aghmat.

Neffis (or Niffîs or Naffîs)

It is no longer known exactly where this city was, which seems to have played an important role in the Muslim history of southern Morocco. Without the Andalusian geographer Bakrî), who finishes his book in 1068 and dies in 1094, we would know almost nothing about this locality; ü is our only original source. The edition of Kitàb at-Taiawwuf by Ibn az-Zayyât will give us some details but, to date, Neffis does not appear on the major geographical indexes, Ya’qübï and the Encyclopedia of Islam ignore it. And if any annalist mentions his name, it is through a quotation from Bakrî. To our knowledge, no currency has been found that would have been minted at Neffis. Baydaq l’Almohade speaks well of a fortress of Naffîs, of the mountain of Naffis, of the valley of Naffîs, but absolutely not of the city which doubtless no longer existed as a large agglomeration. Where was she?

Doutté launched, without proof, the hypothesis that the important ruins of the Zaoulat ech-Cherradi, which are at the confluence of the Nfis wadi and the Tensift wadi, could be those of the city of Neffis. The map of stages in the Haouz in the eleventh century, established according to Bakrï, leaves no chance for this suggestion, at least in the state of our information.

Recently a Moroccan scholar, the idrisid Sharif Si ‘Abd-al-Hayy al-Kattànï did not hesitate to identify the city (modified) of Neffîs with the Ribât Sâkir, Ribat Chiker from our maps, located about sixty kilometers west of Marrakech, on the track from Chemaîa to Chichaoua and on the right bank of the Tensift. His argument is by no means convincing. Bakri’s routes, if not the logic of the road economy of time, are opposed to admitting that the city of Neffîs was located so far west of the current Nfis wadi.

According to a sketch, Idrisî places the city to the west and south of Aghmat and Marrakech, which is consistent with Bakrï, but very vague.

Lévi-Provençal, as early as 1935. was able to locate the site of Neffîs on the Nfis wadi, as authorized by a text from the beginning of the 14th century of which he has just given us the translation and which specifies that Neffîs was (we will remember the past tense) between Tànzalt and Darkâla. These two toponyms have not been found, either on the maps published so far or in the field after searches that were, in fact, too quick.

The exact site of the city, therefore, remains to be identified. Only systematic research could allow this to be done with certainty. The investigations should, in our opinion, be done between Tameslouht and the new village of Lâlla Takerkouzt (Cavaignac dam), although according to Idrisî. It seems to have been perched higher since it says “Neffîs de la Montagne”.

If we had to try to imagine the city, we could propose the hypothesis of an “archipelago city,” according to the excellent formula of Mr. H. Terrasse. The city would have been made up along the Kfis wadi of a series of enclosed gardens with scholarly irrigation dominated by a succession of ksour, in the inextricable jumble of walls and alleys, houses where the Berbers still love to live and where each large family can isolate themselves with their customers, their reserves and even their herd. We must not allow ourselves to be misled by Arab historians who frequently use the name of Neffîs with the value of “Neffîs region, that of” Sijümassa “to designate the oases of Tafîlalet and who name Dra sometimes the city of this name and sometimes the long valley of this Saharan wadi.

What we know about Neffîs must obviously be asked of Bakri, who has only collected traditions that have already been altered. It was a city of great antiquity. One can indeed think that Neffîs was part of these agglomerations, which, from a very remote date, were born in the Dir of the Atlas, the mountain. Rich, irrigated, and consequently populated area, a real hinge between plain and mountain. It was a link in the chain of localities which goes from Amizmiz to Beni-Mellal via Aghmat, Demnate, Sidi Rahal, Bzou, etc.

It is especially known by the raid of TJqba, one of the companions of the Prophet, who came to seize it in 681-682 AD After having tightly blocked it, ü took it away from the Christian Berbers who had taken refuge there and chastised the Masmoudas so rudely that he forced them to recognize Muslim domination.

According to Bakri, the minbar mosque of Neffîs is due to the initiative of the famous Uqba, whose name it has long borne. But the recent text published by Lévi-Provençal raises serious doubts about this foundation. The author of Bayàn, he does not dispute the existence of the religious building, but he attributes the construction to the people of the city, on the very place where TJqba would have stopped. Idrisï, who is a serious man at (W. Marçais) and who undoubtedly passed to Neffîs, speaks well of the mosque but does not venture to attribute it to the famous Arab conqueror.

Two centuries after ‘Uqba, Idris II would have made an expedition, in 812-13, against the infidels Masmouda and would have seized Neffîs. Fifteen years later, on the death of this sovereign, the empire was divided between his sons on the advice of their grandmother Kanza, and Ibn Haldün informs us that the South Moroccan, with Neffîs as capital, had been attributed to Abd – Allah. The importance of the principality is unknown to us, but we can imagine that the lord of Neffîs extended his command more easily over the tribes of the plains than over those of the high mountains.

At the end of the ninth century, according to Yaqùbï, a descendant of Abd-Allâh still reigned in Neffîs.

Finally, Bakri, in the eleventh century, teaches us that the city’s mosque is still standing, that it is always unique and with only one bath, which is very little for a city known to be populated, but normal for a Berber agglomeration of this time, and that it has several souks, that is to say, a few specialized streets around the mosque. At best, Neffîs should have been a town like Demnate today or more simply Bzou. But in the twelfth century, this stage of urbanization was not to be overlooked.

The population belonged to various Berber tribes of the Masmouda confederation and always had an idrisid, Hamza ibn Ja’far, descendant of eUbayd-Allah, grandson of Idris and who originally had no received from the principality because he was too young. It is indeed one of the greatest surprises in this history to see that the Almoravids, around 1050, will have ended the government of a family which had governed there for two and a half centuries. Should we believe it completely?

In all these historical testimonies, no mention is made of any industry. We simply know from Bakri’s note on Aghmat that the Nfis valley, probably in its upper part, exported apples with a charge of mullet worth half a dirhem and by Idrisï that the Nef fis raisins were of a flavor exquisite, highly esteemed throughout the Mediterranean West. They were probably exported through the port of Goua, a three-day walk on the Atlantic, at the mouth of the Tensift wadi. Nothing about the Jews, nothing about the Christians. In short, a purely Berber rural living environment.

After the Almoravids, it is the complete night: the upcoming creation of Marrakech will consume the ruin of Neffi, which will decrease more and more in importance in order to be erased from the cards and erased from the memories.


As there were two Tahert and two Fez, there were two Aghmat: that of the plain and that of the mountain. Doutté easily found the site of the first, Agmàt-Urika, named after the tribe that surrounded him at the time. In 1901, the site was still full of life. The clear waters leaped into a bed of greenery and thick shading, and there were clearly some vestiges of the prosperity of the former capital of Haouz. Unevennesses of the ground showed that there had been an important agglomeration there, but the apparent ruins were reduced to little things. Doutté did not find a single piece of marble in the traces of enclosures that he spotted around the place exactly called Aghmat.

Agmàt-Urika was therefore located in the plain along the wadi of the same name, an hour’s walk north of the current town of Dar-el-Ouriki, which commands the entrance to the river gorges. The opulent city of the Middle Ages left its name only to a market that is held every Friday.

As for the mountain town, Agmàt-Aylàn, which was said to be Bakri eight miles south of the first, Doutté identifies it with the village of Igil-n-Aylân, at the foot of the old Almoravid fortress of Tasgïmùt. Igil-n-Aylân would correspond to Agmàt-Aylàn of Arab authors whose population of the valley has lost memory.

Doubtless, it is not far to think that the two Aghmat were only one city, but Baydaq is formal; there were two Aghmat.

According to Ibn Sa’id, Aghmat would be the work of the Apostles while the famous Berber tribe of the Hawwâra claimed its foundation; but it only enters into history when ‘Uqba besieges in 681-82 the Christian Berbers who were there and seize it.

According to the Bayan of Ibn ‘Idâri, after’ Uqba, Mùsà b. Nusayr was the first Arab governor (703-711) to enter the Moroccan South and rally without resistance, and definitely, his people to Islam. He then raised the Aggmat mosque, whose minbar was set up in 85/704, as indicated by the inscription on his file.

Idrisi then tells us that after the Kharite revolt, and despite the rumors that it will spawn, millet and rifles were taxed at Aghmat. (These taxes were to last until the city was taken by the Almoravids.)

We have already seen that in 828-829, at the death of Idris II, his son Muhammad handed over to his brother Abd-Allâh, Aghmat, Neffïs, the mountains inhabited by the Masmouda, the country of the Lamta and the rest of the Sus al-Aqsa.

Aghmat recalls at the end of the twelfth century when a group of Zenith Magrāwa, under conditions we do not know, and which Ibn Çaldun also regretted ignoring, managed to seize part of Haouz and to establish a principality between the Berghouata of the Atlantic Plain and the Masmouda of the mountain. This small kingdom is the oldest state whose history is mentioned in these regions, the capital was Aghmat, the “ancient court of the Masmouda,” as Mar Mol says, and its small dynasties will last as far as the Almoravids. It is already known that the last of these, Lagüt b. Yùsuf b. eAlï, who had the beautiful, skillful and famous Zaynab as his wife, was killed by Abü Bakr’s troops.

Aghmat has recently been made a Resistance Center of the Jewish Berghouata, which was eventually destroyed by the Islamist Berbers, who were the empty Almora. This victory, at this point, would mark the decline of Judaism in the Maghreb. Without wishing to take a position on this question, as on all those raised by the history of Jews in Morocco, this hypothesis remains to be demonstrated.

Instead, Aghmat seems to have been a center of influence in Cairo. The riots that bloodied the Ifriqiya and illustrated by the fall of Kairouan in 1057 enriched the city with a scholarly emigration. Mr. A. Faure, who is preparing the edition of the Kitàb at-TaSawwuf, will, I hope, show us what some biographies and the presence of Zaynab, the Nafzá-wiya, have long suggested. The Dadès-Todga corridor thus appears to have played a large role between Aghmat and Kairouan from where the Tlemcen and Sijilmassa Canal scholars and ideas came from.

We do not know anything about Ahmmat’s relationship with the mountain, but in this “worn-out story,” as Mr. H. Terrasse said, no trace of hostile hostility to these newcomers is known. One can even think that their relationships were good. The flourishing business of the city could not have developed in an era of insecurity and without the proper functioning of the institutions of the emirate founded by the Magrawa. A detail sheds light on the relations between flat country and piémoni. The beautiful Zaynab, before being the wife of the unfortunate Lagüt had been the concubine of a chief of the mountain.

The descriptions left by Ya ° qübï, Bakri, Idri- si and taken up by many other authors, allow having rather precise ideas on Aghmat. It was an open city, in an admirable site, sitting on an excellent ground, covered with vegetation and furrowed by white waters flowing in all directions. Perfumed by the smell of grasses and trees, it was surrounded by gardens, vineyards, orchards dominated by the olive tree.

It was crossed from south to north by a small river which seems to have carried the name of Taqîrùt or Tagïrüt and whose water only flowed through the city four days a week, the others being reserved for irrigation upstream. The mills that she operated were numerous, and sometimes she froze the winter, which made the joy of the children who then had fun sliding on the ice as Idrisï saw it himself. But its water was brackish as is still today the water of the tributaries of the Tensift when they arrive in the plain. A pond or a basin may have existed in the city. Geographers have made it a wonderful thing. The land was very fertile, and its products were abundant. Since many of the residents were pastoralists, there was no shortage of livestock products either. The people of Aghmat lived in separate quarters from each other, in ksour of brick and hardened mud, of learned and complex architecture. Houses, like those of today’s ksour, had several floors joined by well-designed stairs, terraces, covered passageways. At night the animals were kept in the yards.

The charge of the emirate would have been annual and subject to the choice of the people, which doubtless did not prevent the Mârâwa from remaining in power since Bakri said: “that the election was always done amicably.”

As far as the information which has come down to us is concerned, the most curious concerns economic activity. Aghmat was, first of all, a market, a local Sunday fair where the whole region came to get supplies. Up to a hundred oxen and a thousand sheep were killed there that day. Without seeing any real statistics in these figures, we can conclude that the market was large and very crowded.

The inhabitants were the most industrious of men and the most ardent in the pursuit of wealth. They forced their wives and young boys into profitable trades.

They were not unaware of certain banking operations. They organized, and this was their main profit, caravans across the Sahara. They sent red to copper to the black country in ingots, woolen fabrics, and clothes, glass objects, mother-of-pearl, drugs, perfumes, iron utensils. Each trader could load 70 to 180 camels! We imagine, without difficulty, that on return, these animals brought back what Niger and Sudan have always exported: gold powder, ebony, spices, and slaves – and it is the rest in inquiring in Aghmat itself, with caravanners as well as with slaves, that Idrisî brought us precious information on Sudan. The caravans also brought back the cane sugar that the plain of Sous then produced. We also exported the leather called gadàmisi prepared with tannin from the spurge and which looked like silk as it was so soft. It is not forbidden to suggest that this leather could have been exported to Andalusia and Europe through the port of Ribàt Gouz, a four-day walk away, where ships arrived from “all countries,” says Bakri.

A detail given by Idrisî seems quite contrary to Berber nature. The wealthy merchants of Aghmat are said to have placed poles at the door of their houses with signs intended to indicate the importance of their wealth. When we think that even today public opinion among the Berbers, based on the prestige of egalitarian institutions, prohibits the rich from having a house more beautiful than that of the poor, we remain perplexed on the real reason for this ostentation of upstarts.

No doubt, many of them were foreigners, re that modern Morocco has taught us to know better the commercial provisions of the inhabitants of this country.

Were the people of Aghmat happy? Arab geographers did a lot of advertising for the Haouz scorpions who were numerous and dangerous, but the natives probably had, as nowadays, preventive and curative means against their painful bites, without forgetting the marvelous talismans which can put at the shelter mosques even against the presence of these animals.

The air in the region was reputed to be bad, but Idrisi believes that the climate was, on the contrary, very healthy. In fact, people had a “yellowish complexion. Can we conclude that it was under the effects of malaria, this old plague that animates the Mediterranean pathology for centuries? A thousand poorly maintained canals were to encourage mosquito breeding.

Wealth and malaria have never made men happy. We can better understand that the Muslims of Aghmat have managed to divide into two rival sects, on which we have no information, which in turn occupied the old mosque founded by Müsâ b. Nusaÿr.

Arriving in Haouz, we, therefore, see that the Almoravides found themselves in contact with old urban habits and an organization of which we know very little but which existed and which could only strike the minds of the victors from Sijilmassa again.

All vagabonds are incorrigible. And undisciplined as they were, Islam, this “civilization of city dwellers” (W. Marçais), was going to put them in front of urban problems to be solved, and one can think that what they knew about Neffîs and d’Aghmat was not useless to them and prepared them to receive the great lesson of Andalusian civilization.

“Do you like cities? “One day, the great Caliph‘ Umar asked the Berber envoys who appeared before him. “No,” they replied, “We make a big deal of horses, and we don’t like to build.” If this episode is not apocryphal, we can say that they would change their mind.


While the Atlas valleys are inexhaustible mines of petroglyphs, cup stones, the most diverse prehistoric stations, the rocky slopes of Guéliz, or at least what remains after the opening of numerous quarries, have not yet delivered anything to researchers. All the investigations were unsuccessful.

The soil of the city itself has grown so much over the past eight centuries that, barring good luck, it does not seem that we can hope to find surface industries on its site.

Has Haouz known closer civilizations? Should we follow the conclusions of a local researcher who believes that he can explain by Sumerian all the toponyms which do not come from Berber roots and which are particularly numerous along the Tensift and around the city? The question goes far beyond our competence to answer it.

It has also been claimed that invaders from the sea could, in ancient times, go up the Tensift on flatboats, when the river received all the water from its tributaries, and reach the height of today’s Marrakech. This adventurous hypothesis will be taken up again when the island of Mogador has revealed all its treasures. Furthermore, it is without any likelihood that certain authors, following Marmol, located Marrakech on the site of Bokkanon, Boccsl post, cited by Ptolemy in a list of cities located inside Tingitane; this name corresponds to that of Tunis Buconis of the anonymous Geographer of Ravenna which makes it a city of Mauritania Gaditane whose coastline extends that of Tingitane.

  1. de Mas-Latrie has published a list of the twenty-five former bishoprics of Tingitane Mauritania, where the name Bocanum Hernemm is noted, which the publisher locates “near Morocco.” The list was compiled by Mas-Latrie himself, using all the sources at his disposal, but which unfortunately he does not cite. He does not say in particular where he took this bishopric from Bocanum Hemerum. It is probably in Morcelli, a work that did not inspire the confidence of the late P. de Cénival, according to one of his handwritten notes.

Father Mesnage does not give information on the origin and date of this list of bishoprics, most of whose names are probably not found in Tingitane. Yet it is in Tingitane that Ptolemy places Bocanum, and the Geographer of Ravenna does the same since his Mauritania Gaditane is the one where Tingi (Tangier), Lixus (Larache), Salty, etc. are located.

A map published in Paris in 1663 confirms these locations. Bocanum is placed on a river that appears to be the Bou-Regreg and at a latitude slightly lower than that of Volubilis.

As for Besnier, he says that Boccana Specula or Turris Bocconis is of unknown location. And it still is today.

In short, there is little chance of discovering the Punic or the Roman in Marrakech or in its close suburbs, and, to tell the truth, the direct influence of these civilizations is currently very difficult to perceive in Haouz.


  1. – The abandonment of Aghmat.
  2. Reason and underlying reasons.

II – The terrain is chosen.

III. – Exodus and organization.

  • – The casbah (qasr al-hajar).
  • – Date of foundation: 1070.
  • – From the name of Marrakech.


Let us now resume the course of historical events in the Haouz. In fact, it would be difficult to get involved without the text of the Hulal al-Mawsiya. We have a good edition of this anonymous work of the fourteenth century. A recent Spanish translation, by M. A. Huici, was able to complete it thanks to the use of new manuscripts. It is an important source in the history of the Almoravids in Marrakech. We must naturally add to it the Almoravid part of the Bayân of Ibn Idârï, of which I was able to become aware late and of which the Hulals are clearly inspired. The details provided by this manuscript are very important. It is, therefore, difficult not to follow these two books in explaining the facts. It seems very acceptable to us: nothing legendary, no golden history, precise details, likely psychology. The discussion will come next, especially for the dates.

Reason and underlying reasons.

Residents of a city taken by force are rarely satisfied with the occupiers, and one imagines that those of Aghmat, like those of Sijilmassa a few years ago, saw the Almoravid looters arrive without much pleasure, not to mention hatred. Their people and their property could only suffer from the rudeness of their victors, but the Almoravids themselves probably did not like the walls they had conquered. We know the horror of the Saharans, like that of all the nomads of the world, for the hard roof; for them, only the tent is noble! Accustomed to the immense horizons of the deserts, they were not yet accustomed to staying in a tight agglomeration, they lacked air and freedom there and let themselves be won over by nostalgia for space.

Thus the Almorvids were not made for Aghmat, and Aghmat, with its gardens and canals, was not made for them, for their tents and for their camels; this was what Abü Bakr could only observe after the death of Abd-Allah.

It is all this that the author of Bayân and that of Hulal let us guess, when they show us the overcrowded and disorganized city and the chiefs of the tribes Urika and Haylàna intervening, unceasingly, near the emir to make him accept the idea of ​​going to build a city (Madina) elsewhere. He finally allowed himself to be convinced and made the decision to choose a new site for his residence, better suited to the circumstances and the demands of the time. At first, he refused to settle on the banks of the Tensift, whose “banks did not suit Saharan customs.” Was he afraid of the sudden floods of the desert wadis of the tsetse fly that lives only near rivers? We do not know. In order to avoid any jealousy between the tribes, we quickly agreed to establish the new city between the territory of the Haylàna and that of the Hazmira, which allows us to admit that, by and large, the wadi Issil separated the two tribes, unless it was the Tensift wadi itself.

The point chosen had advantages that will shed light on the underlying reasons for the transfer. The new site accepted, it was pointed out to the emir that the “Nfis valley would be his garden, the lands of the Dukkàla his granary and the reins of the Atlas government … in the hands of his master”.

We can find in these reflections the real reasons for the choice: to approach a day of walking in the nourishing regions; moving away from the mountains and moving west, avoid any surprise attack; effectively control the Masmouda of the Atlas more difficult to pacify in their haunts than those of the plain and, so numerous, tells us Ibn yaldün, that only the Creator knew the multitude. It was no longer a question of monitoring one of their valleys as one could do with Aghmat, or with Neffîs, but to turn one’s eyes to all of them at the same time.


In the plain, there was no shortage of space, and the presence of the Guéliz mounds must not have been foreign to the orientation of the research, although the texts do not tell us about it.

The Hulals tell us only one thing: the bare and flat land on which Marrakech was created was between the territories of the Haylâna and Hazmira tribes; it was, therefore, neutral ground.

Some authors speak of a marshy lowland. It may have existed, but the double slope of the city, south-north, and east-west makes this precision not very defensible, without forgetting that the unhealthiness of a place should not escape the founders of a camp.

Idriâ, followed by others, in particular by the author of Qiriàs, was the first to point out that the land came from a purchase made by Yùsuf b. TaSfin to the inhabitants of Aghmat; another said to the Masmouda of Neffîs; Mu’jib to a black slave. ” Nâsirî in Isiiqsâ adds: “It is also said that on the site of this city existed a small village, located in the middle of a forest and that inhabited a tribe of Berbers.” These details are acceptable if we are to admit that the forest was made up of large tufts of jujube trees, and not willows as Djennâbi specifies because we know the horror of all the nomads for the forest as for the mountain.

For our part, we would gladly offer the following explanation, which takes into account the old economy of the Moroccan countryside. By its situation, between two tribes, and by its flat and bare aspect, the ground on which Marrakech was founded represented the ideal position of a rural market filling up once a week, according to the theoretical law of the distribution of fairs in a closed cycle. His outfit must have gone back to a fairly distant time since, in a country where the brushwood was so strong that it could be called a forest, its soil had not retained any.

Besides, would it be very adventurous to imagine that the Almoravids applied one of the oldest principles of any peaceful conquest by allowing the mountain dwellers to come and refuel in the plain? In Berber, the concept of protection extended to commerce is familiar. There are many rural markets under the aegis of a religious or political figure responsible for ensuring their security. They constitute a kind of neutral ground where enemies can meet without fighting. These notions were not to be foreign to the Almoravid chiefs.

Thus, without going so far as to say that Marrakech owes its fortune to the political circumstances which favored the development of this hypothetical weekly market, it would not be forbidden to think that the choice of the people of Aghmat and Abü Bakr did not been instinctive. There is no absolute beginning in history, and it has long been remembered that the initial element of the Muslim city is not an oppidum, but a market, especially when it comes to nomads.

Subsequently, the soil and the subsoil of this land proved to be excellent. The large and heavy minarets that Islam built there have never suffered from a lack of firmness in the foundations of their foundations, and the water table has always been abundant and shallow, the water fresh and exquisite.


Abü Bakr, probably having considered, according to an old Arab axiom, that the three essential conditions for an establishment were fulfilled: water, firewood, and animal food, one day gave the order for the transfer. We saw him, on horseback, accompanied by his suite of Lamtùna, the Masmouda chiefs (of the plain), and the principal notables of Aghmat going to occupy the chosen site, which was only a large, sterile and naked place (fina).

We have no information on this exodus, which for us Westerners represents considerable problems of organization and preparation. It is nevertheless very likely that certain rules were adopted to distribute the districts between the human groupings, or between the chiefs. The conditions of this distribution are unknown to us, but a line from Bayân suggests that the Almoravids sheltered “their people and their flocks according to the customs of their country,” which suggests that the tents were numerous. As for the Masmouda, they built adobe houses according to “their fortunes and their needs.”

The whole of the city-camp was then surrounded by an enclosure of “thorns of jujube tree.” But was such a foundation solid? Its relief, since we had not wanted, or not known, to use the Guéliz to make it an oppidum, offered no serious obstacle to stop the march of a numerous assailant; the hedge of thorns, even if it was high and thick, did not give the defenders an indisputable superiority, it could burn in a few minutes.

So we understand that the Almoravid chief, generally informed, ordered, from the first day, the construction of a casbah whose shell would have been completed about three months later. It was the Qasr al-Hajar (the stone palace) that the author of Bayân expressly attributes to Abü Bakr and not to Yüsuf b. Your end, as we always believed and wrote.

The year 460, the Almoravids, etc. “Certainly, as G. de Slane reminds us, Bakri is neither very well, nor very quickly informed about what is happening in the Maghreb, quite concerned that he is about the gravity of the Andalusian hour, but how does this Cordovan specialist would he not know, in 460, that, as Qirtàs will later affirm, the veiled Saharans, five or six years earlier, occupied Fez, founded a city and recruited a militia in Europe itself! The news has always been transmitted so quickly in the land of Islam! In our turn, and after Lévi-Provençal, we have the right not to give credit to the chronology of the Qirtàs, even if it was adopted without discussion by a historian of the value of Ibn îjaldün.

2 ° If the date of 454 inspires us the most lively reservations, that of 470, advanced by Idrïsi, the first Arab geographer who mentioned Marrakech in his works, even if it is reproduced by Yâqüt and Watwàt which are far from being experts about the South Moroccan, seems to us to delay the official creation of the capital too much. It may represent an event that, in the state of our knowledge, we are unable to define. Note, however, that the first author who sought to specify the date of the founding of the city gave a very late compared to that which is commonly accepted. This is all the more reason not to believe in Qirtàs.

3 ° It then seems very difficult not to admit for the effective foundation of Marrakech a date going from 459 to 462 with guarantors like the author of Ylstibsàr who lived in the city, Ibn al-Atîr, whose compilation “is of the greatest value “and especially the Bayàn d’Ibn ‘Idâri, of which Lévi- Provençal, the best master in the matter, thought that it was the most important and most detailed source among those who are currently susceptible of being exploited in the early ages of Islam in Berber.


4 ° It now remains to explain why the Almoravids who took Aghmat in 450 / 1058-59 (the date is Bakri) would not have evacuated the city, which wanted more of them, only after nine years, maybe seven, or even twelve, as the Hulals say after the Bayàn.

Should we imagine, as Bakri’s text seems to authorize us, that after the death of Àbd-Allâh and the resistance of the Berghouata, the Almoravids not only withdrew to Aghmat but pushed with their spoils to the desert, to come back a few years later? A text by Ibn Haldün relating to the history of the Banü Hammad could help us to admit it. We read: “Buluggin having known that the Almoravids ordered by Yusuf b. Tasfin had tamed the Masmoudian populations, he marched against them in the year 454 (= 1062-63) and threw them back into the desert”. And this precision takes on extreme importance for us since it puts Ibn Jialdün in contradiction with himself. Won’t he say a little further than Marrakech was precisely founded in 454.

5 ° If we now had to choose between 459 and 462, (1067 or 1070), and again that we do not see the point of trying to maintain that Marrakech started on such and such a time, we would gladly trust the dating of Ibn’ Idâri, because his book was composed in Marrakech, in the “very conservative environment of the Berbers of southern Morocco, and that it is not abnormal that, a little more than two centuries later, episodes relating to local history were kept in the memories of men.

6 ° In conclusion, it seems reasonable to give Abü Bakr the honor of having chosen the site of Marrakech, to have settled there first, probably in May 1070, and to have started to build there the first Kasbah of Almoravid history. He is the founder of Marrakech.

This merit does not detract from that of Yüsuf b. Taèfin, whose political genius will give the city the empire that will make it a significant capital of the Middle Ages. It is by a natural consequence of the admiration that this extraordinary man aroused among the people of his time that all the honor of the founding of Marrakech fell on his name. Thanks to Ibn cIdàrî, we can do justice to his cousin Abü Bakr b. Umar and associate them both in a common glory.


The question has already been partially studied by A. Ruhlmann, who owed all his documentation to P. de Cénival and to M. G.S. Colin. The Mas-Latrie collection also provides a great deal of information.

The ancient and classic form of the name under which the city was known from its foundation is Marrâkus, and the current pronunciation is Merrâkus, that is to say with the two R empathized and vocalized in A long the first A taking a neutral value and the final U hardly being heard anymore.

However, in a unique manuscript dating from the 12th century and kept at the Library of the Al Qarawïyin Mosque in Fez, we find the spelling: MRWKS which must_match according to MGS Colin to a MARRÜKüS pronunciation and must be at the origin of the Spanish Marruecos or the Hispanic novel responds to the hushed medieval.

The Murràkis form is posterior and, despite the authority of several considerable authors including Ibn Hallikân, Hajji Halïfa and the author of Qàmüs, seems to be a creation of Moroccan scribes, eager to give the name a more Arabic form.

But what is the origin of the word? The etymologies advanced by the authors seem very fanciful.

For Marrâkusï, it was the name of a black slave who had settled there to practice brigandage. The word küs, which has come to mean Negro, must not be foreign to this etymology.

Ibn Hallikàn gives an etymology by a pun. The meaning of this name in the language of the Masmouda would have been: “Go away quickly” because the place where today stands Marrakech was a place of ambush for the brigands and those who passed there said these words to their fellow travelers.

It seems wiser to adopt the solution of P. de Cénival and to think that it was probably a very old locality. Does the word have a Berber meaning? According to L. Rinn, “Marekouch would be a name of the third form, derived from Arkouch, that is to say, Ourkouch, son of Kouch.” Marrakech would, therefore, mean, according to this author, “the land of the sons of Kush.”

Finally, note that the French merchant P. Lambert, author of a very substantial Notice on the city of Morocco, reports that the city would have received its name, like Kairouan perhaps, from a well that is now dry, located almost in the center of the city, which is not impossible. Whatever its etymology, Marrakech appears from the thirteenth century in Western documents.

We find Marrochs in an undated letter from Reverter, Viscount of Barcelona, ​​captive in Marrakech, which is from the beginning of the reign of Ramon Berenguer IV, king of Aragon, that is to say, one of the years which follow 1131 Then appears the “king of Morroch” in a peace agreement with the Pisans, dated 1133 “. For the middle of the twelfth century we have two testimonies of: “Régis Marroch” (around 1141) in Orderic Vital and in Chronica Adephonsi imperator is recounting the splendors of Alphonsus VII, King of Leon and Castile, who reigned from 1126 to 1147:

“Marrocos, in civitatem quœ dicitur”

“Marrocos, in civitatem Marrochinorum.”

At the end of the century (1198), the rex Marochetanus received a letter from innocent III.

From the twelfth century, the quotations relating to Marrakech multiply, and we refer to the work of Mas-Latrie (p. 66) and to the study of Ruhlmann (p. 53) to note that the use of the lesson Marochium becomes more and more fixed.

For the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we have the Italian portolans and the Catalan maps, the latter quite remarkable from the point of view of cartography. They can easily be found in the magnificent work by Ch. De la Roncière on the discovery of Africa. The planisphere of Angelius Dulcert (Majorca 1339) still gives a “Marochus”; that of the Venetian brothers Pizzigani (1367) a “Marrochuum” the Catalan Atlas of Charles V (1375) a “Maroch” and a Genoese planisphere, later (1457), a “Maroco.”

Then Marrakech opens up to modern geography thanks to Leon the African who signs his manuscript of Y Africa in 1525-26 “Marocco” and to the Portuguese anonymous to whom we owe a description of Morocco (Marrocos) dated 1596.

From the list of all these lessons, we can, with Ruhlmann and his advisers, draw the following conclusion. In the etymological Berber form of the word Marrükus, the final we US was later confused with a Latin nominative in us (pronounced us in late epoch novel). This detail explains secondary repairs such as Marochio, Marochium, Marrochinorum. But the word was ultimately reported, in European languages, by removing the ending of the nominative, to a truncated radical Mar(r)oc, hence the modern forms: Marocc-o in Italian, Morocco in English, Marrokko in German, and Maroc, in French. The Hispanic novel, on the contrary, has kept the original Berber from Marruecos (pronounced elsewhere in Castilian Marruecos), a form barely adapted, by its vocalism, to the phonetic laws of Spanish.

The name of Morocco then applies to the entire kingdom, as we did for Tunis, Algiers, or Tripoli.

1250 de Cénival had found a Latin text which shows that the name of Marok is given, from the fifteenth century to the whole country. To this unique example, on which with his usual rigor, the late scholar did not want to rely too much, another, illustrious, can be added, and we will take it in the Divine Comedy. We know all too well what passionate interest aroused for a long time the problem of the sources of the masterpiece of Dante like that of the influence exerted by Islam on Western civilization in the Middle Ages, to be surprised. We will be even less remembering the numerous relationships which existed in the thirteenth century between Italy and the Almohad dynasty, in particular, the contests of Ceuta with the Genoese in 1234 f65) and the correspondence exchanged between the last of the Almohad princes and the Pope in 1250. In Song twenty-sixth of Hell, Dante describes the last voyage and the death of Odysseus. Full of his old ardor to know the world and the humans, the famous navigator, with his old companions, takes the high sea again and says:

[Around 105] “I saw the two shores as far as Spain (Spagna) as far as Morocco (Morrocco) and the Island of Sardinia (Sardi) and the other islands that this sea bathes around …

[To ioç] So that no one dared to venture further. So I left Seville (Sibilia) in the right hand. On the left, already Ceuta (Setta) had left me. ”

The text is too clear to insist. Dante, who opposed Seville to Ceuta, can only oppose Spain with Morocco.

And it is not indifferent to us to note that it is in one of the masterpieces of universal literature that Marrakech gave, for the first time, its name to the extreme Maghreb.

It should be noted, however, that if Dante wrote around 1300, his work was not published until much later and that the first complete French translation of the Divine Comedy dates only from the second half of the sixteenth century.

Despite this illustrious precedent, it was not until the middle of the eighteenth century that the word “Morocco” appeared quite often with its current meaning.

The first example to be found is in Bidé de Maurville in 1755 (72). The author usually writes, according to ancient usage, “the king of Morocco,” “the Empire of Morocco,” but already (p. II of the introduction): “For several years, there has been talking of ‘a peace between France and Morocco.’ It is an ellipse for the “kingdom of Morocco.”

A play by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) is entitled “Empsael and Zoraïde, or the white slaves of the blacks in Morocco.” We read page 3: “The blacks are all-powerful in the empire of Morocco.”

It is not forbidden to reconcile the favor of the word with that of the city, which is reborn thanks to the care of Sultan Sidi Muhammad b. Abd-Allah. He did not reign until 1757, but he had already restored some splendor to his capital at the time when he was still in Marrakech, only his father’s fyalifa. In any case, it was under his reign that the practice arose, which became a habit in the middle of the nineteenth century, to call Morocco the whole country.

In 1814, in his “Voyages,” Ali Bey always writes the “kingdom of Morocco,” “in Morocco,” but he seems to designate by these words as well the whole country as the city of Marrakech and under the name of “ Moroccans,” residents of the whole country.

In 1844, Ch. Didier titled his book published in Paris, “Promenade au Maroc”; in 1846, E. Renou his, * Geographical description of the Empire of Morocco … followed by itineraries and information on the country of Sous and other southern parts of Morocco “. We find in the preface (p. 3): “The text of the authors who have written on Morocco” but also: “a trip to Morocco.”

In 1853, the excellent Carette repeated several times “the empire of Morocco,” but the following year Father Migne came back again to oppose the kingdom of Fez to Morocco proper. ”

In 1860, Léon Godard published in Paris, in two volumes, a “Description, and History of Morocco … with a general map of Morocco”, and the following year Barbié du Bocage wrote a “Geographic notice on Morocco.

Since then, the current usage is fixed, “Morocco” is generally used to designate the country; it will, however, continue for some time to apply also to the capital.

But while the name in the form of Morocco passed from the city to the empire among the Europeans and that it was maintained in the countries of Arabic language where the Maghreb is still called Marrûkus or Murrâkis, the dialect form Merrâkes gradually regained the favor. As the western travelers went to visit the city and as the word Morocco applied to the whole country, the dialect form would gradually impose itself on the need for distinction. It had never been ignored or forgotten. Here are some examples among many:

– D’Herbelot, in 1776 gives the two forms Marakasch and Marakesch.

– Venture de Paradis heard Merakich in 1788, from the mouths of Moroccans who came to Paris.

– Gràberg de Hemso in 1834 writes, “Marocco or more exactly Maraksce or Meraskasce.”

– In 1833, Cherbonneau called our capital Merrakech.

– In 1839, Ad. Balbi writes a Geography Abridge, which he publishes in Brussels, where a chapter is reserved for the Empire of Marock s Capital Morocco or Marok (Merakasch) ”.

– Finally, we find very exactly the current spelling. Marrakech, in 1886, in the new Universal Geography by Élisée Reclus.

But it is likely that this name was not commonly used before the Recognition in Morocco of Ch. De Foucauld. In 1891 did E. Mercier in his History of North Africa not call the capital Morocco yet?

In conclusion, from a possible Marrùkus and a certain Marrâkus, the capital of the South has arrived at a time which seems fairly recent to most often take the name of Marràkis. But from the highest that our information goes back, the dialect form of the toponym (Merrâkes) has always been used.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, the city most often bore the name of Morocco in French, which, however, from the eighteenth century, began to apply commonly to the whole empire.

In 1912, the evolution of the French was finished. The name of the city had become what it is today, Marrakech, St Morocco officially became the name of the whole country.



  1. – Yusuf b. Tasfin: man.
  2. – Yüsuf b. Tasfin, lieutenant of Abü Bakr.

III. – The break with the desert.

  1. – The Sanhaja Empire.
  2. – The capital in formation.
  3. – The tomb of Yüsuf.

VII. – Table of empty Almora sovereigns.


When Yüsuf b. Tasfin takes power and settles in Marrakech, he is over sixty years old, but his physical and intellectual resources are intact. He is a chef born from the constant selection of the desert, this school that forgives neither the weak nor the faint-hearted. One will quote once again the excellent portrait of the Qirtâs: “brown complexion, medium size, skinny, little beard, soft voice, black eyes, aquiline nose, the wick of Muhammad falling on the end of the ear, eyebrows joined together.” ‘to each other, frizzy hair’ (maybe he was black!) ‘He was courageous, resolute, imposing, active, constantly watching over the affairs of the state, and the interests of his cities and his subjects, carefully maintaining his fortresses and always busy with the generous, beneficent holy war, he disdained the pleasures of the world, as well

mother, just and holy, he was modest even in his clothes, however great the power that God gave him, he never dressed except with wool to the exclusion of all other material; he ate barley, meat, and camel milk, and kept strictly to this food until his death. ”

The Hulals further add: “He never inflicted a punishment stronger than imprisonment in time. He honored jurists and revered scholars; he referred them to public affairs to get their advice that he was keen to follow. ”

In short, a true nomad, a monk and a warrior at the same time, but who would have had time to get married, to raise his children with care, to surround himself with quality women, to take, the first in the Maghreb, the title of the emir of Muslims and found a united dynasty, the only Moroccan dynasty that has known neither fratricidal struggles nor palace assassinations.

A rough man likes this stranger who never returned to his desert tribe. Its history, if we knew it better, would illustrate in a striking way the transition from nomadic life to sedentary life that the great sociologist Ibn $ aldün considers as the normal evolution of clans and empires.


Yüsuf, after the departure of Abü Bakr, chief of the Almoravids, went to Marrakech and took the reins of power seriously. He understood that the Saharans, already weakened by the death of Abd-Allah, were again weakened by the departure of his cousin and the main body of the army, who, in truth, should never have been very numerous. He immediately decided, in order to prevent any help from the mountain, to hasten the defense work and doubtless to make the Qasr al-Hajar invulnerable.

Having then a solid defensive position, it needed troops to be able to pass to the offensive movements. Also, the following year, he sent to recruit in Andalusia a personal guard of 240 to 250 European horsemen whom he reassembled, and he made buy or hire at his expense about 2,000 black Sudanese, intended for his militia on horseback.

The money necessary for this operation was largely supplied by an extraordinary tax imposed on the Jews; according to Bayàn, it brought in more than 113,000 dinars. On the other hand, he was far too devout not to have immediately thought of building the mosque that history attributes to him. And one wonders if in the eyes of Muslim annalists, this pious creation of land did not count much more than the stone castle of Abü Bakr and if it is not for this reason that all the honors have returned to that one rather than this one.

We have not found this mosque in toub (adobe), and therefore we do not know if it was inside the fortress as in Sijilmassa, or outside. The discovery of a basin in the casbah may suggest that an Almoravid mosque was nearby, this is the opinion of the Qirtàs. But another historical text teaches us that the mosque, which today bears the name of Alï b. Yüsuf was built in place of another, which was in use. This is an interesting clarification, which does not exclude the tempting hypothesis that the first mosque in Marrakech rose in the very center of the city.

All we know, according to the Qirtas, is that like the Prophet Muhammad who worked in person on the construction of his mosque “to encourage Muslims to do the same,” Yüsuf, covered with bad clothing, rolled up his sleeves and mingled with the artisans responsible for raising his own. One cannot find a more suggestive illustration of the renunciation of this nomadic chief to the life of the desert, so unfavorable for the fulfillment of the Koranic prescriptions.

One can believe that, as he did in Fez, Yüsuf b. TaSfin demanded that every street in Marrakech have its oratory, although it must be noted that, until his death, the texts known so far do not speak of the existence in the city of any other mosque.

Yüsuf’s resources, as well as his needs, quickly became important. He created a monetary workshop (dût as-Sikka) in Marrakech, which struck round coins in the name of Abü Bakr.

He organized two expeditions, one to Moulouya, whose inhabitants submitted, the other to the region of Sijilmassa where certain Zenet tribes which had entered into dissidence were raided.

Finally, to crown his success, Zaynab gave him a son, Tamïm al-Mu’izz bi-llâh.


However, his happiness was suddenly obscured when he learned that, after peace had been restored in the Sahara, Abü Bakr was returning. He then realized that it would be extremely painful for him to give up the power he had exercised in an absolute manner, by simply keeping Abü Bakr informed of what he wanted to say to him. Abü Bakr returned in 465 / 1072-73. He stopped outside Aghmat, and his troops camped around him. No doubt he was already informed of the progress made by his cousin, the fortifications established, the mercenaries recruited and he immediately understood that Yüsuf, well chaired by his wife Zaynab whose intelligence and spirit of opportunity he knew, did would not easily hand over to him a power which he had imprudently delegated to him. His warriors understood him before him, and many of them hastened to greet Yüsuf by offering him their services. Yüsuf, in the feelings he was in, could only receive them with favors and promises. It was more than enough to keep them.

Abü Bakr only had to save face, and God knows if it is important for the nomadic tribes. He asked his cousin for an interview, and the two met in the middle of the countryside, exactly halfway between their two cities. Abü Bakr was not without noticing that his competitor was not dismounting before him as before, and they both dismounted to discuss business, in ancient simplicity, on a burnous thrown on the ground. Abü Bakr tried to put on a good face. He declared to have come simply to regularize the situation and after declarations of friendship, and in the presence of all the notables, chiefs, scholars and courtiers and in particular of the Masmouda emirs, the first interested, he officially handed over the command of the lands of the Maghreb to his cousin, who did not fail to thank him.

Through the text, we feel all the coldness of the meeting of the two emirs, both attentive to their respective gestures, ready to order the attack or to defend themselves. The ceremony must have been less enthusiastic, and each of the two groups quickly returned to their quarters.

On the way back, Yüsuf b. Tasfin, obeying Zaynab’s suggestions, had considerable gifts loaded on 150 mules and mules of choice, had them led by one hundred and fifty slaves, and offered them all to the man he still recognized as his nominal chief. The convoy also included (I put some order in the list) 25,000 dinars of pure gold; 70 horses including 25 all harnessed with gold carrying 20 young virgin slaves (the five others probably carrying dinars); 70 sabers, 20 of which are decorated with gilding, 20 pairs of niellated spurs, 7 large standards, one of which is made of silk, 70 cloth coats, 32 long dresses of scarlet cloth, 200 ordinary dresses, 200 tunics of various varieties and colors, 700 white garments or dyed, 1,000 pieces of linen fabric, 200 burnous of various colors, 100 light coats, 100 turbans, 400 caps, 10 pounds of fragrant wood, 5 pounds of musk, 2 of fragrant amber, 15 of ambergris, etc., etc., not counting a herd of cattle and sheep and loads of wheat and barley.

This royal mailing was accompanied by a beautiful letter in which Yùsuf apologized for not being able to do better and which we would like to read if it was well written!

Abü Bakr, who had lost everything, was satisfied with the process. He could enter his tribe, and he was in charge of loot, the honor was saved. He kept his word and never tried to return north, too busy fighting in the desert for the greater glory of Islam and his own.

This brave champion of the Islamic faith was killed at the pass that bears his name in the Tagant mountains where his lapidary epitaph was found. The “gesture” of Abü Bakr ended in 468 / 1075-76. His son Ibrâhîm came the following year to Aghmat to claim the crown from his father, but he received advice of prudence, and substantial gifts rewarded his erasure.

This is how the Hulal and the Bayàn tell us the facts that are at the origin of the city. But different or contradictory details are not lacking from other authors, and we will have to review certain problems closely, without having the hope of always finding a solution. At least we will have asked them.


Having broken with the desert, well-armed, well sheltered in an impregnable casbah, Yùsuf b. Taâfin was able to begin the conquest of his empire. This great work was done in two very distinct periods. He went first to the nearest and the most urgent; after having entrusted the nominal government of Marrakech, Aghmat, the Atlas and the Sous to his young son Tamïm, barely four years old, he began in 1074 the conquest of North Morocco and the central Maghreb before to be pushed, by events as much as by ambition, to seize Muslim Spain from the Mtilük at-Tawa’if.

The conquest of North Morocco. – It proved difficult due to the fierce resistance of the Zenetes. The takeover of Fez, giving it a base of operations, enabled it to gradually extend its authority from Tangier to Moulouya.

Then the Almoravids went to subdue Oran and the region of Ouarsenis to finally remove the last capital of the Zenites, Tlemcen, near which Yüsuf b. Tasfin created Tâgràrt, the current Tlemcen. The Almoravid armies only stopped in front of the mountains of Kabylia. Finally, in 1083, Ceuta fell. This victory, crowning the work of conquest of the great Saharan chief, now master of a territory which stretched from the Atlantic to Algiers and from the Mediterranean to the Atlas, was also a prelude to the Spanish expeditions.

The conquest of Muslim Spain. – Yüsuf would perhaps have remained deaf to the calls of Andalusian emirs, frightened by audacity and the Christian reconquest, if, in 1085, Toledo had not been returned by a Muslim chief to Alphonse VI. Islam saw this occupation as insulting and Yüsuf b. Tasfin, freed from worries on the side of the Zenetes, was able to join in the general humiliation by promising to act. The following year the Almoravid armies won a great victory at Zallaqa, and their leader, who had personally directed the expedition, returned to Marrakech with huge booty and the honorary title of Amir al-Muslimin wa nâsir ad-din ( commander of Muslims and defender of the faith).

But he was caught in the spiral, and following new setbacks suffered by Spanish Islam, he crossed the strait at the head of his troops. As a result of the revolt and the duplicity of the Andalusian Muslim princes, he suffered a failure before Aledo. He returned to Morocco ulcerated and decided to take revenge by subjugating Muslim Spain, as all those who had an interest in seeing his authority settle on the old Umayyad lands should suggest to him.

In 1090, the emir of the Muslims crossed the sea for the third time, and, in the name of a decision (jatwâ) of the doctors of Islam, he annexed the principalities of Granada and Malaga. The other Andalusian chiefs took fright and turned to the Christians. Yüsuf was only waiting for these new impious alliances to provoke new decisions from his learned jurists. And Tarifa, Cordoba, Ronda, Carmona, and Seville were thus annexed. In the Levante, Almeria, Murcia, Jativa soon fell. In 1094 it was the turn of the kingdom of Badajoz. Alone, the Cid successfully resisted Valencia, but in 1102 the principality fell like the others.

At the beginning of the 12th century, Yüsuf was, therefore, the master of the provinces of Muslim Spain. He had collected for the first time almost all the lands of Western Islam under the authority of the Sanhaja. Marrakech was no longer the small fortress intended to monitor the roads of the atlas but the capital of a Maliki and Berber empire, a large city in the making.


Nothing is known about the relations of Emir Yüsuf and the city. We know better its role in Fez. He unified the city of Idris by ordering the destruction of the walls, which made them two cities. He also ordered the expansion of the Kairouan mosque and championed Malekism. He demanded that each district have its oratory and entrusted to craftsmen from Cordoba the construction of fondouks, mills, and baths and also of a casbah, where he concentrated his troops before undertaking military campaigns. He organized the markets, etc.

We have the right to think that Marrakech, without being treated as well as Fez, was not absolutely forgotten, although Yüsuf spent in the northern city most of his existence and that the idrisid capital had on its rival from the South two centuries in advance and already long past in the service of Islamism and Hispano-Moorish civilization.

We know nothing of the numerous problems which arose with the administration of the city, they would be very difficult to define exactly. It is that in the beginning, Marrakech should not be compared to a Chleuh village of today, but to a semi-sedentary, semi-nomadic center, where the exercise of religion had to be long enough the only essential urban fact, and even the only excuse for the nomad who became sedentary.

We do not know by what processes we went from the noble tent to the uncomfortable gourbi or the bourgeois house, and from the necessary poverty of the light and solid furniture of camel drivers to Andalusian comfort, this comfort which kills courage, say the Bedouins.

The ease with which the Saharans passed this formidable course is obviously linked to their Spanish conquests, but who knows the nomadic world, has no trouble realizing that it is the woman who has accomplished the work of transformation. It is that very often it had to be taken on the spot, like the famous Zaynab (which, in truth, came from further away).

In any case, the Almoravid tents only had time. Many sedentary Masmouda came to gather in the camp. And all these men, where vagabonds and adventurers must have been numerous, built at random. All means we’re good for the construction of their residences, as soon as they felt the need to settle down. The Guéliz stone was far away, the shallow water, the excellent clay, the subsoil rich enough in lime so much reason to think that the adobe constructions must have risen fairly quickly. To cover them, the Dir forests were only a day’s walk away and the Masmouda sold beams and logs with profit, therefore with pleasure.

The framework of the city gradually changed as a result of the developments that the occupation of the land made necessary. But as the surfaces were flat and the planning and construction methods little varied, the urban ensemble must have had a certain unity. Tents, cowsheds, and houses mixed at the beginning in a proportion which it is impossible to fix.

Whether our initial market assumption is correct or not, Marrakech is rapidly growing its business. A market quickly flourishes if it meets in a constant location and if a police force can guarantee the safety and the freedom of the commercial exchanges.

The wealthy merchants of Aghmat, fallen to the rank of a “forced residence,” certainly followed the consumers, not to mention the courtesans of whom Marrakech has always made fame.

As the ancient nomads adapted more easily to commerce than to culture, one might think that a real division of labor was organized. The Almoravids engaged in fruitful traffic between Spain and Niger, and Marrakech gradually ruined Aghmat; the Masmouda chose to work the soil, using ancestral techniques, but with the results of relative safety.

Should we ask the question of the origin of the palm grove? Did the first Almoravids really have the idea of ​​founding one? It’s doubtful. These warriors were only passing by and were not interested in the degrading culture. They knew that if date palms live long, they only grow slowly and that, for nomads, it is not necessary to plan to be happy. The Almoravids came, moreover, from a region, Mauritania, where the palm groves were never prosperous and where the inhabitants never had that few cultural traditions.

Thus Marrakech does not reveal in its origins any intention of metropolis. A casbah, a few residences for the harems of the chiefs, elsewhere poor constructions, cattle pens, but a life teeming in Bedouin filth, a picturesque jumble of soldiers, courtesans and peasants, a continual fair for merchants always more numerous, the first bateleurs and also the first influences of Andalusia, this is how one can imagine this curious agglomeration of which we do not know at this moment the extent, the true limits and the importance of its population.

Yüsuf b. Tasfin, by sending his cousin back to the desert, probably did not want to found a capital. We have the right to think that for him, as for those around him, the Maghreb city, it was Fez and it is indeed to this city that he devoted his efforts. And now his creation escaped him. It had become a populated city, the capital of an empire, whose genius, accustomed to vast spaces, does not seem to have been surprised.

A great city was being organized, which was to experience unusual glory for two centuries, presiding over the destinies of a country which was unknown to itself and which Western influences will soon transform into a land of art and culture. For the Almoravids, reformers as they were, could not, in contact with a higher civilization, not experience the needs of luxury, comfort and renewal, the effects of which we will soon see.

VI – The Tomb of Yusuf b. Tasfin

When Yüsuf b. Tasfin, after a long illness, died in Marrakech, at the start of Muharraro 500 (early September 1106) the centenary could look back. The little chief of the Sanhajas was at the head of an empire that went from the Tafalalet to the Ebro, from the Ocean to Algiers. He had won a great victory in Spain, at Zallaqa, in 1086, the same year when, for some, Abü Bakr was killed in Tagant. He had been offered to free himself from Abbasid vassalage by allowing himself to be called “Prince of the believers,” he knew how to be satisfied with the title of “commander of the Muslims” which then appeared on the currency which he had beaten in his name.

He had created modern Morocco and its administration. Admittedly the conquest and the organization remained to stabilize, but the great work of the Andalusian civilization was started. So well stated that, like the Umayyads of Cordoba, the old emir was buried in his palace.

However, soul’s sensitive to beautiful verses will reproach him for his conduct and his severity towards the famous sovereign of Seville, the poet al-Muetamid whom he had exiled in Aghmat and who died there miserably in 1095.

The author of the Sa’âdat specifies that he was buried at a place called as-Sujayna, as was Sidi Qàsim Bü Sajda, whose qubba is known. The excavations of J. Meunié, by updating the Stone Castle “revealed that this qubba and the cemetery that it overlooks were inside the fortress. The tomb of the founder of the city is, therefore, “over there,” we do not know where.

The people of Marrakech, who love their saints, did not readily admit the disappearance of such an illustrious tomb. On a date that is difficult to fix, he began to venerate a tomb located two hundred meters south of the Koutoubia. In a line of adobe walls, along a very old seguia of running water, undoubtedly the oldest in the city, a small dilapidated door, indifferent to the passing stranger, gives access to a modest enclosure ( Hawi) of a few square feet. In the middle, in an east-west position, is a block of masonry in the form of a molded prism, painted with lime. It is approximately 3 meters long and 0.80 m in base and height. There is no date or registration. We know absolutely nothing about this set whose simplicity surprises the visitor and to which Western travelers have done a lot of publicity.

It may be a cenotaph, Marrakech knows of others that will have been raised in honor of the sultan whose name was pronounced in more than 1,900 chairs (Qirtas).

It is said that Sidi Muhammad b. Abd-Allah, who reigned from 1859 to 1873, and to whom the city owes so many restorations of religious buildings, had deliberately neglected to take care of it. The ignorant were astonished, but the learned approved this abstention, Yüsuf having ordered, before dying, that he was made the tomb of the humble servant of God, which does not include a panegyric engraved in marble, nor a funeral chapel. Sultans, or pious souls, would have forgotten this recommendation, but each time a dome was raised above the tomb, the shadow of the great conqueror came to collapse it.

True tomb or cenotaph, the whole in its abandonment, does not lack grandeur. And if these four walls do not bear the imprint of popular fervor, visitors do not lack, however, because the pilgrimage has the virtue of healing fluxions. Poor women, on Thursday, lead their children and ask the illustrious dead, whom they still believe to be present, to deliver them from evil.

  1. Yusuf Ali                                             3. Tasfin (1143 – 1145)


(1071 – 1106)                           (1106 – 1143)                                  4. Ishaq (1145 – 1147)



  1. – AIî b. Yüsuf. man (1106-1143).
  2. – The miracle of khettara. – III. – The problem of the palm grove.
  3. – The monumental work: private constructions.
  4. – The monumental work: public buildings.


  1. – THE MAN

Alî was the son of a Christian slave from Spain named Qamar (Moon) who bore the nickname Fâd-al-Husn (More than perfect!). He was born in Ceuta in 1084-85 and had been carefully raised in this famous port. When, in 1103, he was designated as presumptive heir, with the disinterested assistance, it seems, of his brother Tamïm, the son of the beautiful Zaynab, his father, who began to be wary of worries of power, allowed him to familiarize himself with certain affairs of the State and he succeeded there to the satisfaction of all despite his young age. So it was without hesitation that his family and learned scholars, towns, and countryside recognized him at twenty-three as the prince of the Muslims.

Tall, with a lively complexion and black eyes, he was good, a friend of continence and an enemy of injustice. But if he was first a brave warrior and a wise administrator, knowing how to surround himself with collaborators of great merit, he soon granted all his preferences to the study of the Law and Religion and gave too much importance to fuqahâ ‘malekites who scandalously took advantage of the considerable influence which the new sultan allowed them to acquire at the court.

Heir to a peaceful and wealthy empire, he was also a friend of the arts and a great builder. He had monuments erected during his long reign of “hitherto unknown scope and decorative richness” in the Muslim West. This Andalusian of heart and mind knew how to root Hispano-Moorish civilization in the Maghreb and make his capital a replica of the great Andalusian cities.

We know more and more in Morocco the importance of the work of the Almoravids; we will soon know the rediscovered splendor of the Kairouanese mosque in Fez.

In Marrakech, despite the purifying destruction of the Almohads, patient research and fruitful excavations have made it possible to restore to the Saharan dynasty works, which honor the city and which we will never stop admiring!

However, history always criticizes cAlï for having authorized, out of hatred of theology and theologians, the burning of the books of the great Gazâlï who had too great a hold on the cultivated minds of his time.

He died in 1143, following an overly energetic antidote. This precision is the only medical episode that Maimonides reports in his works. It is found at the end of his book on asthma: it is a consultation that took place in Marrakech before the death of Ali and of which Maimonides told the story of the sons of Avenzoar, of Ibn al-Mucallim and of eAlï b. Yüsuf.


Ali seems to have understood, from his advent, that the first task that fell to him upon entering Marrakech was to provide residents with sufficient water. It is that water is an extremely important thing in a country of Islam where its problem prevails over all the others. It is not only a question of drinking, giving water and watering; it is also necessary to purify. Now ritual cleanliness is a real obsession for the believer in the Muslim religion. We then understand the imperious subordination of the Almoravids to the tyranny of water, which was not offered to man in the form of a source, river, or pond, but which was hidden in the ground. When the very pious sovereign planned to build a grand mosque for his city and a grand palace for his use, he had to think of fetching water where it was found.

The wells dug in the water table were no longer enough for the big city that was becoming more and more every day. Marrakech. A historical text indicates that the engineers of the emir thought, first of all, to bring towards the city the water of the torrents of the Atlas, and more precisely, of Ourika. But it was the Almohads who said the same text, completed the work.

We know what solution was finally adopted to face the problem: it was that of the khettaras. We explained at length that the khettaras were formed by wells connected to each other by an underground gallery, which brings the water flush with the ground by a slope softer than the slope of the plain. The technique of this process was introduced in Marrakech, according to Idrïsï, by an engineer named Abd (or eUbayd) Allah b. Yünus al-Muhandis during the reign of Ali.

Mr. G.S. Colin wondered what the origin of this specialist was. The Andalusian affinities of the prince, the Spanish origins of the craftsmen as well as the scientists with whom he surrounded himself, the name “Abd-Allah commonly worn by converts, the name of the father, Yünus, that is to say, Jonah, who was at the time carried by the Christians and the Jews rather than by the Moslems, the profession of muhandis (engineer) finally seldom exercised by the Arabs, all contributes for the learned master at making suppose that the technique of the underground galleries was introduced in Marrakech by a foreigner. MGS Colin still thought that the khettaras were only specific to the desert regions, he had therefore concluded that the engineer was Jewish and that he had imported this technique from the Saharan oases and in particular from Gourara and Touat where precisely the current natives attribute the foundation to the old Jewish population which dominated in these regions until the persecutions of the fifteenth century.

But recently Mr. Oliver Asin published, in a study on the water problem in Madrid, the plan of underground pipes of the Spanish capital. Their toponymy is obviously of Arab origin. Should Marrakech still owe Spain the man and the principle that for centuries have allowed it to drink? We would understand better than that it was under the reign of Ali that the khettaras were introduced in Morocco. If they had come from the desert, why would the Saharans of the first generation not have thought of it themselves since the reign of Yüsuf b. Tasfin?

However, the thesis of M. G.S. Colin does not seem to us to be definitively invalidated.

First, because today in Marrakech, the specialized workers who have the monopoly on drilling khettaras come from the valleys of the southern slope of the Atlas and folklore, if we wanted to take the trouble to ‘Organizing research, would undoubtedly make it possible to raise this specialization in the chronology of southern Morocco quite high. Is this not the consequence of the fact that the first master craftsman who succeeded in the city came from Todgha? Note, however, that the builders of khettaras, mediocre in their country of origin, do not improve until they arrive in Marrakech. In the city itself, it seems that their district, the “Dcher Todgha,” has always existed. Their patron is Sidi ^ JP * Ahmad b. Kàmil who died in Marrakech in 1196.

Then, it seems inexplicable to us, if the Moroccan khettara comes from Spain, that it has not adopted the name of qanât, which it still carries in Madrid and which is the one under which it is known throughout the Muslim East.

Whatever the origin of the real civilizing hero who was the son of Yünus, Moroccan Islam thus acquired the heritage of a millennial practice which had flourished in Mesopotamia and Persia and which had probably been introduced in the Sahara at the same time as the camel, unless it was simply by the many Persians who came to North Africa with the Arab conquest.

Alï filled Ibn Yünus with presents and marks of consideration. Faced with the assurance of never running out of the water, the rich owners of cultivable land hastened to adopt this marvelous process for the vegetal conquest of the soil. The tapping of the suburbs of Marrakech was started.

No doubt Ali, or his advisers, though not only of supplying the city’s mosques and the cisterns of the palace but also of creating gardens in the city and near the city to supply the ever-increasing inhabitants. On this subject, one can still wonder if Ibn Yünus had not worked for his former co-religionists who could, since the city was forbidden to them, settle in the periphery, dig wells and grow vegetables from which they would have benefited by selling them to the inhabitants of the city. We will return later to the Jewish question in Marrakech at that time.

Soon Marrakech, which Idrisi said had only one garden, soon had a large park on its south face, as-Sâliha. The traces of one of its basins are still visible, only on aerial photographs, south-east of Bab Aghmat, in the middle of the tombs of the largest cemetery in the city.

Other gardens were planted east of the city, beyond the Issil wadi, and took the name of buhayra. One of them will be the site of one of the most dramatic days experienced by the Almohad warriors.


We have no details on the conditions under which the palm grove of Marrakech was created. (PL VII.)

Like Spain, Morocco has known palm trees since antiquity. The tree is already on the coins of King Ptolemy, son of Juba II. The Haouz has certainly known the palm in diffuse form for a long time, and perhaps even a particular species vegetated there as residual flora. Bakri told us that all around Agmât-Urika were gardens and “date palms,” but neither he nor Abü-l-Fidâ, who confirmed it, were eyewitnesses.

  1. de La Chapelle pointed out, with good reason, that the Zenetes were probably the creators of most of the Saharan oases, in particular those of Tafilalet and Haut Dra. We do not see well indeed the Sanhajian nomads, without agricultural traditions, create plantations of trees with very long fruiting, and maintain them.

Did the Almoravids try, when they had the possibility of fertilizing their land with water from the khettaras, to plant date palms because, for the people of the desert, “it is the only tree that counts,” and because was an oasis “the only foundation they could make”? Nothing is less sure. Mr. Capot-Rey has just reminded us that the palm tree was not only absent from the central Sahara because of the cold, but also, because of the excessive cloudiness, of the entire Atlantic coastal area and in particular of the Seguiet al-Hamra, the cradle of the empty Almora.

No ancient Arab author tells us about the date palms of Marrakech, and how could we have forgotten to tell us about them if they had existed in the natural or maintained forest?

Kitâb al-Istibsâr said clearly, towards the end of the 11th century: “Marrakech is the city of the Maghreb where we find the most gardens and orchards, where we find the most grapes, fruits and fruit trees of all kinds … It is mainly the olive tree. ” Not a word on the date palm.

Another text talks about the palm trees of Sijilmassa, the dates of Biskra, Gafsa or the acid fruits of Tozeur, but remains silent on the palm grove of Marrakech.

Yet another reports a palm grove in Taroudannt, palm trees in Aghmat, but not a tree in Marrakech. Finally, if Ibn Said agrees to write that the city is “today surrounded by a belt of fruit trees of all kinds,” he traces it back to the Almohads.

Let’s add? These arguments a silentio that the Almoravids of the time of Ali were no longer Saharans were no longer nomads. Yüsuf b. Tasfin never returned to the desert; CAU, his son, completely ignored him.

As for the inhabitants of Haouz and Dir, these millennial olive growers, how would they have thought of planting date palms, and why would they have created only a palm grove?

The fact remains that the khettaras were the work of men who, if they came from the Saharan oases, had long been familiar with the “tree of life,” as the Chaldeans said. But these landless well-diggers, and moreover attached to their tribes of origin by powerful links, how could they have had the opportunity to plant? What is certain is that the dates, therefore the stones, came from all points of the desert and that the date palms of all species grew more or less spontaneously, as they still grow today in Marrakech, where the soil quality and the proximity of the aquifer allows them to develop.

Undoubtedly also the Almoravids respected and used these blessed trees, praised by Muhammad and in the shade of which the Koran gives birth to Christ, but they did not indulge in an intensive culture to which disappointing results would have quickly led them to give up. If we cannot, therefore, speak of involuntary creation, we at least think that the palm trees grew slowly without anyone realizing it very exactly and that we respected them and then used them.

The palm grove of Marrakech, therefore, does not seem to be an economic error, as Gautier said, nor is it simply the result of man’s work, an effect of his will. It is a bit miraculous because the man had better things to do. The spectacle of the Dir’s large olive groves, always rejuvenated by spring sap for millennia, showed him the way to go, and the grafted olive tree replaced the wild argan tree, as the author of VIstibsâr suggests.



The new palace

The casbah erected by Abü Bakr, and inside which the great Yüsuf had come to die, could not be enough for a young cultivated ruler, rich and full of Andalusian experiences and memories.

So Ali undertook to build a palace in the south of the Kasbah, and undoubtedly it is necessary to take the date provided by a chronicler (520-1126) as that of the end of the works and not of their beginning.

Nothing was known about this building, or at least it was known that it had been razed by the Almohads to make way for the Koutoubia. But the excavations undertaken in Marrakech by M. H. Terrasse and carried out by M. J. Meunié with great scientific rigor made it possible to find important vestiges of it (a patio, a Riyad, a monumental door and two large cisterns). If they are far from constituting the whole of the palace, which was to extend far beyond the excavation area, it is likely that they were part of it, a detailed examination of the places which made it possible to declare them after the fortress and identify some details. It was probably the part reserved for the family of the sovereign or his servants of a higher rank. The staterooms were elsewhere, probably further south.

The door of the palace.

  1. Meunié cleared a right door against the eastern corner bastion of the Yüsuf Kasbah. It is a kind of corridor more than ten meters long, limited at its two ends by a semicircular arch which has collapsed today. If the east side is partially built of adobe, the two north and south facades are large blocks of Guéliz stone, which explain why the building was often called: qaws al-Hajar (the stone arch).

The west side is different, entirely built in stone, with walls two meters thick, it envelops the bastion on three sides and considerably strengthens it.

The corridor between the two arches was probably not vaulted, a simple floor resting on enormous beams could be enough to support the roof or the floor on which we have only one information. Ali Bey el-Abassi published in the Atlas of his Voyages an engraving which shows, not far from the minaret of Koutoubia and roughly towards the location in question, a quadrangular and elevated tower of three or four floors. The drawing is not very precise but, as all the information given by Ali Bey on Marrakech has always proved to be accurate, there is no reason to doubt the existence of this tower at the beginning of the 19th century. Was this tower built above the door that has just been discovered? We would like to believe it. Does it date from the Almoravid era? We do not think so or with very later modifications. In any case, it is quite likely that a large room was located above the corridor door and that the open staircase in the corner bastion was used to access it. (PI. XVIII, a.)

By carefully examining the different walls that join or overlap at the meeting point of the fortress of Yüsuf, his son’s palace and the Almohad mosque, J. Meunié noted that the stone door that he had cleared had been built not only after the fortress, but after the palace and before the mosque, and he deduced therefrom that this monumental gate must have given access to all the buildings reserved for the sovereign.

As was the case later with the great door of the Kasbah of Marrakech and that of the Oudaïa in Rabat, it was not built for a defensive purpose, but rather with a decorative thought. It was probably a front of the palace where the guards made visitors wait before introducing them to the prince.

Nothing prevents us from suggesting that the sultan himself could come to administer justice once a week, as has always been the custom among Muslims and, in particular, among the Umayyads of Spain. We know the fortune in the East of the expression “go to the Door,” which is to say to the official audience of the sovereign.

This monumental door could, therefore, have been built by Ali, and no other door could, as well as this deserve to bear his name. His device is similar to that of the minaret of the nth prince that I found in the center of the city near the current Ben Youssef mosque, and a text reinforces our hypothesis. Relating to the capture of Marrakech by the Almohades, an author says that Abd-al-Mu’min captured by force his citadel and those who were entrenched there. Some who remained refused to surrender and grouped themselves in an upper room (gurfa), which was above the door known as “Bab Ali b. Yüsuf “, then they asked for forgiveness, etc.

Perhaps it should be seen in the upper room that covered the door a veritable gallery, like the one the Almohad will soon have near the entrance to their new Kasbah Palace. The qubbai-as-suwayra (Mogador pavilion) of the current imperial palace marks the end of the evolution of this kind of building.

The patio of an apartment.

Part of the courtyard, on the ground floor, was surrounded by a sidewalk, bordered by a row of bricks laid in the field. This very narrow sidewalk on the east and west faces was widened in a portico with two pillars on the other two faces; so that the two porticoes each preceding a room faced each other.

We are not surprised to see that this is the classic plan of a small bourgeois house (dâr) today, of which one could cite a hundred examples in the city.


  1. Meunié has found a charming little interior garden. It includes a basin with drain and overflow, the plaster of which was still painted in red, and two paths in dess, which, by cutting in the center, delimit four rectangular flowerbeds; small pottery pipes passed beneath the paths so that the water coming from the basin could successively irrigate the four rectangles. The aisles ended, except on the side of the basin, by three steps, giving access to the raised perimeter while lengthening the perspective.

Riyad and patio are extremely interesting. Until their discovery, Leon the Africans did not seem to have known them; it was thought that this type of residence was fairly recent. If its distant origin is difficult to determine, at least we can see there, with J. Meunié, an Andalusian import, for lack of another probable hypothesis. The Hispano-Moorish tradition is moreover underlined in these vestiges by the richness of water, which runs everywhere and the discovery during the excavations of a magnificent Umayyad tent.

Marrakech, therefore, has the pending new discoveries, the patio, and the oldest Riyad in Morocco.

Twin tanks.

To consider only the position of the tanks in the courtyard of the first Koutoubia, one would be tempted to consider them as almohads all the more since the texts of Idrisi and Leon would not oppose this attribution. But the excavations brought archaeological details that confirm the Almoravid origin.

The reservoirs of which Idrisi speaks must, therefore, be sought elsewhere, unless, as the very text of the Arab geographer suggests, these cisterns were started by the Almoravids and completed, by transforming them, by the Almohads.

We know that these did not lack practicality; we will see it later.

Large, built-in bricks, their barrel vaults are supported by three double arches and rest on straight feet of about one meter in height. The dividing wall is pierced, at its base, according to a very old technique, with curved holes that ensure communication between the two tanks. Higher, other smaller openings, in the form of a broken arc, were made.

“The tanks are fairly irregularly constructed, their plan is not exactly rectangular, their sides are not parallel to those of the courtyard, and their ends are not perpendicular to their own sides” (J. Meunié). All horizontal or vertical inside corners are trimmed with a quarter circle. A staircase at the eastern end of the tanks seems to have been the only way to draw water since there was no coping.

As for the small openings that are found irregularly arranged in the vault of the tanks, they were probably placed to allow the masons to see clearly during construction. That’s why they were found completely clogged when the tanks were cleared.

The feeding was to be carried out by a small seguia coming from the west of which we found some vestiges and which was probably a derivation of the Almoravid pipe, which entered the casbah by its southern door and which probably came from a khettara dug in the southern suburbs of the city.

The Pelvis.

Among all the discoveries of J. Meunié, nothing is more charming than the set which he studied under the title of the basin and of which we summarize his technical description. Located inside the fortress and leaning against its wall immediately to the right when entering through the south door, this basin has the shape of a segment of a circle, and the thickness of its edges, larger towards the middle, accentuates its elongated aspect by tapering its points. Water gushed out through a lead pipe in the center of the basin.

Another pipe of copper placed outside was used to evacuate the overflow. A brick sidewalk surrounds the basin and supports four pillars. In the south, the part found has two mandes, and the central pillar is wider than the others.

Shallow, flat-bottom niches on the north face of the pillars were probably topped by an arc. The pillars were joined together by twin arches resting on a small column and two half-columns.

One can wonder what could be used for this basin, which had to be covered if only for the protection of the decor. Was it a fountain? The water level was too low above the ground. A midha? The set lent itself quite well, and the midha Almohad would have taken its place behind the rampart. Maybe the cold room of a bath.

Whatever its true destination, what makes the price of this small set, it is not only its unique plan in the archives of Muslim archeology but above all its beautiful interlacing of red stripes, painted on plaster (PI. IX, a), which have been carefully noted by Ch. Allain. What characterizes them is the predominant use of the curve, the multi-lobed medallion taking the place of the usual star polygon. The use of the circle and its derivatives allowed the artist to express his fantasy in a purely geometric design.

From the comparative study carried out by J. Meunié, one can date this decoration and undoubtedly the building of the Almoravid period. J. Meunié does not dare to specify whether it is appropriate to attribute the paternity to Yüsuf or to his son Alî. We will not have the same scruples. It would be a misunderstanding of the character of the first to imagine that he could take pleasure in ordering or appreciating such work, he who in the desert had often been able to use only sand to make his ablutions (tayammum). Her son Alï, raised in Andalusia, was undoubtedly much more sensitive to this game of subtle arabesques.

This charming edifice perhaps represents the young sultan’s first reaction against the austerity of the paternal casbah while waiting for his new palace to be completed. In any case, with the Umayyad marquee found in the excavations of the Koutoubia, he lets us guess what the palace might have been on the site from which the Koutoubia mosque is built today.


The 0AU mosque and its outbuildings. (PI. IX, b)

It was believed for a long time that there was nothing left, but Moroccan scholars still know very well how to recognize its old limits, which, to tell the truth, can easily be read on the maps at 1/1000 or at 1/2000 in Marrakech. We know indeed how often is the creation, around an important architectural ensemble, of streets which retrace its outline long after its disappearance.

The mosque was limited: to the north by Zaouiat al-Akhdar Street which passes in front of the Habous Inspectorate and along which there still exists a venerable adobe wall, solid and thick, still bearing some tall windows; to the west, by the rue des Baroudiyin whose shops hide the stone minaret that I found under a huge pile of garbage; to the south, by a line parallel to the north wall and articulated on the bend in the rue des Baroudiyin; to the east, by the current rue de la Médersa in its part parallel to rue des Baroudiyin and which, through the médersa, was to join the eastern end of rue Zaouiat-al-Akhdar.

The surface thus delimited formed a regular rectangle of approximately 120 by 80 meters, which made this oratory the largest of the Almoravid mosques known.

The importance of this building offers no reason to be surprised, Marrakech, which has become the capital of the Muslim West minus Ifriqiya, was undoubtedly a very populated city.

On the other hand, on the death of his father, ‘Afi had found a public treasure, colossal for the time, which allowed him to satisfy his lavish tastes. According to Ibn al-Qattan, the building of the mosque would have cost sixty thousand dinars.

The date.

The date on which the mosque was built or completed is not easy to determine.

Ibn al-Qattân, followed by the author of Hulal and Zarkasi, places it immediately after the battle of Buhayra, in 520/1126. This date can only be accepted as that of the end of the works since the Hulals bring Ibn Tü-mart into the mosque in 514 / 1120-21 and Zarkalî in rabr I 515 / May-June 1121. These last dates are from elsewhere confirmed by Ibn IJaldün and Ibn al-A | îr.

As for the minaret, only one author gives details; Ibn al-Qattan tells us that it was built in two stages. The first third was first built, and it was not until three years later, in 527/1132, when the strength of the foundations was reassured, that the other two-thirds were completed.

Ali Bey believes that the mosque was built in 1152 AD, which is impossible since the Almohads kidnapped Marrakech in 1147 and, at the very least, closed the mosque of Alî.

The yaws. (PI. IX, b)

It is very difficult to restore because there are only a few sections of the walls left. Nevertheless, by analogy with the Andalusian oratories and in particular that of the great mosque of Cordoue, whose influence was obviously exerted on the minaret, we can admit that the prayer hall would have had roughly the form of” a square of 80 x 80 meters and the courtyard (Sahn) that of a rectangle of 80 x 40 meters.

As the minaret found does not seem to have been in the axis of the presumed mihrab we could deduce, while waiting for excavations to confirm our hypotheses, that a door was in the middle of the west wall, at the very foot of the minaret, as in Cordoba before the expansion of al-Mansür.

Two doors of the current mosque are open on two corridors whose external ends perhaps represent old doors of the primitive mosque. The harmonious symmetry which reigns, as a rule, in Muslim oratories, and in particular in that of Cordoba before the last enlargement, does not allow us, despite some likelihood, to add to our hypothetical sketch ccs two doors lined with their symmetrical openings. As for the leaves of these doors, they would have come from Andalusia according to an amphigouric text of low time.

About the orientation of this mosque which, at least according to our sketch, was obviously defective, we have two texts which bring us very interesting information.

In the Rihla du Marabout de Tâsaft, and according to the muwaqqit ar-Rasmükï (1720-21), when it was a question of building in Marrakech the mosque called the Fountain (masjid as-siqâya) which was the name of the mosque of eAH under the Almohad: “the commander of the believers Ali b. Yùsuf had gathered in this city forty jurisconsults, among whom was Abü-l-Walïd b. Rusd »

We find the same detail in a recent book on Safi, where the author reports that Prince Alï b. Yüsuf to orient his mosque well surrounded himself with forty jurists, among whom was Malik b. Wahayb (1130-31) and Abù-l- Walid b. Rusd (1125-26).

It will be noted that this number of forty corresponds to the urban Ayt. This term designates in almost all of Berber Morocco, the Central High Atlas, the Middle Atlas, and the Rif, the assembly of notables in a tribe, or an independent fraction. The Almoravid dynasty had, therefore, remained, despite its intransigent malekism, very attached to the old organization of the Masmouda on which it had nevertheless imposed its domination.

The minaret. (PL X)

It was not without luck, or without all kinds of trouble, that I found the vestiges of the minaret which Ch. Allain finished clearing. It was an imposing Guéliz stone construction ten meters wide. If the minarets of this era were three times the height, it is, therefore, a monument of around thirty meters, which was to dominate the neighborhood. But has it been finished?

The release of this minaret made it possible to find the door which faced the mosque and opened into the sahn. From this door went two staircases, one on the left, one on the right. This arrangement recalls exactly that of the minaret of Cordoba, specifies similarities that there is every reason to believe intentional and justifies our assumptions on the plan of the mosque. But were these two stairs separate to the top? In the absence of text, it is difficult to say. Perhaps they stopped on a first platform?

We have already seen above that the minaret had been built in two stages and finished in 1132-33. I imagine that the upper parts left without care during the great Almohad period, as the symbol of the fallen dynasty, could gradually collapse and that Moulay Sulaymàn, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, did not have much to do to shave the upper part of the building.

The pulpit to preach.

We know that Koutoubia today contains a venerable masterpiece of Hispano-Moorish art, and we now know, thanks to J. Sauvaget, that this pulpit is Almoravid. Indeed, if the added koufic inscription which adorns the outer edge of its magnificent file tells us that it was made in Cordoba, this same file contains another koufic inscription of which J. Sauvaget has precisely emphasized the great historical value.

Originally this inscription included three cartridges / one of which, the one in the middle has disappeared, but the text of the first and third allows the restitution of the second, the whole calling for divine benevolence on an emir who can only be the prince Ali b. Yüsuf.

That this chair is Almoravid, there is, therefore, no doubt. That it belonged to the mosque of Al Ali, we know absolutely nothing about it. But where could she come from?

From Cordoba, where the Almohads could have taken it from the Great Mosque, as they did for the famous Qur’an said to cUîmàn? Under these conditions, why would the chroniclers keep so many memories of the transfer of the second and absolutely none of that, so difficult, of the first? Is it not more likely that this transfer could have taken place quite secretly when, the first Koutoubia completed, he quickly needed a pulpit, and someone then thought of the one that was deposited in the mosque of Alï, disaffected for a long time, and that few Almohades had been able to admire, probably locked up in a room where its sacred character had allowed it to escape looting? It is not unreasonable to believe it.

Unfortunately, this pulpit has suffered a lot from time and deserves, after the essential repairs, to be deposited in a museum protected from any destruction, for the enchantment and the profit of all those who are interested in masterpieces, universal work of art. Its beauty has not escaped the attention of chroniclers whose texts remind us of the high esteem in which we held this famous piece of furniture.

It is of imposing size 3.86 m in total height, 3.46 m in depth, 0.87 m in width. It is a nine-degree minbar, very classic in shape, where mosaic and carved wood combines admirably. At the start and at the end of the staircase, there is an arch, the lower one higher than the other. They are connected by a coarse ramp, obviously added afterward. Inside and outside, the decoration of this minbar is incredibly rich, particularly in the large upper hanger forming the high back. “It constitutes a sort of symphony where precious woods and ivory combine their resources in a unity of harmony, where each panel is a motif whose subtle inflections are difficult to detail. We feel that this minbar is the fruit of a long artistic effort; it represents the masterpiece in the sense of our Middle Ages, the best or the best Cordovan workshops. We would like to know the names of the masters who composed and sculpted it.

The marble ablution tank.

In the madrassah, which today bears the name of  Alï b. Yüsuf owing to its contiguity with the mosque of the same prince, a marble vat was discovered adorned with three floral registers and, on a reverse / carved with winged quadrupeds and heraldic eagles. A Koufic inscription indicates that it was made on the order of the famous Hâjib oraeyyade Abd-al-Malik, who lived at the end of the tenth century. It has been argued that it must have been brought to Morocco by the Almohads. Nothing is less sure. If the princes of this dynasty had it transported, it would certainly have been to adorn their palaces or their mosques. But would their Puritanism have appreciated an animal decor? We don’t think so.

It is more likely that the transfer had to be organized following an order from Sultan Ali, in order to decorate his grand mosque or one of its annexes with an object that was worthy of it in all respects. The tank could also simply come from Fez, where it is known that the hajib Abd al-Malik had a fountain installed.

And crossing, thanks to its weight and its size, all the vicissitudes of the history, it was preserved in the very places where it had undoubtedly been extremely difficult to make it arrive. This rare piece is today the oldest monument in the city.

Water distribution: the monumental fountain and the basin

sheltered under a dome.

Close to the mosque, and probably beyond the width of a street, the Almoravids created a whole set intended to provide the faithful with the water they could need for drinking, making their ritual ablutions and perhaps even water their mounts.

1) The monumental fountain. It occupied a rectangle of 14.5 m x 4.5 m approximately, divided by two arches into three compartments open on the street by three bays in the form of arches, probably in a semicircular arch. J. Meunié and Ch. Allain believe that each basin was covered by a ridge vault whose births were located substantially above the arches. The whole was fitted with Guéliz stone. The floor in front of the fountain was tiled to avoid the inconvenience of the mud.

The building, therefore, had the monumental appearance of the large and beautiful fountains of today, of which it was obviously the venerable prototype. Originally, however, it did not include the usual three large pools, but troughs along the walls. These troughs communicated with each other, and their edges were lined with black stone slabs. The water came through bronze pipes from a small rectangular tank covered in a vault and located behind the fountain.

It is likely that this Almoravid monument remained standing for a long time. In any case, the leveling works which made it disappear date from the construction of the qaysânya of the Fâsïs (nineteenth century).

2) The basin and its dome (PI. XI). – The initial rectangular basin, surrounded by a double channel and a step, was found by J. Meunié, under the materials of four successive elevations, with a total height of 1.70 m. Like those who replaced him, he offered no particular interest. It seems difficult to see in it anything other than the reservoir made available to the faithful to draw from it the water necessary for their ablutions, the court which has always surrounded this basin having long been made up of small cells where the faithful could s ‘isolate.

But this basin was covered and defended from the sun like rain by an extraordinary building, a kiosk, says M. G. Marçais. It is a qubba built on a rectangular plan with four strong piers marking the corners. The piles are joined together over the lengths (around 7.30) by two twin arches, bypassed and broken, falling on a small pillar of square plan with cut corners. The widths (around 5.50) are made up of lobed arches. Above these openings, the façades have a smooth, slightly protruding strip, then a row of five (length) or three (width) arches, surmounted by a new strip and merlons with stairs. The roof consists of a large brick dome, adorned with interwoven arches and decorated with chevrons surrounding a seven-pointed star.

To reduce the basic rectangle to an interior square, on which the dome rests, each of the lobed arches of the widths is doubled by a semicircular arch of one meter thick, forming a vault.

Inside, above the top of the arches that frame the basin, an epigraphic cornice in caves, supported by a strip of straight and curved tracery, marks the level of the floor.

The magnificent characters of the inscription recalled the name of the founder Ali b. Yùsuf. Unfortunately, they were most probably hammered by the Almohads after the capture of Marrakech in 1147, and their reading was extremely painful.

Above the headband, and without the support of angle tubes, the eight large ribs of the dome leave directly from the cornice leaving four empty spaces at the corners and by narrowing from the classic octagon on which rests the small octagonal dome at the top. There is, therefore, no correspondence between the rectangular plane of the exterior and the octagonal plan of the interior, just as there is none between the internal dome and the external dome, which takes the place of the usual pavilion of tiles with four slopes.

In construction, stone, brick, wood and false joints so expensive at the time, were used with obvious happiness, since the building, of unique elegance, was revealed extreme solidity.

But more than the strangeness of the plan, the documentary interest of the inscription, or the primary destination of the building, it is the interior decor that makes all the value of this magnificent qubba. It reminds us of the finest hours of Spanish art in the 11th century and shows us to what extent the invention and the taste of these artists could be combined. The art of Islam has never surpassed the splendor of this extraordinary dome. (PI. XII.)

The Tensift bridge.

The geographer Idrisî also tells us that Prince Alî had a bridge built over the Tensift. He had brought for this purpose Spanish architects and other skillful people; the work was built with all possible solidity. Idrisï adds that after a few years, the waters, coming with an irresistible force, carried off the major part of the piles, dislocated the arches, destroyed the bridge from top to bottom, and dragged the materials into the sea. Mention of this Almoravid bridge, the first built in southern Morocco by Muslims.

Its economic importance was great, especially in winter, when the river was in flood and prohibited the passage of fords. It then allowed permanent communications between North Morocco and the capital.



  1. – The construction of the city walls. The decision i. The date. The rampart and the stars. The route. The south face. Matter: the adobe. The wall and its annexes. Conclusion. –
  2. – Doors and their problems. Their number. Bab Aylen. B b ed- Deb’oagh. Bab el-Khemis. Bab Taghzout. Bab Massufe. Bab Doukkala. Bab Laraïs [Bùb ar-Raha). Bab el-Makkzer Bab aS-Saria. Bab Effis. Bab as-Salika. Bab Aghmut.

If Alî, more and more devout as he got older, seemed to think only of indulging in religious and spiritual practices, he did not neglect ps, as Marràkuàî said, “In an absolute way the interests of his subjects.” We want proof of this, not only the great religious sanctuaries which he had built but in; if the number of fortresses with which he knew how to garnish the mountains of the Aragon to contain the increasingly serious attacks of Almohad, which we will deal with soon.

The most important of these works was the construction of the wall of Marrakech, construction, which should have only been eight months, according to the author of the Hulal, and would not have cost 70,000 dinars in gold.

cAlï had not taken the decision of the constitution alone: ​​he had requested a consultation with the legal experts on. Most prominent of the time and had even taken advantage of the press, this in Marrakesh of the chief cadi of Cordoba Abü-l-WaUd b. RuSd, the grandfather of Averroès, to ask the question. It was precisely the latter who convinced the prince to surround the city and its inhabitants with a solid bulwark when otherwise men, according to Azammüri were not disposed to advise a job which seemed ruinous for the Treasury. According to the same source, Abü Ali-Allah Muhammad b. Ishq b. Amgâr, the holy sheriff of Tït (near Mazagan), would have sent part of his goods to ‘Ali to help him in his defensive enterprise. No doubt, he was not the only one.

The date.

The authors do not agree on the date of this work. The Kitâb al-Istibsâr, the first to give us one, fixes it at 514; he will be followed later by QalqaSandi.

In the sixteenth century, the Qirtàs, always followed by Ibn Haldiün, gives 526, the Bayàn. 527. The Hulals and then ZarkaSï reduce the date to 520, but another manuscript (XI) pushes it back to 522, and Ibn Saïd al-Garnâtî moves it away until 529.

The date of 526, and a fortiori that of 529, is false because, at the time of the affair of al-Buhayra dated with great precision by Baydaq of May 524, the city already has its walls before which the Almohads are forced to stop. In addition, we know that the grandfather of Averroes who advised Ali to build the rampart died, at the earliest, in 5197

The date of 514 is on the contrary too early because it is the same year when, still, according to Baydaq, Ibn Tümart arrives in Marrakech then withdraws in the mountain. He was not proclaimed Imàm al-Mahdï until 518.

The year 520 / 1126-27 is, on the contrary, very likely. Ibn Tümart has already raised part of the mountain and seems threatening enough to justify the construction of walls to defend the capital. This was, moreover, the opinion of P. de Cénival. It is therefore from Jumâdâ I of the year 520, that is, in May-June 1126, that we must date the beginning of the construction of the ramparts of Marrakech; they had to be finished around January-February 1127. Most of the work was carried out during the dry season, particularly favorable for the adobe, but the finishes, therefore the doors, were not finished until autumn. This immense construction several kilometers long represents a considerable effort, in which the entire population of the city had to participate with joy, and perhaps with profit.

The rampart and the stars.

The passionate interest that the Arabs have always brought to the study of astrology is not the effect of pure curiosity. They believed, they still believe, in the influence of the stars on human events. When they founded a new city, the location and especially the very moment of the foundation were determined by astrological observations and calculations. The Abbasids did this for Baghdad, and Fatimid General Djawher did the same for Cairo. Astronomy was encouraged in Andalusia by al-Hakam II.

If Leon the African is to be believed, Marrakech was built with the doctrine of learned astrologers. The Rihla du Marabout de Tâsaft teaches us much more. Its author received

in 1702 from a muwaqqit named Muhammad b. Ali As-San-Hâjï, who lived in Marrakech, the following information: “When the scholars of the king builder of the wall of Marrakech, by his order, questioned the stars about the time of its construction, the astronomers agreed to say that construction had to start when the moon entered a stable zodiac sign.

“Then we placed ropes around the edge of the city to give the (future) wall the shape of a quadrilateral surrounding all that there were houses in the city. The workers were ordered that none of them should start building until they saw the ropes move, except on one side which was designated for them. Then we observed the stars. The king watched for the right moment. When the moon descended in one of the stable signs, it was the first second of Scorpio, we considered at the same time (the position of) certain stars of the horoscope of the question. Perhaps they formed an “aspect of enmity, a quintile or an octile, which, according to scholars, is the most fatal.” When, at that very instant, a passing raven landed on the rope, which stirred before the moment awaited by the observers. All the workers began to build, and it was impossible to stop them because of the great distance which separated the various points around the city. God had so decided. This is why the walls of Marrakech have never been solid and require constant maintenance”!

This pretty story would be perfect if Maqrïzl hadn’t already told it about the founding of Cairo and, before him, Mas’ ùdi for the founding of Alexandria. The crow is wrong to be black! It is still a bad omen.

Whatever may be of this legend, we remain convinced that soothsayers with which the emir cAlï had surrounded himself, and in whom he believed, according to Ibn Haldün, did not fail to draw the horoscope before letting work begin the wall.

The route. (PI. VIII)

We have no information on the reasons which pushed the Almoravids to adopt a particular route, nor any reason to doubt the age of the current route. Diego De Torrés remarked already in the sixteenth century: “let the Moors say, that the walls which one still sees there today, and which seem quite good, are the same which were there at the time of the foundation.” There is nothing very normal in this: the establishment around the city of a complete defense system is too large an undertaking to be repeated often. We prefer to maintain it or rebuild it on its foundations rather than resigning ourselves to starting all over again.

Naturally, the Almoravid layout did not include, in the north, the whole religious district of Sidi-Bel-Abbés, attached much later to the city, nor the casbah, an Almohad creation of the end of the 12th century, nor the enlargement which had preceded.

The Almoravid layout, therefore, had the shape of an irregular polygon of about fifteen main sides, with a very long south face and an obtuse angle returning to the north face. No doubt, local circumstances imposed them in 1126. One could also imagine, to explain the two re-entrant angles of the west face, a sudden change of plan, repentance. An initial route would have provided for the summits of the two angles of the west wall to be connected with the angles of the Yüsuf fortress, and, at the last moment, we would have preferred to isolate the fortress inside the city and annex the gardens of the palace.

The author of the plan did not have to adapt to the flat terrain, but no doubt had to respect acquired rights, cemeteries, small religious buildings, or simply be tempted by the slightest effort.

As it was the perimeter represented approximately 9 kilometers which roughly corresponds to the dimensions of Idrisï:

“More than a mile long and about as wide,” the length being counted from east to west and the width from north to south.

But if the recognition of the route does not present any difficulty on the north, east and west sides, it is not the same on the south side where a large part of the original wall, as well as three doors, have completely disappeared.

The south face.

Let’s start from the east angle, which is safe. The wall rests on Bab Aghmat and goes straight to the west, but suddenly disappears in contact with the Mellah. How to continue?

We can see in the eastern part of the Mellah that the alleys which cut the imaginary extension of the rampart coming from Bab Aghmat, present, at this point, a surprising donkey ride; we deduce that this sudden rise in ground level can only be explained by the foundations of the old wall itself. It was the opinion of an old rabbi, who has since died.

So I lengthened the wall coming from east to the middle of the Mellah, and I suppose it was difficult for him not to join Bâb as-Sàliha. But as we do not find thereafter the speed bump in the following parallel streets, I imagine that the wall then directed towards the south, following an abnormally wide street of the Mellah, up to a point where it met with the extension of the wall which came from Bâb as-Sàliha and which precisely coincides with the main street of Mellah.

We are sure of Bâb as-Sàliha; moreover, superficial excavations have revealed some vestiges to us. Then I see no reason to doubt the age of the route of the current high wall between the city and the casbah. To my knowledge, no text, no testimony can be opposed to this attitude. That the curtain wall was often repaired, that the towers which supported it on its south face have passed over the north face at an indefinite time, that doors or posterns have been fitted out or condemned, no doubt all this has happened, but the route has not changed. When he moved, the wall disappeared. And it disappeared from the angle it currently forms with the wall that defends the Saadian Tombs.

There is still today a high and old wall that goes from this point towards the north. Does it indicate the old route? Perhaps, because it would connect a little further with the hypothetical wall which arrives from Bâb Neffïs and whose existence, in our eyes, rests only on the presence of a few old sections of niur raised long ago and some of which have now disappeared. One of them, exactly to the north of the Kasbah mosque, still exists, pierced with a small door. It has clearly preserved a few meters from the old walkway and can, without risk of error, be considered to be Almoravid. This is the opinion of my friends J. Meunié and C. Allain, whose substantial archaeological work is known.

Arriving at Bâb Neffïs, the wall was bound to join the curtain wall to the north, which, most probably, occupied the current street of the Mamounia hospital. The wall that protects the Arsat-ben-Dris to the east is undoubtedly a witness to this route.

It, therefore, appears that the layout of this south face can be found, and we will see that subsequently, the indications provided by the texts of the low period will not contradict our hypotheses put forward after long research in the field.

The material: the adobe.

When concern and fear had taken over, and the construction of the wall was decided, there could be no question of stone construction. Time was running out, and the Guéliz quarries were far away, the adobe was essential. We already knew that the reddish clay of Marrakech was excellent. The adobe also stood out for its ease of work and the low importance of its cost price. It required a lot of water, but the khettaras were in full development, and undoubtedly we managed to send water to this interminable site by channels duly drawn rather than by an expensive and tedious transport of millions of ‘wineskins.

The adobe technique was known. It comes from so far; it was found in Phrygia in the eighteenth century before our era! The Phoenicians knew it, but we cannot exactly locate the time when it spread in Morocco. The Arabic name of the adobe, tābiya, would go back to low Latin via the Spanish. On the other hand, all types of adobe architecture houses are from Roman sources, in particular, the house with patio and storey, which came from Rome through Andalusia. A recent survey has also made it possible to put forward the hypothesis that the adobe technique could have been introduced into Saharan Morocco via the oases.

Anyway from this origin, MH Terrasse does not hesitate to write: Even if the Saharan Sahajans long accustomed to adobe had a natural tendency to adopt Spanish concrete, the walls of Marrakech, with its thick towers and spaced out and its vast doors, represented at the same time the last state of the Hispano-Moorish fortification.

Ibn Haldùn in the Prolegomena (Art of the building) describes in detail the way of building using the adobe form. We prefer however the tasty description which follows: This manner of construction is very particular; the Moors have kinds of tables of the length and width necessary for this use; two of these tables joined together by two iron or wooden bars have a void between two conforming to the wall they want to build; in this void, they put red sand and lime mixed together, and with an instrument, which is only a big stick which ends in mass, they strike these two materials by throwing water on them from time to time until it seems to them that the mixture and the union are perfect; so that with several tables put in the same way, they raise a wall as much as they want and make it as thick as they like. This way of building is so good, and the red sand and lime unite so well together, that these walls last longer than if they were rubble.

The adobe is now known in Marrakech and elsewhere in Morocco under the Arabic name of lüh. Its appearance is characteristic because the coating with which it is covered disappears fairly quickly, and the birch holes reappear on the walls in their regularity. They become the nests of birds of all kinds and of insects of all kinds.

The solidity of the adobe wall may seem questionable to us, but experience shows that these walls, left in the open air and to the extent that their richness in lime is sufficient, are able to withstand all weathering; exposed without coating to the rain, they resist better than protected. Their worst enemy, however, is humidity. Saltpetre infiltrates by capillary action, and the base of the wall is constantly crumbling. By reinforcing with linked rubble stones, the bases which fall apart the resistance of the wall can withstand centuries.

The wall and its annexes. (PI. XIII)

The curtain has resisted well for more than eight centuries, and if, very often, it had to be redone or repaired, it was with the same clay and the same procedures that it found height and color.

It is, on average, six to eight meters high, sometimes nine, but it is very difficult to say whether originally a uniform elevation was imposed.

Its thickness is impossible to assess with precision, but it never exceeds two meters at the base and never has less than 1.40 m.

For the surveillance of its immediate surroundings, the curtain was flanked every 25 to 30 meters of slender and hollow towers simply attached to the wall, according to Andalusian tradition. Many have disappeared.

The wall was crowned by a very narrow walkway (0.60 m) protected by a parapet with merlons; only a few of them have apparently defied time (PI. XIII, a). Capped with their pyramidion, they strangely resemble those who surmount the Porte de Cordoue, in Seville, and that the texts date precisely from eAlî, and at the latest from 1221-22 and to those of the precincts of Rabat for which the Almohads adopted, without doubt, the Almoravid type.

A question arises: was the rampart lined with a ditch? We know that the Tafilalet ksour, like those of Touggourt and Ouargla, was protected by a ditch parallel to their surrounding wall, those of Gabes too. Many authors, from Ibn Haldün, to travelers of the nineteenth century, have spoken of the ditch which preceded the walls of Marrakech.

In Marrakech, on a few points, this gap seems to have existed, without having played a particularly defensive role. No doubt, it was simply formed by the cuttings that served as materials to build or repair the curtain wall and the towers that support it. On the part of the eastern face of the ramparts, there is today a deep ditch, but it is that of a fairly recent khettara—the cadi Abbàs b. Ibrâhîm even thinks that it was after the digging of this khettara that Bab Larissa was condemned.


It is worth remembering that in the thirteenth century in Europe, and in France in particular, the rebirth of cities was due, first of all, to the protection they offered to populations against invasions, looting, and robbery.

The ramparts of Marrakech have played a similar role, in front of the Almohads who have become more and more aggressive, by concentrating wealth and the arts within this immense polygon of raw earth. It was the decisive step; the former open camp became a closed city of Islam. It remained a center of Hispano-Moorish civilization, but in the middle of a huge Berber country, which was more and more hostile from this crystallization of the urban spirit and feeling in Marrakech, was perhaps born the divorce between the city and the countryside. This legal separation, the history of which we still do not know, and which should never cease to be reinforced through the ages, remains today for specialists one of the fundamental data of Moroccan society.


The late Lé vi-Provençal has already said the difficulties encountered by the historian of Islam in the face of the problem of locating doors and districts attested by the chronicles, but now disappeared. In Marrakech, the clues provided by ancient texts and the excavations carried out by the Inspection of Historical Monuments in Morocco allow us to be fixed with sufficient accuracy on the missing doors and, therefore, on the layout of the Almoravid wall.

Their number:

We have no indication of the number of city gates during the Almoravid era. Ibn Sa’îd advances, without comments, the number of seventeen doors, then adds that some have since been deleted. Leon, the African followed by Marraol, says twenty-four. Diégo de Torrés, followed by Father Dan, adds one. But none of these authors explicitly states that he is talking about the time of the Alraoravids.

Note also that the word bab designates in Moroccan topography not only the main doors of the city but also the interior doors. We saw it for the door of the palace of Ali, or simple posterns accessible to pedestrians alone.

The historical texts that we have consulted do not allow us to give Marrakech in the Almoravid era more than twelve doors. Sijilmassa had the same number, but Cordoba would have had only seven.

For the study of the doors, you have to go from the simple to the complicated and start their enumeration starting from the eastern wall, which has benefited since its construction of great stability (the wadi Issil must be there for something ) and move counterclockwise.

1) Bab Aîlen (Bâb Aylân). – This single elbow door, outside the wall, represents perhaps the door least touched up since the Ahnoravid era. It has been famous since the day when the Almohads suffered, under its walls, the famous defeat of Buhayra (1130). His original name was Bâb Hay- Iâna. The Haylâna constituted a small tribe of piedmont, which had emigrated among the Gadmïwa.

The current form Aylân corresponds to the Berber pronunciation and is found in Bakri. The prosthesis of laryngeal ha ‘in the Arabic transcription of Berber names was common in the Middle Ages. Ibn Haldün himself took care to inform us that the word he wrote Hintàt, hence the name Hinlàta, was pronounced Inti among the Berbers.

Haylâna or Haylân would also be a woman’s name where G. de Slane thought he had found Hélène. This first name is no longer used in Morocco.

2) Bab ad-Debbagh (Bâb ad-Dabbâgïn: Porte des tan nors). – This door is often attested upon taking Marrakech by the Almohades in 1147. It is the door of the quartier of tanners which is still in place. It is also the door one of the main cemeteries in the city. His five neck plan des, which is not an Almoravid, has often been reworked.

3) Bab el-Khemis (the door to the Thursday market). Formerly it was Bâb Fâs (the door of Fez). Legend has it that its leaves were brought back from Spain by a victorious sovereign. It seems to have lost its name during the meridian eclipse. The author of the Sa’âdat attests that this door is also known as Bâb as-Sayh Abï-l-Abbàs as-Sabtï.

Little remains of the Almoravid door, which had only an elbow and a semicircular bay between two rectangular bastions. (PL XIV, a.)

4) Bab Taghzout (Bâb Tagzüt). – This door, which became interior much later, has nevertheless retained its name, which is quite surprising, because we no longer know very well what it means, or at least what it represents.

It is a word that is frequently noted in the Berber toponymy and which indicates a depression, a valley, a garden, fractions of tribes. There is talk of a Tadla village of this name in Kitâb at-Taïawwuf. It is undoubtedly this center that gave its name to the gate of Marrakech unless it is quite simply the Tensift valley to which the gate faced.

Exactly placed at the top of the obtuse angle of the north wall, it still offers to the eyes a semicircular bay recessed Under an arc of the same shape. But the whole has suffered a lot and has been reworked. Of the two bastions which surrounded it, only the western one has been preserved, the bent part and its superstructure have disappeared.

5) Hypothetical door – Bâb ilussüfa (or Massüfa?) I57). – A long street that leaves from the center of the city and which is the outlet of the old Riad-el-Arous district (Riyâd al-‘arüs). It comes up against the rampart about four hundred meters north of Bab Doukkala; it is obvious that it led to a door that has disappeared. From the presence, nearby, of the tomb of a marabout who was the protector of a door, Gaudefroy-Demombynes had deduced, with much likelihood, that it was Bâb ar-Rahà ‘pointed out by Ibn Fadl- Allaah al-Umari.

A document came to bring us proof to the contrary (infra n ° 7). It is necessary to place, on the Gaudefroy-Demombynes map, Bâb ar-Rahà ‘two doors away, in place of “Bâb Massüfa,” and as it is impossible in our state of knowledge to locate Bâb Massüfa elsewhere, we are led to admit, until further informed, that this hypothetical door would have carried this name of great and illustrious Almoravid tribe.

6) Bab Doukkala (Bâb Dukkàla). – It is a door, and an old name of Masmoudian origin, both attested many times.

The region is known today as Doukkala once occupied, and until at least the sixteenth century, a more extensive territory which went as far as the Tensift and included what today constitutes that of the Abda, Ahmar, Rehamna, and Sghama.

This projecting door presents between its two imposing an uneven square bastion, a passage with a double elbow, said with a bayonet. It is the only door in Marrakech where this arrangement is located, but its plan seems very Almoravid.

7) Bâb ar-Ratyâ ‘= Bab Laraïs (al ~’ Arâ’is: engaged or newlyweds or al-arà’is: gardens) or Bab Larissa (al-Arïsa: of the little bride) (PI. XIV, b). – This door, of which only the bay remains, and which was walled until recently, is the old Bâb ar-Rahà ‘; it was a single curved door, turning to the right, which two solid semi-octagonal bastions still frame. Their exterior facing is in regularly matched stones. The merlons surmounted by pyramids that crown the summit are certainly old.

The tahbis (pious foundation act) of the mosque of Bao Doukkala, preserved in a unique manuscript of the General Library of Rabat, the Kitâb al-Muntaqd of Ibn al-Qâdî (1616) tells us that this building is located between districts of Bàb Dukkàla and Bâb ar-Rahà ‘. According to the well-known position of this mosque, it is impossible not to logically deduce that Bâb ar-Rahà ‘was the current Bab Laraïs (which was therefore still open at the end of the eighteenth century).

This identification was spontaneously confirmed to us by the tomb attendant of “Sidi Messaoud”, a holy character about whom we no longer know anything except that he bore the nickname of Mül-bāb ar-Rahà, that is to say, patron of Bàb ar-Rahà ‘, but would have had nothing to do with the hypothetical door (supra n 5) near which he was buried.

In Marrakech, an old mason and a man of letters, Si Muhtàr as-Sûsï, today a counselor of the Crown in Rabat, gave me the same declarations as to the attendant. The cadi cAbbàs saw Bàb ar-Rahà ‘even further, at the site of Bàb al-Mahzan.

As for the word Raha, it can mean abundance, well-being, and, by extension, cheapness. But we do not know on what occasion this name was given to the door and on what occasion it lost it.

Should we make a connection between the modern name “the door of the bride” and the Riyàd al-cArüs district, “the garden of the groom”? The street from the door leads straight ahead.

8) Bab al-Makhzen (Bâb al-Mahzan). – This is the walled door that Gaudefroy – Demombynes called Bâb al-Muhriq following a poor reading of the Arabic text. The Constantinople manuscript literally says: “Next comes to the door of the Sultan’s Mahzan, which was there.”

Gaudefroy-Demombynes places Bâb Muhriq = Bâb Mahzan on the west face of the city only to respect the order of ‘Umari, but it is better to rely for this on the Almohad Chronicle which suggests that Bâb al-Mahzan is quite close to Bab aâ-§ari’a. Here’s what she teaches us. During the sudden Almohad attack on the unarmed crowd who were walking in front of Bab aS-§arica, a man from the suite of Sultan e Ali b. Yüsuf said to him in the midst of the disorder: “O Almoravid, go therefore to one of the doors where there are no crowds.” The Chronicle adds: “The sultan fled and passed by Bab al-Mahzan”.

The excavations of this ancient walled door, very skillfully carried out by Ch. Allain, showed that it had first been a powerful bent Almoravid bastion, flanked by two towers that the Almohads more or less rebuilt as it happens to be the closest door to the Kasbah of Yüsuf b. Your end, it really is no exaggeration to see in it the particular door of the Sultan, whether he was Almoravid or Almohad. Besides, I noted that in Marrakech, this door was sometimes called “the palace (Bab al-Qasr).

‘Umari also tells us that it is near this door that there were huge palaces. They are still there: Mamouia, Dar Moulay Ali, Dar Moulay Ibrahim, Dar Moulay Mustapha, etc.

We did not appear when this door was closed, probably under the Merinides. It is remarkable that it gave birth to a “well-preserved street which still leads straight today to the El-Ksour district (the palaces).

9) Bab ai Sarfa (Door of the open-air oratory = musal- there). – This door was demolished on the orders of the second Almohad sovereign and rebuilt further south. Its exact location has not been found, but can be fixed, we will see later, with some likelihood.

10) Bab Neffis- – This door has also disappeared. It had to be necessary to the west or south of the city, and rather to the south if we consider the position of the city of Neffîs in relation to Marrakech. If we had to strictly follow the order of the doors given by TJmari, it would have been necessary to place Bâb Neffîs before Bâb as Saria, but we think that there was an error at the origin. Our author says, after quoting Bâb as-Saria (trad. P. 188): <Very close is the door of Neffîs, by which one exits to go to the town of Neffîs, famous for its waters and for its grapes. In front of her is a pool in which young people learn to swim.”

But a few lines above, before having spoken of Bâb as-Sarica, he had said: (transl. P. 187) “Then a door through which the second stream flows (ü has already spoken of the first above ) which enters Marrakech, and it is at this door that water is shared in fixed quantities between the palaces of the inhabitants. The wastewater flows into a stream which, through the city, passes on the other side in the middle of the souks and the district beyond; there are basins there that the water fills”.

To these two citations, we add two details:

1) Ch. Allain and I found in the angle formed by the current southern rampart and the west face of the quadrilateral of Bàb Rubb a large pool of 70 m x 44 m, whose shallow depth is exactly suitable for teaching young people to swim inexperienced people. And this basin seems very Almoravid since the wall of the Almohad enlargements is built on the part of its north wall and on the entire length of its east wall.

2) The basin was fed by the oldest water pipe in Marrakech. It is its extensions that supply not only the Koutoubia mosque but also which pass through the only door found in the Kasbah of Yüsuf b. Finally, before going to irrigate the souks.

In these conditions, can we not consider that the two texts cited only apply, without overlapping, to one and the same door, Bâb Neffïs, and that that of page 188 has been purely and simply extrapolated? One would talk from the outside, the other from the inside of the door?

Placing this door on a map becomes easy, especially since, according to Bayàn, it was not very far from the new Bâb as-Sarica, which it is therefore as distinct as it was from the Ancient. We also know that it still existed in 1585 on the Portuguese map of the Escorial under the certainly vague name of “first door” and which opposed the door of the Campaign (Bab JRobb today). Since the author of the Portuguese plan did not know the name of Bab Robb, we understand that he could have ignored that of Bab Neffi.

According to the excavations carried out by Ch. AUain, this door could very exactly be placed in front of the entrance to the Arsat ben Dris (Hotel of the Governor of the Province).

Bâb Neffïs would have been placed in a corner, which seems quite inexplicable, but so many things are inexplicable and which must have seemed very clear in the past.

11) Bab as-Sâliha. – The old authors know it well: Baydaq, Ibn cIdàri, that of Qirtâs cUmarï, finally Ibn Haldün. She, too, has disappeared completely. It could only be found to the south of the city since it was the door to the large garden of the same name, Gaudefroy-Demombvnes understood this well.

Besides, we know that the Almohad Kasbah, which is located south of the city, was built “on the side of as-Sàliha.” Finally, as-Sâliha had become the name of a district of the Saadian mellah, which was leveled by a flood in 1639.

Where exactly to place this door? The plan of 1585 indicates in the northeast corner of the casbah an opening making it communicate with the city in a north-south direction. Matham’s print shows us, at the same point, a very altered and walled door which was to communicate in an east-west direction the casbah and the countryside or the mellah after the creation of the latter. It is obviously the same door, with a straight elbow, and which must have been projecting from the Almoravid wall like today Bâb Aylàn. There is no doubt that this door can only be Bâb as-Sâliha.

If new justifications were needed, one could notice that the interior cemetery, located today in front of the door of the mellah, bears the name of Sidi Kamel. This character is perhaps the one that the Kitâb at Tasawwuf killed in 592/1196 and declared to be precisely buried in Bâb as-Sâliha. But even without this detail, the existence of the cemetery near the wall is already proof of the proximity of a door. It is a rule in Marrakech even more than elsewhere in Islam.

Finally, since all the major arteries that arise in the center of the city head almost in a straight line towards a door, we must absolutely attribute an exit to the long street which, starting from the Ben Youssef mosque, comes up against today the wall of the mellah under the name of Riad Zitoun Jdid. This exit can only be Bâb as-Sâliha.

12) Bab Aghmat – (Bâb Agmàt) and (Bâb Yintân). – The door of Aghmat is well known, it is attested from 1147, but the building itself seems to have been curiously modified since the exterior door opens in one of the two bastions instead of opening in the middle of them.

Umari (p. 190) cites the Bâb Agmàt and Bâb Yintân gates next to each other. As he tries to quote the doors in order, one can conclude that Bâb Yintân would be to the north of Bâb Aylàn, between this door and Bâb ed-Debbagh. If it existed at this point, I could affirm that it has left no apparent trace and, once again, note that the Masâlik order seems doubtful.

Lévi-Provençal, according to the author of Sa’âdat, supposes that Bâb Yintàn (or Nitàn) corresponds to Bâb Aylân because of the similarity of the spelling of the two Arabic words. If these two gates were one, it would have to be admitted that the Almohad contingents attacked, in 1147, on the eastern face of the city, two fairly close gates, a tactic which facilitated defense and hampered attack

Bâb Yintân would it have been placed on the south face of the wall? Kitàb at-Tasawwuf mentions that three figures were buried in its surroundings. I believe in having found one, Sidi Müsà al-Wariki (Ï 592 / 1195-96), buried a few kilometers south of Marrakech on the edge of the old pipe, which brought precisely to water the Ourika wadi. Those who have the charge and the profits of his tomb were absolutely unable to give me any information on this character, as were the authorities of the time or the Moroccan leaders. This tomb is reported by the Sa’âdat as dependent on Bab Robb while not fail to add “outside of Bâb Yintân”!

We could, therefore, deduce from this clarification that Bâb Yintân opened on the south, but the same work adds that two other saints buried in front of this door are to be sought in front of Bab ed-Debbagh or even Bab Aïlen, where I have not found them.

What to conclude? I believe that Bâb Yintàn was not a door, today disappeared, but rather the second name of Bab Aïlen or rather Bab Aghmat. We would then better understand the indecision of the manuscripts at esHulal.

Yintàn was the name of a man; many characters carried it under the Almoravides and the Almohades. Was it that of the manufacturer of this door? According to an old master craftsman in construction, the Yintâwun formed, at a certain time, an agglomeration or a fraction of tribes of masons of Sous. But this information, perhaps precious, was not cross-checked by any of my information.


Thus can be located the twelve main gates of the empty city Almora. For some, the most numerous, no difficulty arose; for others (Bâb Massüfa, Bâb Neffîs, and Bâb Yintàn) the problem is not clearly resolved, whereas it seems to us to be solved for Bâb ar-Rahâ ‘, Bâb al-Mahzan, Bâb aS -Saria and Bâb as-Sâliha. But very little remains of the empty Almora architecture of these doors, when it has not completely disappeared. Finally, we must not exclude the possibility of the existence of some posters.



  1. – Religion. Cemeteries.
  2. – Literary and scientific culture.

III. – The urban economy. Ancient industries. Trade. Transportation.

  1. – Christians. Jews and blacks.



The history of Almoravid part of the rigid discipline of a military convent (ribàt) ends in Marrakech in general corruption. The rigor and humility of the father were transformed, with Ali, into awkward rigorism and guilty weakness.

If Yüsuf b. Ta§fin had given pride of place to the malekite faqih, Ali went even further on the honors that were due to them. They took the opportunity to forget even more the tradition of the Prophet and fall into a rigorous formalism, heartless, and unintelligent. As in Byzantium, we began to love theological quarrels, and the religious spirit is corrupted in discussions of poor interest. We asked ourselves questions like this: Are the Almoravids (who had retained by assignment the Saharan habit of covering their faces with a veil) forced to remove their litham during prayer? No, replied the Maliki scholars, because by observing this peculiarity, the quadruple realize their large number, and this upsets the infidels and contributes to the power of Islam!

We were there first! We went much further. When the Renaissance of the religious sciences of Abü-Hàmid al-Gázàll (1058-1112) reached Marrakech, Alî, under pressure from those around him, and also to respond to his convictions, delivered him to the stake and threatened with death any reader or holder of this book.

And when in Almeria, in Spain, the first and only cry of collective protest resounds against the ex-communication and the auto-dafé of the books of al-Gazàlï, one made him pay very dearly to the Sufi Ibn al-Arif who, on the “Ali’s call came to die poisoned in Marrakech, to the great satisfaction of the Maliki faqîh and despite the sincere and too late repentance of the emir.

When another Sufi, Ibn Barrajân, called from Cordoba to Marrakech, died in prison, his body, at the request of the faqïh, was thrown in the garbage, without prayer, and it took all the courage of two men for him to receive a burial decently. Thus uncompromising and sclerotic malekism fiercely defended its positions.

We are surprised to discover through the texts that all the Almoravids, including the faqïh and the prince himself, were convinced of the imminent end of the dynasty.

The crisis was not far away. Ibn Tümart, the Faqîh du Sous, the Mahdi, had started his destructive work. Its principles did not touch the people much, but its soldiers were going to sweep the Saharan dynasty and impose its reform and a new religious life.


When the city was born, we had to bury it anywhere, with the remark that it must have been tempting enough to take advantage of the Issil wadi ravine to isolate the dead from the living. The first cemetery reported is precisely that of Bâb ad-Dabbàgin, where Ibn Hâqàn was buried in 1141.

After the construction of the rampart, in 1126, burials most often took the direction of the outside. A cemetery was formed in front of each main door of the city where space was not measured in the world of the dead, as it became inside, that of the living. However, we continued to bury intramural characters marked with holiness, especially during the terrible Almohad siege. Ibn Barrajàn was buried in 1140 near the wheat market. Ibn al-Arif, who died the following year, was near the mosque of eAlï, in the funerary enclosure of the cadi Abù cImràn-Müsà b. Hammad, the Sanhâji, who died a few months earlier. According to the Algerian fashion, the tombs of the characters were covered and decorated with prismatic marble slabs, imported from Spain. The unique mqàbriya (prismatic stele) found to date makes one regret, by its beauty, the very probable destruction of others.


The name of Marrakech begins to be mixed with the scientific development of the Muslim West, from the end of the 12th century, when the Almoravid sovereigns, who reign over Spain and Morocco, bring their campaigns back to the peninsula scientists who are at the same time their doctors or their secretaries.

Abû-l- Alâ Zuhr, our Avenzor of Seville, first came to Aghmat, in 1092, to treat his former sovereign al-Mu’tamid b. Abbàd. In his Tadkira (memento) addressed to his son, Abù-l-‘Alà ‘speaks of the endemic diseases of Marrakech. First dysentery, and it comes, he says, from the water that stays too long in the pipes, because the city has no slope, then hepatic colic, coryza, leg tumors, fever. It incriminates the excessive dryness of the air, which produces attacks of cough, as well as dust. Twentieth-century medicine has nothing to change with these findings. On his death in 1130, Sultan Alï b. Yüsuf, who had disgraced him for a while, had the scattered sheets of his clinical observations collected in all the cities of Morocco, the Mujarrabât, which have been preserved for us.

His son Abü Marwân Abd al-Malik Ibn Zuhr is the famous Avenzoar of the Christian Middle Ages. He dedicated his first work, Kitàb al-iqtisâd, to his protector Prince Ibrâhîm, brother of Ali, but he too incurred the disadvantage of the sultan, who kept him in prison for a long time.

Abü Bakr Ibn Bajja (Avenpace), the remarkable mystical philosopher and vizier of the governor of Zaragoza, had to bow to the orders received and follow the Almoradid princes to Marrakech; but he did not stay there long and went to die poisoned in Fez in 1138.

This is because Fez, opposite Marrakech, marks under the Almoravids, the Moroccan center of intellectual resistance and the place of exile of the discontented, the suspects, and all those who no longer pleased the Almoravid court, or no longer liked it. Like this Ibn Habüs, a poet insight but sharp language, of which Mr. H. Pérès translated some satirical verses against the envious who served him with the ruling family and made his stay in the southern capital dangerous. We will find Ibn Habüs under the Almohads as well as Ibn Aüya, the young secretary of the Almoravids, whose fortune must have been great and whose destiny was tragic.

But how would poetry have fed her man in Marrakech with a sovereign like Yüsuf b. Tasfin, who, hardly hearing classical Arabic, understood the poetic quotes of famous authors backwards and needed explanations to understand their full meaning; or with a prince like Ali, very keen on legal controversies and whose sister Tamïna, who prided herself on poetry, was relegated to Fez.

Yet al-Fath Ibn Hâqân, the famous secretary of the emir Tasfin b. Alï, the third Almoravid sovereign, was looking for rhymed verses and proses, the collection of which was to form the Qalaid al-Iqyân (necklaces of pure gold) by crossing not only Andalusia but also Morocco, and ended his life in 1141, murdered in a fondouk in Marrakech.

A great malekite name dominates the Islamic sciences of that time, that of the cadi cIyâd b. Müsâ died in Marrakech in 1149, but who, frankly, exercised most of his activity elsewhere than in the city where he sleeps his last sleep, and of which he became one of the Seven Patrons. His work, the Kitâb aS-Sifâ, which extols the merits of the Prophet and his rights to universal veneration, is one of the most well-known breviaries of the cult that the Muslim world has not ceased to render to him since the development of Sufism and of the adoration of the saints.

It would also be astonishing if the first historians of Morocco, who were contemporaries of the Almoravids, had not made prolonged stays in the new capital.

Thus, despite the very hard pages that Dozy wrote on literary life under the Almoravids, Marrakech had nevertheless become, especially during the reign of Alï, the point of attraction for the Maghreb and Andalusian intellectuals. And Marràkusï could write, not without exaggeration, that the Almoravid court resembled that of the ‘Abbasids at their beginnings.

But it was hardly allowed to think or speak out loud; literary life existed, but it was imposed and traveled by orthodox routes. Nevertheless, it thus contributed to constituting in this city, populated by Berbers, an intellectual environment, of the Arabic language, necessary for the renown of the young capital, without however allowing it to compete with Cordoba, become the intellectual metropolis of the Muslim west again.


The creation of a city and its sudden development is not without serious economic problems, first of all, that of food. An urban agglomeration, in fact, can only subsist by importing the foodstuffs which it extracts from outside. Marrakech should not escape the rule, and we have seen that the geographic reality of its region had ensured the economic development of the city. But this nourishing effort in the region required the city to make a similar production effort. Trade was not only a permanent neighborhood service but also a balance in which it was expressed in value or in value.

Marrakech, at its beginnings, therefore, had to respond to a double imperative: to grow and produce, that is to say, to develop its industry and its trade. We know very little about all this.

Ancient industries.

When the Almoravids gave names to the gates of Marrakech, only one name of the district was retained: that of the tanners, dabbàgïn, located on the edge of the wadi Issil. It is, therefore, reasonable to think that the famous craftsmen of Aghmat had very quickly abandoned this city to come and practice their old techniques in the new capital. Their industry found in Marrakech not only more raw material but also more outlets. Let us not forget, as Ibn ÿaldün rightly points out, that tanning (like weaving) quickly becomes an essential part for any Berber tribe that has chosen to settle permanently.

The leather industry has earned Marrakech a worldwide celebrity. From the sixteenth century, Rabelais knew Morocco.

It is not surprising that the tanners have settled where they are still. Their industry demanded water, the Issil wadi or its resurgences could give them; otherwise, the wells were shallow; they needed space for drying the skins; they had the uninhabited and uncultivated banks of the torrent; finally, they were away from the population, not only because of the unpleasant odors which escape from their pits, frequent sources of diseases for the simple people but also because of the geniuses whose slaughterhouses and tanneries are the places of election. And God knows whether to fear the malignity of these evil “people”! May God preserve the author and the reader! (PL XV).

Near the tanners, with the same need for water, we find the potters and bricklayers district, Tabhirt (Berberized form of buhayra: garden), which is distinguished from afar by real hills of ash, in the middle of which is buried since 1195-96, their boss, Sidi al-Fahljâr (Mgr. the potter), so old that nothing is known about him, not even his name. The need for bricks and tiles must have been such in Marrakech, from its creation, that we can legitimately date this district from the origins of the city.

We then do not hesitate to date the eleventh century the inner village of the people of the Tudga (Dcher Todgha), specialists in khettaras whose Almoravid origin has been reported and whose patron saint, Sidi Ahmad b. Kâmil, died in 1196, is buried in front of the only door which, in Marrakech, received a garden name, Bâb as-Sàliha.

Finally, if we are to remember that Haouz was already famous in the 12th century for its beautiful olivettes, it is not unwise to write that Marrakech quickly had its oil presses. We find them today grouped near Bab el-Khemis (alias Bâb Fâs), where a street still bears an evocative name, Bayn-l-mcàser (between the presses).

Thus, from the Almoravid era, a large district of inconvenient trades had been created in Marrakech, which certainly included other corporations, that of soap makers, and that of dyers, for example. If it is curious to note that this specialized district had, like in many other cities of the world, developed towards the east, it is even more interesting to note that this concern of the distinct localizations should not be practiced in Europe only from the thirteenth century.


Despite the absence of any precision, the specialization of the shopping districts and their cantonment in souks are the too classic features of any city of Islam not to think that, from the construction of the great mosque of ‘Ali, the souks of Marrakech have gradually been organized around this monument, from where they have not moved since despite the Almohad attempts that we will see later.

But we have no details. A text gives us, however, the name of a fondouk, that of the orange (Naranja), where al-Fath b was assassinated. àqân, the famous author of Qalaid al-Iqyân. He disappeared about ten years ago, transformed into a private house by a Nazir. He was near the mosque of ‘Ali b. Yüsuf. It was certainly not the only fondouk in the city. We can hardly imagine a Muslim city without a fondouk as without a mosque. Trade in the land of Islam has always needed these vast interior courtyard houses and galleries, where merchants, travelers, and bad boys always find shelter for them, their parcels, and their beasts of burden.

Another text indicates the existence of a wheat market “rahbat al-hinta”, disused today, but near which is still buried the famous Sevillian Sufi Ibn Barrajân, which the people made in Marrakech Sidi Abïr-Rijâl.

Finally, let us quote Idrisï once more: “The inhabitants of Marrakech eat grasshoppers; in the past, thirty loads were sold daily, more or less, and this sale was subject to the so-called qabala tax or royalty, which was levied on most professions and on the sale of basic necessities such as millet, soap, copper, spindles to spin, whatever their volume and according to their quantities.

And that’s all we can say about trade in those distant times. It is little when one thinks of the financial aristocracy that the Almoravids had managed to constitute and their prestigious currency of such extraordinary wealth; the maravédis or marabotin made premium on the European markets. This abundance of gold obviously explains the development of the city and its influence. Unfortunately, there is a lack of information on the relations between Marrakech and Sudan.

But if we judge by the currencies found to date, the monetary workshops of Marrakech were not the most productive, probably because, in the capital, coins arrived in large numbers from all points of the ‘Empire.

The Chronicle of Ibn al-Qattân reported the presence of silos in Marrakech during the Almoravid era. Would foresight be so quickly passed into the customs of our great camel nomads? Or rather the Masmouda of the plain, who had come to settle in the city, did they continue to live on their rural economy? Does the habit of having your cow at home, still common in Marrakech, date from this time?