We were unable to visit the kasbahs around Skoura yesterday as there was a sandstorm, so today we retraced our steps back there. Skoura is one of the areas encompassed in the route of the thousand kasbahs, a section of 230 km between Quarzazate and Goulmima that includes the valleys and palm plantations in between and includes Todra and Dades Gorges and Ait Ben-Haddou.
Well I will start by saying that no, we did not see a thousand kasbahs, just a few. Today we visited one of the more famous ones, Kasbah Amerhidil. In fact Kasbah Amerhidil is so famous it was featured on the 50 Dirham note until not long ago and has been used as a backdrop in the movie Lawrence of Arabia.
Kasbah Amridil was originally constructed in the 17th century by the Nassiri family, who originated Saudi Arabia. The Nassiri family still own the kasbah and occupy part of it.
On approaching the kasbah we had a motorcyclist overtake us and then direct us into the carpark and we knew what was coming, ‘I can show you around’. We hesitantly agreed a price and headed off. Our guide, although enthusiastic, did not speak great English and the kids and I at times struggled to understand him.
Our guide began by showing us through the museum section of the Kasbah, where they have oil presses, grinders and various tools on display. One of the more interesting things on display was a water bottle, made from the body of the sheep, the neck being the part that the water was poured from. Another interesting tool is the lock and key found on the kasbah doors. Its hard to explain, but the key generally has a number of rods sticking up from it and it coincides with either the number of people in your family, according to our guide yesterday or our guide today said the number of children in your family. The lock has the same number of holes and as the key is inserted in the lock it opens the door.
There are a number of kitchens that we visited throughout the kasbah on different floors and all had the oven where the bread is cooked. On the oven top is a hole and apparently they put the tangine dish over that hole and I guess its steamed.
We continued on up through the kasbah stopping to look at more kitchens, school rooms where kids attended to learn the Koran and even a room which was used to make the call to prayer. After learning the traditional ways of the kasbah, we climbed the stairs to the top of the fortification. The top part is probably my favourite, with all the intricate designs and symbols carved into the mud bricks.
Interestingly enough, every symbol has some sort of meaning, whether it be the family name or as in the photo below, the eye which is to ward off evil.
Our guide also explained that at the top of the towers on Kasbahs is often a symbol similar to stairs. Apparently as the kasbah was on the caravan route, by displaying this stair like symbol it told the passing caravans that they were welcome to stay. Similarly along the desert route would have been a stair like object to direct the caravans to the kasbahs.
The rooftop affords views over not only oasis of date palms, but of other kasbahs in the area.
After we completed our tour of the Kasbah, our guide wanted to take us to a spot about 10 minutes away for a panoramic photo and mint tea. The panoramic shot was about a minute walk and from there we crossed a dry riverbed. Apparently in February and August the river gets to a meter in height, hard to believe from the photo of the dust bowl below.
The panoramic photo of the kasbah and below is the dry riverbed
We walked passed gardens growing beans, alfalfa, couscous and the date palms, eventually ending up in….. a carpet store. We had managed to avoid it thus far in our trip, but I guess it was inevitable. Its one of those awkward moments when the sales guy eagerly starts pulling out his rugs and layering them over the floor, despite you telling him that we don’t have a house, we don’t have floors and we live on a boat, but the rugs keep on flowing. You feel bad because he is desperately trying to sell you a rug and it is not the tourist season, so he is pushing so he can feed his family, while you have no where to put a rug at home or in your back pack. I’m afraid we did not buy a rug, but we did have mint tea and left on friendly terms.
We walked back to the kasbah with our guide, who was less enthusiastic now as there was no carpet sale, but nevertheless we thanked him and were ready to get going again. But not before a quick photo snap of a cute donkey and camel tied up at the kasbah.
We headed back to our kasbah in Ait Ben Haddou and I couldn’t resist going for a final walk up to a viewpoint just near our kasbah for some more photos. It is a beautiful site.
Tourist Information for Kasbah Amerhidil
Price for entry into the kasbah is 20 dirham. If you want a guide you have to negotiate the price, we paid 100 dirham.