This story begins when we leave the magnificent Todra Gorge and drive to the town of Skoura, where our group checks in to the Ait Ben Moro, an 18th century kasbah which is now a guest house. There’s a carpet shop next door. Aziz, the kasbah concierge, takes me there and introduces me to his wife, Manar, who is the weaver. Aziz starts showing me carpets and I select a small blue one to buy, but instead of finishing the transaction, Manar invites me to join her at her loom, where I spend the next hour or so, learning how to weave a Berber carpet. It’s the second time I’ve been invited to sit at a loom this trip.
“It figures we would find you here. If we’re missing Heather, we just start looking for a carpet loom.” I look up to find Mark, who tells me that our group is visiting a nearby historical site. I leave the loom reluctantly, with a promise to Manar return for that blue carpet.
A guide leads us behind the Ait Ben Moro and through fields planted with beans and alfalfa, bordered by irrigation ditches, and dotted with olive and pomegranate trees. Our driver, Mohamed, throws rocks at the tops of the trees until he succeeds in knocking down a cluster of fresh dates, which he and I knosh on. We come to a wide dry riverbed that our guide says ‘leads to Mecca’. Just beyond that, peeking through the palms, is the Kasbah Amridil. It’s a breathtaking sight, looking every bit like a gigantic sand castle.
This 17th century citadel is one of the most famous buildings in Morocco, and was once depicted on the 50 dirham (currency) note. Some of the scenes from ‘Laurence of Arabia’ were filmed here. A museum docent starts our tour in the courtyard, which is fully restored and filled with artifacts that demonstrate daily life during the 17th century. He points to an olive press and draws our attention to the notch in the stone at the bottom, where the oil would run off into a bowl. There is another olive press that is disassembled, its pieces laid out so we can see the individual working parts. There are a variety of clay cook pots, amphora for storing wine, and a large globe-shaped clay lantern with little ‘windows’ cut into it for the light to shine through. At one side of the courtyard there’s a dish-shaped fountain, carved into a low stone platform that resembles a sidewalk. The docent demonstrates a lock with a pegged wooden key that looks like a paddle, which you can see in my collection of photos on Pinterest.
Standing in a corner is a structure and a long handled mallet that I recognize as a form used for making the rammed earth walls. Kasbahs in Morocco were built via rammed earth construction, (and I assume brickwork towards the top). The docent tells us that the test for a sturdy wall was water. After ramming earth into the form with the mallet, they poured water into the mold. If it puddled on top, the earth was suitably compacted and they could move the mold up and start building the next level. If the water sank in, the earth needed to be rammed more.
The detailing at the top of the walls is incredible. I ask about a pipe that extends out about 4 feet, and learn that it’s a downspout to guide the water away from the earthen walls. The docent then points to a portion of the wall that has eroded from water damage, where there is no downspout. I should have asked if these downspouts were installed after the catastrophic rainstorm in December 2006 that had destroyed the Ikelene Mosque that we had seen yesterday, as well as many other mud brick buildings in this region. But I forgot…
We enter the kasbah and I look up at an intricately woven reed ceiling that supported by beams roughly hewn from palm trees. It’s an architectural feature I would see in several kasbahs in Morocco, although this ceiling was the most elaborate.
I see a door hasp, this one about 12-18” wide and covered in decorative etching. The door to my room at the Ait Ben Moro has a similar hasp that was locked with a padlock to secure my room, as did the other riads and kasbahs that we have stayed in during this trip. I think there must be a law forbidding hardware to be plain. Nearly every door hasp, hinge, handle and faucet are engraved or etched (in both the historic buildings and the riads we stayed in).
Windows have grills but not all have glass, and you can see how thick the walls are on various floors of this kasbah. None of the rooms are furnished (as of 2017). Some rooms like the hamam and prayer room are identified, but most other rooms are not. A small, dark room contains nothing but a pair of small, circular clay ovens. Bread would be baked along the sides of these clay structures, around a fire built in the center (similar to a tandoor). I saw one of these in Manar’s backyard, and made a mental note to ask her about it when I get back.
As with many historic buildings here, restoration is ongoing. I was surprised to learn that while half of this kasbah is a museum, the other half is a functioning hotel. You can book a room at Trip Advisor.
We return to the Ait Ben Moro, and Doug and I go back to the carpet shop. I pay for my carpet and then accept an invitation from Manar to join her for tea in her home.
In a receiving room we are motioned to seats around a low round table that is already set with tea and dried fruit. Soon the table is covered with bread, jam, honey and butter, and Manar and her mother Fatna join us. We learn that everything we are being served, was produced on their land. I ask about the clay oven in their back yard. In spite of having a modern kitchen, Fatna continues to bake bread every morning in that backyard oven. “Tastes better,” she says.
It was such an honor to be invited into this home. The rug Manar wove made it home with me, and hangs on a wall above my bed. I endeavor to start learning Berber so I can speak with her directly when I return to Morocco. And now I want to buy a carpet loom.
Read more about my day at this citadel at Daveno Travels.
If you’re interested in my experience at Manar’s loom, photos of that process are posted at August Phoenix Hats.
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Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day
and a self taught hatmaker by night. She spent most of her pandemic lockdown in 2020-2021 creating 800 masks for the Masks4Millions project.
In a normal year, her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and masks for sale at August Phoenix Hats. She is currently reissuing her original journals as “Director’s Cuts” with expanded text and previously unpublished photos, which you can read for free at Daveno Travels.