Morocco has so many ancient sites that one could spend a lifetime visiting them and studying them, and so many have been the locales, imagined (as in Casablanca) or real (as in Lawrence Of Arabia) of life-changing world events. I recall seeing a revival of the David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia in London around 1989, about twenty years after it first came out, and I recognized immediately that it had been filmed in the vicinity of one my favorite retreats in Morocco — near the town of Ouarzazate in the ancient Berber village of Ait Benhaddou. These places would be worth a visit on their own, but the real attraction for me is the Kasbah Taourirt.
A kasbah, or casbah, is the inner part of a city, a variant of a medina. The Kasbah Taourirt is among the largest in North Africa, a place where warlords in the ancient past lived and defended themselves from external attack. As recently as one hundred years ago, the French gave the tribal leaders in this sector of Morocco great power in order to avoid having to try to control the diverse tribes centered in the south of the country with French troops, which would have been too costly.
The Kasbah Taourirt has high walls without windows. It was built on a series of low hilltops to make it more easily defended. Kasbah Taourirt is best described as a network of interlocking buildings with multi-level towers and turrets rising out of closely packed ksours (family dwellings within the kasbah), fortified with ramparts and a series of alleys and gateways. There are more than twenty riads, or old Moroccan mansions, that make up Taourirt. It was a beehive or a city within a city.
Inside the Kasbah you will find dozens of mysterious stairwells leading into uniquely shaped rooms lit up by low windows. The larger rooms have plaster decorations featuring floral patterns that contrast sharply with the bleached white walls. The pasha’s palace alone has something like three hundred rooms.
Its tightly packed houses and stately towers, which are made of a blend of chalk and sand that has hardened like cement, mix almost imperceptibly into the surrounding landscape of reds and ochre. Like cubes of clay, the dwellings sit in unrelenting sun, protected only by the shadows of their neighbors, narrow doorways often being the only connection to the outside world. Light and air are admitted to the cool interior through the central courtyard.
As many of the parts of the Kasbah have fallen into decline, what you are likely to be shown by local guides are the restored parts (by UNESCO) which are found near the main road, along with their courtyards and reception rooms. If you, like me crave a deeper insight into Taourirt Kasbah, ask your guide to take you to the rear of Taourirt, which is still inhabited by local families. For twenty dirhams in loose change, the locals are always willing to show you around and give you a glimpse of life as it has gone on here since the beginning of recorded time.
If your exploration of Taourirt Kasbah takes you into the evening, I strongly urge you to have a drink and watch the sunset from the terrace cafe that you will find next door to the studios of stone, copper and silver artwork located to the right of the Kasbah. While you are enjoying something cool sitting on this terrace, you can experience a memorable view of the Saharan sun setting on the fortified village. You will likely want to return.