The sand desert is located in the southeast of Morocco. Precisely in the Tafilalet region and further south in the Zagora region, but the desert is not just sand. Dunes large and small, woeful boundless expanses, barren salt flats, mountain peaks and deep canyons characterize the desert region. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful towns in the desert is Merzouga. Merzouga is a town 35 km from Rissani and 45 km from Erfoud. These two towns are larger and offer some more services. There are many very interesting little towns in the desert. I would surely cite Tisserdemine, Tighmert, Merdane, Khamlia, Taouz and Hassi la Bied.
Living in the desert
Located here and there and often at a certain distance from each other, at the foot of the dunes or on rocky and flat terrain, small villages or agglomerations of few houses arise. The houses built in earth and straw, guarantee the chromatic and architectural harmony with the surrounding environment. Land and buildings, all the same colour. Ground-floor dwellings, often with an internal courtyard, have large bare rooms that are illuminated by small windows that allow faint glimmers of light, avoiding the invasion of the sun during the very hot months.
Sometimes attached to the house, a tiny shelter hosts the goats belonging to the family nucleus, a guarantee of sustenance in important moments such as ritual parties, births, weddings, or special events.
Close to the villages, we usually find the oasis. A delightful enchanted garden inhabited by chirping birds that jump from branch to branch and other sorts of small animals. As the locals call it, it’s “a little piece of paradise.”
High date palms characterise it, along with fruit trees and portions of land reserved for family crops. The oasis, considered a natural plant system, is instead completely the work of a man with a design intervention that requires a high level of technical and cognitive skills for its installation and maintenance. Complex hydraulic works guarantee irrigation, apparently archaic but ultimately a magnificent underground hydraulic design that reaches the oases, the orchards. Thus, the harvests and food needs of each family unit are guaranteed, introducing plant species and crop plantations.
Moroccan desert at sunset
Each inhabitant of the village carries out his function
The elements that make up the desert habitat: the morphology, the materials, the methods of obtaining water through the excavation of an immense network of underground tunnels, the organisation of crops, the control of moisture condensation processes, and the formation of the microclimate suitable for life, are based on a set of elements: knowledge handed down, the result of the achieved harmony of man with his environment.
Over the centuries, these ancient technologies have stood up to hostile nature and, at great cost, have prevented climatic drying. Around the oasis there is life. Each inhabitant of the town fulfills the function of him. From the children who play and sometimes collaborate with small marginal roles, to the women who work the land and harvest the fruits of their crops. While men usually take care of maintenance, pruning, and grafting.
However, it is the daily work that completes domestic life and bears its fruits. Sometimes these are enough to support the family in a system of self-production, savings, authenticity of products, optimization of time, money, resources and family finances. To summarise, the oasis serves as a focal point of daily life for the villagers, as well as a place of gathering and belonging. Around the oasis, at the foot of the village, the majestic and skilful sand dunes that dominate the landscape rise, delighting the view and calling to end the hot day in harmony.
Children playing with dunes
Life in the desert
Other meeting places, typically marked in village life, are the mosque, mainly a meeting place for the male gender, and the public bakery oven that each village or group of houses has. The women, after having prepared the bread dough in their home, go with natural ease, with their basket lying on their heads, to the neighbourhood oven to bake bread in the wood-burning oven. Young daughters and mothers share these moments of everyday life, which still offer opportunities for meetings, sharing, and chatting. Life in the desert is mainly marked by the climate that is the master and by atmospheric events, primarily the wind that affects many activities.
During the hottest months of the summer, from May to September, the strong heat and the scorching sun impose and induce activities concentrated mainly in the late afternoon, when the most sober temperatures allow living outside the houses. Surely, the days in those months are more sleepy. More night hours are required to enjoy the little coolness and moments of conviviality without suffering too much heat.
The night is almost a rebirth even knowing that it lasts a few hours and that the next day will be a good, burning day. Often, people prefer to sleep on the terraces or in the courtyards of their houses to fully enjoy the nocturnal climate. Surely, the strong wind is another natural element that affects many activities and life outside. Here the wind commands, generally in the months of March, April, and partly the summer months. The wind is usually a constant that characterizes the season. It’s almost a continuous roar. It is a dominant presence that does not go unnoticed. The greater its strength or hourly speed, the more it impedes normal activities.
Camels in the desert
The strong desert wind
Staying outside in the strong wind literally means breathing in sand. Being invaded by the sand from head to toe and having a blurred vision of your surroundings. It is a surreal yellowish landscape. The eyes are perpetually ajar to let in as little sand as possible. Hence the need to use the turban (which belongs to male clothing and consists of a long strip of cloth 6 meters or more, approximately 70/80 cm wide, which is wrapped over the head starting from the forehead, leaving a garment down the shoulders), which covers the nose and mouth and protects from the sun.
Sand in the houses, even the best equipped, doors that slam, laundry to dry, fly away… It’s not the end of the world, but certainly an overbearing presence that makes you surrender and forces you to his will. Then, as if by magic, it suddenly goes away, silences itself, and you wait in disbelief. From that moment, normal resumes and you feel relieved of its task.
It is not uncommon along the streets of the suburbs or near the village to see ancient Ksour (the Ksar in the singular and Ksour in the plural) is a closed house, surrounded by a wall with towers. There is only one main entrance, and inside there are several separate accommodations. It is home to several families, most of whom are from the same tribe. Built of earth and straw), some now dilapidated, others partially recovered, still partially inhabited, mysterious timeless houses that reflect past culture and civilization, thankfully still present to be known and rediscovered.
Cloud of sand caused by the wind
Yes, it is obvious that living in the desert differs from living in the city. Let’s say that the sense of adaptation is necessary, but it is worth it.
It is a lifestyle to be gained in order to accept it, an environment that, because of its fullness, fills the soul every moment, even the most difficult.
However, if you go away, you miss the presence of the dunes, the oases, the palm trees, the slopes, the immense spaces become an integral part of your stay here; each element is in its place and must not be missing.