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Extraordinary Gem Left to Decay in the Mountains

Petar Djajkovski
Heribert Bechen CC BY 2.0
Heribert Bechen CC BY 2.0

The Saharan highway stretches over the Atlas Mountains in North Africa all the way to Marrakesh, Morocco and is littered with decay. Many caravans have passed along this route in the past.

Pilgrims, traders, travelers, explorers, and adventurers all had to take this road to reach the other side of the Sahara Desert, and the only place where caravans could rest and seek shelter was in the small Berber villages built to the left and right of the Saharan Camelway. Many of these villages still stand today, but many of the buildings that were once so important are today obsolete.

One of these is Telouet Kasbah, which can be found on the edge of Telouet village, to the southeast of Marrakesh, Morocco.

Exterior view of the kasbah today – Author: Bzgru CC BY-SA 3.0

Exterior view of the kasbah today – Author: Bzgru CC BY-SA 3.0

The word kasbah (alternatively casbah or qaṣba) can refer to a collection of buildings, a single keep or watchtower, or even a whole town. It was the fortress-residence of the ruling sheikh of the village, or the king, and would be built to provide a high vantage point to watch for approaching travelers.

A view of the main tower of Kasbah Glaoui in Télouet, Morocco – Author: Pedro Carvalho CC BY-SA 4.0

A view of the main tower of Kasbah Glaoui in Télouet, Morocco – Author: Pedro Carvalho CC BY-SA 4.0

Telouet Kasbah was once the residence of one of the most prominent and remarkable families in all of Moroccan history: the El Glaoui family. Constructed in the 1860s, it was one of the biggest and most beautifully decorated kasbahs of the time.

Decay

Legends talk of how 300 workers decorated its walls with traditional zellige mosaics. Everything – from the floor to the roof – was covered top to bottom with ceramic tiles. This great building was sometimes referred to as The Palace of Glaoui.

Abandoned & in Decay baths in Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0363_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

Abandoned & in Decay baths in Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0363_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

During the first period of this Moroccan fortress’ existence, life was good for its owners. Inside and outside its walls, they controlled large numbers of traders and their stock — collecting taxes and maintaining order in the area. This constant flow of people, caravans, and goods kept increasing the El Glaoui family’s wealth.

They had close connections with the Sultan, which led to Thami El Glaoui becoming The Pasha of Marrakesh, and he was later known as Lord of Atlas. His power continued to grow, and with it, his influence throughout the country. While he was ruler of Marrakesh, Telouet Kasbah was famous for hosting many memorable public and private events.

One of the many decorated ceilings inside Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0327_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

One of the many decorated ceilings inside Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0327_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

Around the middle of the 20th century, the Moroccan independent movement started to grow bigger and stronger. Thami El Glaoui saw this as a great opportunity for his political career and seized it. He struck a deal with the French colonialists in order to overthrow the sultan, Mohammed V, and replace his rule with Ben Arafa, who was a Moroccan supported by the French government.

One of the entrances to the main building in Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0331_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

One of the entrances to the main building in Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0331_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

This coalition worked very well for the El Glaoui family, and in an instant they became even more wealthy and powerful than they ever had been before. Now more than ever, Thami El Glaoui was one of the most powerful people in the whole country.

However, his Moroccan dream of wealth and power came to an end in 1955 when Mohammed V returned from exile back to Morocco. He declared his own independence and stripped the El Glaoui family of all their possessions and privileges, branded them as traitors, and chased them out.

Lift to decay. Outside walls of Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0365_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

Lift to decay. Outside walls of Telouet Kasbah – Author: Heribert Bechen .. max. 17.000 visits per day – Flickr – 0365_marokko_31.03.2014 CC BY 2.0

Since then, Telouet Kasbah has been abandoned and left to slowly fall apart under the hand of time. Today, most of the kasbah is damaged, but the Moorish architecture and the beauty of the ornate windows and narrow corridors are still preserved and can be witnessed for a small entry fee.

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Some restoration work started in 2010, but not much of it was finished. The structure still stands as an isolated yet astonishing historic beauty on the side of the decaying village, telling the same old story of greed for power and wealth.