Travels in Morocco, by James Richardson

Chapter 6

Description of the towns and cities of the Interior, and those of the Kingdom of Fez. — Seisouan. — Wazen. — Zawiat. — Muley Dris. — Sofru. — Dubdu. — Taza. — Oushdah. — Agla. — Nakbila. — Meshra. — Khaluf. — The Places distinguished in. Morocco, including Sous, Draka, and Tafilett. — Tefza. — Pitideb. — Ghuer. — Tyijet. — Bulawan. — Soubeit — Meramer. — El–Medina. — Tagodast. — Dimenet. — Aghmat. — Fronga. — Tedmest. — Tekonlet. — Tesegdelt. — Tagawost. — Tedsi Beneali. — Beni Sabih. — Tatta and Akka. — Mesah or Assah. — Talent. — Shtouka. — General observations on the statistics of population. — The Maroquine Sahara.

We have briefly to notice the remaining towns and cities of the interior, with some other remarkable places.

First, these distinguished and well ascertained places in the kingdom of Fez.

Seisouan, or Sousan, is the capital of the Rif province, situate also on the borders of the province of the Habat, and by the sources of a little river which runs into the Mediterranean, near Cape Mazari. The town is small, but full of artizans and merchants. The country around is fertile, being well irrigated with streams. Sousan is the most beautifully picturesque of all the Atlas range.

Sofou, or Sofron, is a fine walled city, southeast of Fez, situate upon the river Guizo; in a vast and well-watered plain near, are rich mines of fossil salt.

Wazen, or Wazein, in the province of Azgar, and the region of the Gharb, is a small city without Walls, celebrated for being the residence of the High Priest, or Grand Marabout of the Empire. This title is hereditary, and is now (or up to lately) possessed by the famous Sidi-el-Haj-el-Araby–Ben-Ali, who, in his district, lives in a state of nearly absolute independence, besides exercising great influence over public affairs. This saint, or priest, has, however, a rival at Tedda. The two popes together pretend to decide the fate of the Empire. The districts where these Grand Marabouts reside, are without governors, and the inhabitants pay no tribute into the imperial coffers, they are ruled by their two priests under a species of theocracy. The Emperor never attempts or dares to contest their privileges. Occasionally they appear abroad, exciting the people, and declaiming against the vices of the times. His Moorish Majesty then feels himself ill at ease, until they retire to their sanctuaries, and employs all his arts to effect the object, protesting that he will be wholly guided by their councils in the future administration of the Empire. With this humiliation of the Shereefs, they are satisfied, and kennel themselves into their sanctum-sanctorums.

Zawiat–Muley-Driss, which means, retirement of our master, Lord Edris (Enoch) and sometimes called Muley Edris, is a far famed city of the province of Fez, and placed at the foot of the lofty mountains of Terhoun, about twenty-eight miles from Fez, north-west, amidst a most beautiful country, producing all the necessaries and luxuries of human life. The site anciently called Tuilet, was perhaps also the Volubilis of the ancients. Here is a sanctuary dedicated to the memory of Edris, progenitor and founder of the dynasty of Edrisiti.

The population, given by Gräberg, is nine thousand, but this is evidently exaggerated. Not far off, towards the west, are some magnificent ruins of an ancient city, called Kesar Farâoun, or “Castle of Pharoah.”

Dubdu, called also Doubouton, is an ancient, large city, of the district of Shaous, and once the residence of an independent prince, but now fallen into decay on account of the sterility of its site, which is upon the sides of a barren mountain. Dubdu is three days’ journey southeast of Fez, and one day from Taza, in the region of the Mulweeah. Taza is the capital of the well-watered district of Haiaina, and one of the finest cities in Morocco, in a most romantic situation, placed on a rock which is shaped like an island, and in presence of the lofty mountains of Zibel Medghara, to the south-west. Perhaps it is the Babba of the ancients; a river runs round the town. The houses and streets are spacious, and there is a large mosque. The air is pure, and provisions are excellent. The population is estimated at ten or twelve thousand, who are hospitable, and carry on a good deal of commerce with Tlemsen and Fez. Taza is two days from Fez, and four from Oushda.

Oushda is the well-known frontier town, on the north-east, which acquired some celebrity during the late war. It is enclosed by the walls of its gardens, and is protected by a large fortress. The place contains a population of from six hundred to one thousand Moors and Arabs. There is a mosque, as well as three chapels, dedicated to Santous. The houses, built of clay, are low and of a wretched appearance; the streets are winding, and covered with flints. The fortress, where the Kaed resides, is guarded in ordinary times by a dozen soldiers; but, were this force increased, it could not be defended, in consequence of its dilapidated condition. A spring of excellent water, at a little distance from Oushda, keeps up the whole year round freshness and verdure in the gardens, by means of irrigation. Cattle hereabouts is of fine quality. Oushda is a species of oasis of the Desert of Angad, and the aridity of the surrounding country makes these gardens appear delicious, melons, olives, and figs being produced in abundance.

The distance between Tlemsen and Oushda is sixteen leagues, or about sixteen hours’ march for troops; Oushda is also four or five days from Oran, and six days from Fez. The Desert commences beyond the Mulweeah, at more than forty leagues from Tlemsen. Like the Algerian Angad, which extends to the south of Tlemsen, it is of frightful sterility, particularly in summer. In this season, one may march for six or eight hours without finding any water. It is impossible to carry on military operations in such a country during summer. On this account, Marshal Bugeaud soon excavated Oushda and returned to the Tlemsen territory.

Aghla is a town, or rather large village, of the district of Fez, where the late Muley Suleiman occasionally resided. It is situated along the river Wad Vergha, in a spacious and well-cultivated district. A great market of cattle, wool, and bees’-wax, is held in the neighbourhood. The country abounds in lions; but, it is pretended, of such a cowardly race, that a child can frighten them away. Hence the proverb addressed to a pusillanimous individual, “You are as brave as the lions of Aghla, whose tails the calves eat.” The Arabs certainly do occasionally run after lions with sticks, or throw stones at them, as we are accustomed to throw stones at dogs.

Nakhila, i.e., “little palm,” is a little town of the province of Temsna, placed in the river Gueer; very ancient, and formerly rich and thickly populated. A great mart, or souk, is annually held at this place. It is the site of the ancient Occath.

Meshru Khaluf, i.e., “ford, or watering-place of the wild-boar,” in the district of the Beni–Miskeen, is a populated village, and situated on the right bank of the Ovad Omm–Erbergh, lying on the route of many of the chief cities. Here is the ford of Meshra Khaluf, forty-five feet wide, from which the village derives its name.

On the map will be seen many places called Souk. The interior tribes resort thither to purchase and exchange commodities. The market-places form groups of villages. It is not a part of my plan to give any particular description of them.

Second, those places distinguished in the kingdom of Morocco, including Sous, Draha, and Tafilett.

Tefza, a Berber name, which, according to some, signifies “sand,” and to others, “a bundle of straw,” is the capital of the province of Todla, built by the aborigines on the slope of the Atlas, who surrounded it with a high wall of sandstone (called, also, Tefza.) At two miles east of this is the smaller town of Efza, which is a species of suburb, divided from Tefza by the river Derna. The latter place is inhabited certainly by Berbers, whose women are famous for their woollen works and weaving. Tefza is also celebrated for its native black and white woollen manufactures. The population of the two places is stated at upwards of 10,000, including 2,000 Jews.

Pitideb, or Sitideb, is another fine town in the neighbourhood, built by the Amazirghs on the top of a high mountain. The inhabitants are esteemed the most civilized of their nation, and governed by their own elders and chiefs, they live in a state of almost republican independence. Some good native manufactures are produced, and a large commerce with strangers is carried on. The women are reputed as being extremely fair and fascinating.

Ghuer, or Gheu, (War, i.e., “difficult?”) is a citadel, or rather a strong, massive rock, and the most inaccessible of all in Morocco, forming a portion of the mountains of Jedla, near the sources of the Wad Omm–Erbegh. This rocky fort is the residence of the supreme Amrgar, or chief of the Amazirghs, who rendered himself renowned through the empire by fighting a pitch-battle with the Imperial troops in 1819. Such chiefs and tribes occasion the weakness of the interior; for, whenever the Sultan has been embroiled with European Powers, these aboriginal Amazirghs invariably seized the opportunity of avenging their wrongs and ancient grudges. The Shereefs always compound with them, if they can, these primitive tribes being so many centres of an imperium imperio, or of revolt and disaffection.

Tijijet in the province of Dukkalah, situate on the left bank of the river Omm–Erbegh, along the route from Fez to Morocco, is a small town, but was formerly of considerable importance.

A famous market for grain is held here, which is attended by the tribe of the Atlas: the country abounds in grain and cattle of the finest breed.

Bulawan or Bou-el-Awan, “father of commodious ways or journeys,” is a small town of 300 houses, with an old castle, formerly a place of consequence; and lying on an arm of the river Omm–Erbegh en route from Morocco to Salee and Mequinez and commanding the passage of the river. It is 80 miles from Morocco, and 110 from Salee. On the opposite side of the river, is the village of Taboulaunt, peopled mostly with Jews and ferrymen.

Soubeit is a very ancient city on the left bank of the Omm–Erbegh, surrounded with walls, and situate twenty miles from El–Medina in a mountainous region abounding with hares; it is inhabited by a tribe of the same name, or probably Sbeita, which is also the name of a tribe south of Tangier.

Meramer is a city built by the Goths on a fertile plain, near Mount Beni–Megher, about fourteen miles east of Saffee, in the province of Dukkala, and carrying on a great commerce in oil and grain.

El–Medina is a large walled populous city of merchants and artizans, and capital of the district of Haskowra; the men are seditious, turbulent and inhospitable; the women are reputed to be fair and pretty, but disposed, when opportunity offers, to confer their favours on strangers.

There is another place four miles distant of nearly the same name.

Tagodast is another equally large and rich city of the province of Haskowra crowning the heights of a lofty mountain surrounded by four other mountains, but near a plain of six miles in extent, covered with rich vegetation producing an immense quantity of Argan oil, and the finest fruits.

This place contains about 7,000 inhabitants, who are a noble and hospitable race. Besides, Argan oil, Tagodast is celebrated for its red grapes, which are said to be as large as hen’s eggs — the honey of Tagodast is the finest in Africa. The inhabitants trade mostly with the south.

Dimenet or Demnet is a considerable town, almost entirely populated by the Shelouhs and Caraaite Jews; it is situate upon the slopes of a mountain of the same name, or Adimmei, in the district of Damnat, fifteen miles distant from Wad Tescout, which falls into the Tensift. The inhabitants are reputed to be of a bad and malignant character, but, nevertheless, learned in Mussulman theology, and fond of disputing with foreigners. Orthodoxy and morality are frequently enemies of one another, whilst good-hearted and honest people are often hetherodox in their opinions.

Aghmat, formerly a great and flourishing city and capital of the province of Rhamna, built by the Berbers, and well fortified — is now fallen into decay, and consists only of a miserable village inhabited by some sixty families, among which are a few Jews — Aghmat lies at the foot of Mount Atlas, on the road which conducts to Tafilett, near a river of the same name, and in the midst of a fine country abounding in orchards and vine-yards; Aghmat was the first capital of the Marabout dynasty.

Fronga is a town densely populated almost entirely by Shelouhs and Jews, lying about fifteen miles from the Atlas range upon an immense plain which produces the finest grain in Morocco.

Tednest, the ancient capital of the province of Shedmah, and built by the Berbers, is deliciously placed upon a paridisical plain, and was once the residence of the Shereefs. It contains a population of four thousand souls, one thousand eight hundred being Jews occupied with commerce, whilst the rest cultivate the land. This is a division of labour amongst Mahometans and Israelites not unfrequent in North Africa. But, as in Europe, the Jew is the trader, not the husbandman.

Tekoulet is a small and pretty town, rising a short distance from the sea, by the mouth of the stream Dwira, in the province of Hhaha. The water is reckoned the best in the province, and the people are honest and friendly; the Jews inhabit one hundred houses.

Tesegdelt, is another city of the province of Hhaha, very large and rich, perched high upon a mountain, and that fortified by nature. The principal mosque is one of the finest in the empire.

Tagawost is a city, perhaps the most ancient, and indeed the largest of the province of Sous. It is distant ten miles from the great river Sous, and fifty from the Atlas. The suburbs are surrounded with huge blocks of stone. Togawost contains a number of shops and manufactories of good workmen, who are divided into three distinct classes of people, all engaged in continual hostilities with one another. The men are, however, honest and laborious, while the women are pretty and coquettish. People believe St. Augustine, whom the Mahometans have dubbed a Marabout, was born in this city. Their trade is with the Sahara and Timbuctoo.

Fedsi is another considerable city, anciently the capital of Sous, reclining upon a large arm of the river Sous, amidst a fruitful soil, and contains about fourteen thousand inhabitants, who are governed by republican institutions. It is twenty miles E.N.E. of Taroudant.

Beneali is a town placed near to the source of the river Draha, in the Atlas. It is the residence of the chief of the Berbers of Hadrar, on the southern Atlas.

Beni–Sabih, Moussabal, or Draha, is the capital of the province of Draha, and a small place, but populated and commercial. On the river of the same name, was the Draha of ancient geography.

Tatta and Akka, are two towns or villages of the province of Draha, situate on the southern confines of Morocco, and points of rendezvous for the caravans in their route over the Great Desert.

Tatta is four days direct east from Akka, and placed in 28° 3’ lat. and 90° 20’ long. west of Paris. Akka consists of two hundred houses, inhabited by Mussulmen, and fifty by Jews. The environs are highly cultivated. Akka is two days east of Wadnoun, situate on a plain at the foot of Gibel–Tizintit, and is placed in 28° 3’ lat. and 10° 51’ long. west of Paris.

Messah, or Assah. Messa is, according to Gräberg, a walled city, built by the Berbers, not far from the river Sous, and divided like nearly all the cities of Sous, into three parts, or quarters, each inhabited by respective classes of Shelouhs, Moors, and Jews. Cities are also divided in this manner in the provinces of Guzzala and Draha. The sea on the coast of Sous throws up a very fine quantity of amber. Male whales are occasionally visitors here. The population is three thousand, but Mr. Davidson’s account differs materially. The town is named Assah, and distant about two miles from the sea, there being a few scattered houses on each side of the river, to within half a mile of the sea. The place is of no importance, famed only for having near it a market on Tuesday, to which many people resort. The population may be one hundred. Assah is also the name of the district though which the Sous river flows. The Bas-el-wad (or head of the river) is very properly the name of the upper part of the river; when passing through Taroudant it takes the name of Sous. Fifteen miles from Assah is the town of Aghoulon, containing about six hundred people.

Talent, or Tilin, the difference only is the adding of the Berber termination. The other consonants are the same, perhaps, as Mr. Davidson incidentally mentions. It is a strong city, and capital of the province of Sous-el-Aksa, or the extreme part of Sous. This province is sometimes called Tesset, or Tissert. A portion of it is also denominated Blad–Sidi-Hasham, and forms a free and quasi-independant state, founded in 1810 by the Emir Hasham, son of the Shereef Ahmed Ben Mousa. This prince was the bug-bear of Captain Riley. The district contains upwards of twenty-five thousand Shelouhs and industrious Arabs. Talent is the residence of the prince, and is situate on the declivity of a hill, not far from the river Wad-el-Mesah, or Messa, and a mile from Ilekh, or Ilirgh, a populous village, where there is a famous sanctuary, resorted to by the Mahometans of the surrounding regions, of the name of Sidi Hamed-ou-Mousa, (probably Ben Mousa). The singularity of this sacred village is, that Jews constitute the majority of the population. But they seem absolutely necessary to the very existence of the Mussulmen of North Africa, who cannot live without them, or make profitable exchange of the products of the soil, or of native industry, for European articles of use and luxury.

Shtouka, or Stuka, is, according to some, a large town or village; or, as stated by Davidson, a district. The fact is, many African districts are called by the name of a principal town or village in them, and vice versâ. This place stands on the banks of the Wad-el-Mesah, and is inhabited by some fifteen hundred Shelouhs, who are governed by a Sheikh, nearly independent of Morocco.

On Talent and Shtouka, Mr. Davidson remarks. “There is no town called Stuka; it is a district; none that I can find called Talent; there is Tilin. The Mesah flows through Stuka, in which district are twenty settlements, or rather towns, some of which are large. They are known in general by the names of the Sheikhs who inhabit them. I stopped at Sheikh Hamed’s. Tilin was distant from this spot a day’s journey in the mountains towards the source of the river. If by Talent, Tissert is meant, Oferen (a town) is distant six miles.”

On the province of Sous generally, Don J.A. Conde has this note:—

“In this region (Sous) near the sea, is the temple erected in honour of the prophet Jonas; it was there he was cast out of the belly of the whale.” This temple, says Assed Ifriki, is made of the bones of whales which perish on this coast. A little further on, he alludes to the breaking of horses, and being skilful in bodily exercises, for the Moors and Numidians have always been renowned in that respect.

In the lesser and more remote towns, I have followed generally the enumeration of Count Gräberg, but there are many other places on the maps, with varieties of names or differences of position. Our geography of the interior of Morocco, especially in the South, is still very obscure, and I have only selected those towns and places of whose present existence there is no question. My object, in the above enumeration, has been simply to give the reader a proximate estimate of the population and resources of this country. Of the strength and number of the tribes of the interior, we know scarcely anything. The names of the towns and villages of the South, so frequently beginning and ending with T., sufficiently indicate the preponderance of the Berber population, under the names of Shelouh or Amazirgh, whilst the great error of writers has been to represent the Arabs as more numerous than this aboriginal population.

Monsieur E. Renou, in his geographical description of the Empire of Morocco (Vol. VIII. of the “Exploration Scientifique,” &c.) foolishly observes that there is no way of arriving at correct statistics of this empire, except by comparing it with Algeria; and then remarks, which is true enough, “Malheureusement, la population de l’Algérie n’est pas encore bien connue.” When, however, he asserts that the numbers of population given by Jackson and Gräberg are gross, and almost unpardonable exaggerations, given at hazard, I am obliged to agree with him from the personal experience I had in Morocco, and these Barbary countries generally.

Jackson makes the whole of the population to amount to almost fifteen millions, or nearly two thirds more than it probably amounts to. Gräberg estimates it at eight millions and a half. But how, or why, or wherefore, such estimates are made is not so easy to determine. Certain it is, that the whole number of cities which I have enumerated, scarcely represent one million of inhabitants. But for those who like to see something more definite in statistics, however exaggerated may be the estimate, I shall give the more moderate calculations of Gräberg, those of Jackson being beyond all rhyme or reason. Gräberg thus classifies and estimates the population.

Amazirghs, Berbers, and Touaricks 2,300,000
Amazirghs, Shelouhs and Arabs 1,450,000
Arabs, mixed Moors, &c. 3,550,000
Arabs pure, Bedouins, &c. 740,000
Israelites, Rabbinists, and Caraites 339,500
Negroes, Fullans, and Mandingoes 120,000
Europeans and Christians 300
Renegades 200



Total 8,500,000

If two millions are deducted from this amount, perhaps the reader will have something like a probable estimate of the population of Morocco. It is hardly correct to classify Moors as mixed Arabs, many of them being simply descendants of the aboriginal Amazirghs. I am quite sure there are no Touaricks in the Empire of Morocco.

Of the Maroquine Sahara, I have only space to mention the interesting cluster of oases of Figheegh, or Figuiq. Shaw mentions them as “a knot of villagers,” noted for their plantations of palm-trees, supplying the western province of Algeria with dates. We have now more ample information of Figheegh, finding this Saharan district to consist of an agglomeration of twelve villages, the more considerable of which are Maiz, counting eight hundred houses, El–Wadghir five hundred, and Zenega twelve hundred. The others vary from one or two hundred houses. The villages are more or less connected together, never farther apart than a quarter of a league, and placed on the descent of Wal-el-Khalouf (“river of the wild boar”) whence water is procured for the gardens, containing varieties of fruit-trees and abundance of date-palms, all hedged round with prickly-pears. Madder-root and tobacco are also cultivated, besides barley sufficient for consumption. The wheat is brought from the Teli. The Wad-el-Khalouf is dry, except in winter, but its bed is bored with inexhaustible wells, whose waters are distributed among the gardens by means of a clepsydra, or a vessel which drops so much water in an hour. The ancients measured time by the dropping of water, like the falling of sand in the hour-glass.

Some of the houses in these villages have two stories, and are well built; each place has its mosque, its school, its kady, and its sheikh, and the whole agglomeration of oases is governed by a Sheikh Kebir, appointed by the Sultan of Morocco. These Saharan villages are eternally in strife with one another, and sometimes take up arms. On this account, they are surrounded by crenated walls, defended by towers solidly built. The immediate cause of discord here is water, that precious element of all life in the desert. But the imaginations of the people are not satisfied with this simple reason, and they are right, for the cause lies deeply in the human heart. They say, however, their ancestors were cursed by a Marabout, to punish them for their laxity in religion, and this was his anathema, “God make you, until the day of judgment, like wool-comber’s cards, the one gnawing the other!”

Their wars, in fact, are most cruel, for they destroy the noble and fruitful palms, which, by a tacit convention, are spared in other parts of the Sahara when these quarrels proceed to bloodshed. They have, besides, great tact in mining, and their reputation as miners has been a long time established. But, happily, they are addicted to commerce and various branches of industry, as well as war, having commercial relations with Fez, Tafilett and Touat, and the people are, therefore, generally prosperous.

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