When I worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, the Province of Fes extended north into what geographers call the pre-Rif, and included an area that is now in Taounate Province. The Ouergha River, a major tributary of the Sebou, had a flood plain there.
In 1988, the Al-Wahda Dam, the second largest such project in Africa, flooded the river valley to create a huge reservoir. The dam has contributed significantly to flood control and irrigation, but it is silting up quickly, and the reduced sedimentation at the mouth of the Sebou has resulted in coastal erosion.
With climate change, these and other negative effects are likely to increase as Morocco grows warmer.
Back when I was in my twenties, however, there was no dam, so there was no boasting of views of the lake behind it.
The land probably looked much as it did when the armies of the Almoravid Dynasty fought a losing battle against their equally fundamentalist successors, the Almohads, almost a millenium ago.
Attempting to maintain their control over northern Morocco, the Almoravids built a small fortress near the present-day village of Amergu. Atop an elevated prominence that gave a view in all directions, the fort exerted control over the routes from Fes north to the coast.
Amergu is close to the major shrine site of Moulay Bouchta, where an impressive moussem takes place each year. I attended it and plan a blog post about it in the near future.
I’m not sure how I ended up visiting the old fortress. It wasn’t far off the main road, but it still required a short climb.
Tourists seldom visited it. The dependably thorough Hachette Guide Bleu listed Amergu as something to see, but it lay in an area that most tourists didn’t pass through, let alone visit. Some locals told me that the citadel was Portuguese, but I knew even then that the Portuguese had never held towns or forts anywhere but on the coast, so Amergu was certainly not Portuguese.
I think that I must have been alone, on some business to the Taounate area. I parked my Jeep, and climbed a rough path to the ruins. Today, in retrospect, I think of that fort as what the French call les citadelles du vertige, Cathar and later French fortresses perched on impossibly steep and almost inaccessible craigs in the Pyrenees. The Occitans and the French built theirs as refuges or for border wars.
In that autumn of 1970, in the dying light of late afternoon, I wondered who had manned these ruins and why it was so important to build a castle so high. Other than city walls and gates, Morocco has few examples of medieval military architecture so Amergu is unique, and in its loneliness it was special for me.
My view was of patchwork farms and endless hills. To the north, the Rif mountains were half hidden by haze and clouds. The autumn weather was still mild. I wasn’t cold, despite a wind, but there was a stillness that was perceptible. Who were the long gone Almoravids? Who were the men who manned this eagle’s nest? What was their world? Had I been able, I would have stayed late, to watch the sun set and darkness fall over the scene, where the darkness of centuries had already fallen.
I descended to my Jeep. A long drive back home to Fes and Sefrou was still before me