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
5 thoughts on “Amergu”
Fascinating post. I thought I knew Morocco having been there a few times, but wow, you sure do know Morocco well, even after 50 years!
Great pictures too – did you digitalise slides?
Yes. Do you know that Nikon no longer makes slide scanners? Of course, almost no one uses film or color slides these days, so there is no call for them. So one must search for old, used scanners on eBay—or use a flat bed scanner. A good flat bed scanner can do a fine job. But a Nikon built great hardware, and it lasts a long time. The biggest issue is the changing computer interfaces, which can be tricky involve pricey cable connections.
Fortunately, a fellow named Ed Hamrick has a business writing scanner drivers. At it for over 20 years, his product VueScan is mature and robust and offers a possibility for using a huge number of old scanners, slide and flat bed alike. Hamrick also answers all email personally, and though he doesn’t seem to suffer fools lightly, he can be helpful. I bought a lifetime license to VueScan ten years ago. Hamrick has continued to update his software and to support new devices on a regular basis. The continuity is impressive.
Maybe more than you wanted to know?
Very much enjoying these articles! Fond memories of a Morocco that was and how few people experienced it. Funny what you said about French a while ago. My high school French teacher promised to give me a D (instead of an F) so I could graduate if I promised never to take French again! I went on to learn a lot of French traveling in France and North Africa, prior to PC. To this day I get along in French, and in France people respond to me in French. I don’t know a lot but I’m a good mimic and can carry on conversation. I very much appreciate and enjoy being able to do that in French and even more so in Arabic.
Hope you are staying well Sam
It’s great to hear from you, and I am happy that you are reading the blog. Thanks to Jim Erickson’s impeccable French, you can read most articles in French, too. Sometimes the pictures are different. I should note, too, that Jim is an excellent copy editor, and he is improving my English as well as my French!
Everyone in our program had extraordinary experiences, and we all came away with a fondness of Morocco and its people. Feel free to contribute an article (or several). I have promises from a number of people, but no articles yet. Perhaps this period of enforced confinement will give everyone a time to reflect. I am willing to digitize old slides free of charge, too.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from the contagion plaguing the world, and stay well,