Rissani, a small town on the edge of the Sahara Desert, formerly marked the end of the paved road that runs south from the larger towns of Er Rachidia and Erfoud.  The oasis of Merzouga, the place where our camel trek originated, now holds that distinction after the paved road was extended about 50 kilometers a few years ago.  Our van driver, Ilyas, suggested we stop at Rissani, hire a guide he happened to know (and from whom he might collect a small commission), and spend a couple of hours exploring the town.
       Though its population is only about 10,000 now, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries its population attained a peak of 150,000 and according to the guide, Rissani became the most important trading and commercial center in all of North Africa.  Given its present situation, I suppose there is a lesson there about the temporal nature of status and importance.
      The caravans bringing products from the south and east met traders from north and west of that location, traded their goods and returned home with supplies for which a demand obviously existed.  Rissani is about 325 miles east of the Atlantic coast and about 350 miles south of the Straits of Gibraltar.  That is a vast expanse of area over which the goods from the caravans were distributed.
      Rissani’s other claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Moulay Ali Cherif, the father of Moulay Er-Rachid, the founder of the Alaouite dynasty.  That is important in modern Morocco because the previous two kings and the present monarch, Mohamed VI, are members of that same dynasty which contributes to their legitimate claim to the throne.  We saw the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, but non-muslims cannot enter the building in which it is housed since the building also serves as a mosque.
       We also visited a couple of kasbahs which are fortified buildings with a tower at each corner of the structure,  They serve as residences for entire tribes.  In one of the kasbahs we visited, 65 families reside.  Regrettably, in that particular one, built several hundred years ago, there is no potable water available.  Thus, an enormous amount of labor is expended just to get enough water for the daily needs of the people.  We observed a lot of children engaged in that activity which surely contributed to the guide’s oft repeated phrase, “life is very hard here.”  I have to admit that I agreed with that assessment based on what we saw, particulary when that task must be carried out every day of the year, even when temperatures reach 120 degrees on a regular basis in July and August.
      We were unable to avoid the obligatory visit to a friend of the guide who happened to run a store selling articles made by local artisans.  In this case there were many articles and trinkets made of silver since there is an active silver mine not far from Rissani.  The patron gave the presentation of his wares in very good English, but we all resisted the pressure to purchase items we would have had to carry around for the remainder of the trip.
      Since it was well past noon by the time we had received the sales pitch, we did agree to a lunch of locally produced “Berber pizza.”  Its main similarity to pizza is that is was round.  It was a sort of pita bread with ground beef, onions and spices inside the crust.  We managed to eat enough that no one seemed offended.  We departed with no souvenirs or material items produced there, but we did have some additional memories and a great deal more insight into a remote region that we had never visited in the past.


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