Discover Oujda and the Oriental
Founded in 994 by Ziri Ibn Attia, chief of the Marghaouas Zenet tribes of Aurès origin, at the crossroads of the ancient major trade routes Fès-Tlemcen and Sijilmassa-Mediterranean-Algeria, Oujda is the capital of the Eastern region which extends to the east of Morocco.
Located near the source of Sidi Yahia and protective mountains, Ibn Attia made it its capital and for 80 years the seat of the Zenet dynasty. Its situation on the commercial voices with Fez or Sijilmassa will make it take as much importance as it will undergo invasions over the centuries.
Harassed from the 19th century by the French army based in Algeria, it was occupied by it in 1844 at the Battle of Isly. The French invaded it a second time in 1907 and then Oujda served as a base for the Foreign Legion from 1912 until 1956, the year of Moroccan independence.
Oujda, a highly strategic location for the French trans-Saharan railway project to reach Niger, will serve as a base for various railway lines to Fez (1924), Bouarfa (1929) Ghazaout or Béchar (1941) and Maghnia in Algeria.
The main historical monuments of Oujda: Great Mosque, Medersa, Moorish Baths and Kasbah date from the 13th century and the Merinid period. The doors to the medina Bab Sidi Abdulwahed, Bab Lakmiss, Bab el-Gharbi and Bab Oulad-Amran date from the 19th century.
The original medina consisted of nine districts, including a mellah as well as the merchants’ district and the kasbah district for the makhzen offices. Seven of these neighbourhoods corresponded to one of the different components of the oujdie population.
Situated to the east, the Abdulwahed Gate is certainly the most remarkable with its ogival shape flanked by two bastions over which the makhzen agents hung the rebel heads; hence its nickname “head gate”. Near this historic gate, on a square outside the ramparts of the medina, is the weekly Thursday souk, five former fondouks (hotels) and three mosques, a medersa and three synagogues are also located there.
Among the many palaces and buildings of the medina, we can mention Dar Al Makhzen and Dar Al Bacha as well as the Sidi Ziane School which was the first modern school in Morocco. Named ”French Arab School” then ”Muslim Urban School”, the school of the place Sidi Ziane celebrated its centenary in 2007.
This palace was built in 1938 by a great oujdi merchant. Restored and renovated, it houses the headquarters of the Gharnati Music Studies and Research Centre as well as various cultural activities. Opposite, the park Lalla Meriem is a place of walk hosting also a museum. This public garden is also home to the Tourist Office of the Oriental.
Lalla Aicha Park
A few steps from the medina, avenue YacoubAl Mansour, the park Lalla Aicha offers since 1935 about twenty hectares of relaxation in the heart of the city. There is a leisure area and swimming pool, sports fields, a tennis club and a riding club.
The surroundings of Oujda
Sidi Mâarfa Forest
A real green lung located 5 km south of the city centre, this forest park allows climbing the Jbel Hamra with a panoramic view of the old city. Inaugurated in 2007, the forest park is crossed by numerous marked paths.
Sidi Yahya Oasis
A meeting place for various ethnic groups and religions, the oasis houses, in addition to the graves of several holy men, the mausoleum of Sidi Yahya Benyounes, the city’s patron saint.
25 km southwest of Oujda.
This small oasis made of gardens whose green vegetation contrasts with the aridity of the rocky plateau which dominates it is a true haven of peace. In addition to waterfalls and gorges with particular charm, we discover the springs of Oued Za, a tributary of the Moulouya.
45 km northwest of Oujda.
Also called Tafoughalt, this picturesque village in the Beni Snassen massif, is a commercial and craft centre for the mountain people who come here for supplies. The village also offers waterfalls (zegzel) and medlar plantations.
The Oriental Desert Express
The Oriental Desert Express is a private tourist train providing a link between Oujda and Bouarfa in eastern Morocco.
This 305 km long line was built between 1920 and 1930 as part of the trans-Saharan railway project linking the Mediterranean to Niger.
Although it does not resemble the James Bond train in Spectre, it follows the same route as the famous British agent 007. In love with trains, the Swiss Eddy Kuntz, who after long talks started in 2002 with the ONCF, was able to set up this tourist train.
On this line, used only twice a week by a few freight trains carrying lead, zinc and copper from mines in eastern and south-eastern Morocco, Eddy Kuntz offers an Oujda-Bouarfa route twice a year.
The Oriental Desert Express provides stops at Aïn Benimathar, Tendrara and Bouarfa. A journey of about ten hours in air-conditioned wagons, but whose windows can also be opened to take pictures. A restaurant wagon is installed in the “Wagon des Princes”, a wagon from the Moroccan cultural heritage.
This train, unlike the others, travels at an average speed of 50 km/h, however unplanned stops can occur, as for sand that must be cleared as the track progresses.
Left the green plain south of Oujda, olive trees and other trees become rare and leave the place to desert landscapes of arid steppes where live only sedentary nomads. The route is dotted with small abandoned stations, pierced roofs and cracked red brick walls.