Collective attics

“Igherm” or “Agadir”: Atlas citadel granaries

Collective attics, also known as granaries-citadels, are traditional Berber utilitarian constructions of North Maghreb used from southwest of Morocco to tripolitic Libya.

Defensive and storage building, it is in the Atlas mountains that they were always the most numerous and, for some always in activity.

Construction

The decision to build an attic was taken by the assembly of tribal and family representatives: the inflass.

Each person, family or clan was represented and those involved in its construction had a closed room.

It is particularly in the High and Anti-Atlas, the Sirwa massif, regions with difficult access to villages, where droughts often endemic make the harvests random that their use persists the most.

Small fortresses with defensive architecture

Throning on promontories or rocky peaks, perfectly integrated into the landscape, they seem to extend like a natural extension the base on which they were erected, to dominate and watch the access roads and the surroundings.

Usually built on land belonging to a dominant clan or on uncultivated land away from the village, they were built with local materials, pisé, dry stones, bricks; sometimes the base was made of stone while the top of the building was made of pisé.

Only one door allowed access, only air vents appeared in their walls.

A rational and defensive interior

These attics of a particular kind were equipped with collective places: kitchen, toilets, meeting room.
Depending on the size of the attic, there was sometimes a small forge, a stable, a prayer room or a small mosque, in addition to the family “huts”.

All these rooms were spread over one or more floors arranged around a central courtyard. It was accessed by stairs which, depending on the region, were carved from limestone slabs and then set in the walls; or more in the south, by ladders made of palm wood.

The igherm, while an integral part of a larger fortified building, were equipped with corner towers. A large attic could be provided with several water tanks in reserve.

A political and social role

Gradually becoming an institution, from the Middle Ages, the igherm has gradually been endowed with a charter, the llouh. The oldest would date from the tenth century.

Apart from their defensive and reserve vocations, by necessity the igherm have increasingly assumed a social and political role in the tribe or village.

It was the village council that managed the operation. At Igherm N’Ougdal, a village near the Tichka Pass, the age required to participate was 40 years.

Generally, this one met twice during the year during religious festivals, Friday afternoon was reserved for the treatment of disputes between villages or families.

In addition to the management of pastures, irrigation ponds, collective work for the maintenance of roads and common parts of the attic, various conflicts, the inflass were also witnesses of the various transactions by representing fairly each family or each clan.

The first safes

If their primary vocation was the storage and protection of goods and commodities in regions where tribal wars were incessant, the possession of an attic was an opportunity to guard against periods of famine, tribal conflicts and incursions of central power, the makhzen.

It was in closed cells, devoted to each family, that they stored various foodstuffs, grain, water but also documents, property titles, jewellery, money, weapons.

The maintenance of these premises was the responsibility of the owner, while that of the common areas was done by community chores.

The sacralization of the attic-citadel

The fact of integrating a mosque there has sacredized the igherm. A place of asylum, morally inviolable, no wrongdoing, no bad deed whatsoever, could be committed there.

It was here that the harvests were taken, before they were sheltered from its walls by the families. In the igherm N’Ougdal built in the 17th century, there were 4 such acquittals:

– The Zakat: religious tax for the needy that each Muslim must pay on his property or income.

– The imam of the mosque received a share, about 1 kg of one of the crops for each newlywed couple from the families.

– The doorman received the same share as the imam.

– The last contribution went to the marabout.

The role of the doorman

The wooden door, guarded by the amin, was massive and decorated with Amazigh or sub-Saharan motifs for those further south.

The amin was chosen collectively by the council, its role was to watch over the comings and goings of the owners and to prevent the entry of foreigners.

He lived in the attic where he had his own store of grain, honey and could watch his livestock. There was also his own lodge, his livelihood being provided by the community.

Renovations and rehabilitations

Tribal peace, endemic droughts and rural exodus, modernization, all contributed to the fall of the use of granaries in disuse during the second half of the twentieth century.

Historical and architectural memories specific to the Berber populations, a few dozen of them managed by local authorities, still function in remote and high perched places of the Atlas.

Some, thanks to many associations, patrons and enthusiasts are being renovated and rehabilitated. Others, we can only contemplate the ruins of a rural past.

Meet the attics

To the north of Ouarzazate, on the road to the Tichka pass, the Igherm N’Ougdal, built in the 17th century and still in very good condition, was used by several villages. Imposing it comprises 84 family cells, plus 12 in the corner towers. This attic, practically on the roadside, is perfectly visible.

Between the Atlantic Ocean and the Draa Valley, the southern Anti-Atlas also offers a vast sample of these ancient buildings rich in a collective history.

The Id Aïssa oasis located 60 km east of Bouizakarne, a little off the road to Tata, may be the starting point of these architectural discoveries.

There under the passionate guidance of Salima Naji and local communities, two granaries are being rehabilitated, Id Aïssa and Aguelouy.

Akkad Iguiren, 30 km from the Tata oasis in the direction of Foum Zguid, has an imposing fortified house that once served as a collective attic.

On the same road, in Agadir Isarhinnen, the ruins of a very old igherm still display the four corner towers that watched over its surroundings.

Further north, the well named fortified village of Igherm, between Tata and Taroudant, also has one, restored, in its citadel.

The ”Attic Road” of the Anti-Atlas

Called ”the road of the igoudars”, the road of the granaries citadels, this tourist and cultural circuit makes it possible to discover three of the many treasures of the Berber architecture of the province Chtouka Aït Baha, in the south of Agadir, Imchiguigueln, Idaougnidif and Inoumar.

The latter, built in the 16th century, is located in the commune of Tissegdalt between Aït Baha and Taroudant, 70 km south-east of Agadir. With an area of 5000 m², this collective attic is the largest in the Western Anti-Atlas.

Overlooking the wadi Ourga, equipped with four towers, two gates and three water towers, its defensive vocation is obvious. It encloses within its walls 295 stores on five levels, that is 576 chests in which the inhabitants of the 13 douars which built it there preserved their goods under the supervision of the amin, the guard.

This list is not exhaustive, it is by chance that you will discover them, especially in remote places, often high perched, of Jbel Sirwa, in villages difficult to access in the High Atlas or the Anti-Atlas. Beautiful discoveries of an architectural past giving a glimpse of the harsh community life of the Berber mountaineers.

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