Ouarzazate and the protectorate
History of Ouarzazate during the protectorate
In the early 1920s, French troops did not yet control all of Morocco. In particular a large part of the south going from the Draa valley to Tafilalet as well as the southern slopes of the Central High Atlas.
On the other hand, these regions had only been partially explored and in some cases still remained under the influence, both military and spiritual, of the powerful confederation of the turbulent Ait Atta tribes.
Important and controversial actor of this page of Moroccan history, Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakesh, whose fief was located in Telouet, was authorized with his chiefs of the tribe Glaoua by dahir, a royal decree, to exercise a power administrative and military up to the Middle Drâa, controlling at the same time the track that goes through Telouet led “Ouarzazate” as it was then called, but also to the Draa Valley and “Tazzarine”, the current capital of Henné in the Anti Atlas.
At the exit of this primordial track in spite of the altitude, only the ksar of Taourirt shone of a small regional power. The second importance of this summary track resided in the fact that Marrakesh was the great commercial place, the tribes glaouas thus exerted an enormous “hold” on this track by which all the caravans passed in the two north southern directions.
At that time, the axis linking Marrakesh to Ouarzazate that we know now did not exist, the building site was started but ended then at the foot of the Atlas, approximately at the level of the current Aït Ourir. The construction of this “self-cycling” route was completed in 1928 thanks to the hard work of the Legion’s pioneering engineers.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century the major problem of the French in southern Morocco, from the Draa Valley to Tafilalet and in the central and southern High Atlas, was this resistance of the powerful confederation Aït Atta led by their Amghar Assou Oubasslam, whose real name was Issa Ali N’Baslam.
The Amghar is a powerful character elected by tribal leaders, both military and spiritual, he also has a great social role, administering internal clan conflicts.
His struggle was also to defend Amazigh Azerf, the traditional Berber code of life. Visionary, he already sensed that the nomadic way of life and the customary law of the Berber populations would be called into question, both by the Moroccan government, the makhzen, and the foreign colonial power.
Considered a national hero, he distinguished himself during the battle of Bougafer in 1934 where he fiercely resisted the bombardments of the French air force for three days. The troops of the protectorate had also had a lot to do in 1918-19 with the warlord El Nifroutren, who was active in Tafilalet.
In 1918, General Lyautey, with the assistance of Pasha Thami El Glaoui, decided to intervene militarily against the Aït Atta in the Todra Valley. The configuration of a mountainous terrain, favourable to the locals and the fierce resistance of the Aït Atta fighters made this expedition a failure.
Added to that the inefficiency, intrigues and corruption of the harka (troops) of Glaoui, pushed the Makhzen, then sitting in Fez, and the French power to create an Office of Indigenous Affairs in a place that would be strategic, the decision was taken to find it in the vicinity of “Taourirt d’Ouarzazate”, place corresponding best to its geographical situation
In February 1927, a French lieutenant named Spillman was charged with this mission which decided the future ”of Ouarzazate” that we know.
At the end of the same year Spillman, accompanied by the young lieutenant Delaye, military cartographer, left several times in reconnaissance from Telouet where they were stationed, excursions which led them to the ksar of Taourirt, then in the high valleys of N’Fist and Tifnout, in Bou Malen (Boumalne-Dades), with the aim of resuming a dialogue with the indigenous tribes interrupted since 1920, but also to find a suitable place to build a small airfield and a military post.
To the great dismay of the Glaoui, Delaye, for his part, conducted his own negotiations to rally sedentary indigenous populations worn out by the abuses committed by the men of the Pasha.
It is during the winter 1928 that Spillman will leave again, enduring the rigours of the mountain winter, for Taourirt at the head of a civil caravan of 250 camels transporting food, material, ammunition, escorted by a large regiment of the 35th Goum (light infantry units of the African army composed of Moroccan soldiers under essentially French supervision).
Construction of the current Ouarzazate
About 1 kilometer from the ksar of Taourirt he found what he was looking for, a flat hill dominating the surroundings in this case, the Oued Ouarzazate, on which he started the first construction work of the new military post, helped in this by the ruins of an old caidal fortress of which some walls were still usable.
At the same time, an airstrip was probably built on the site of the current airport. An imposing battery of artillery defended these sites, in addition also protected by regiments of the legion, goumiers and Senegalese skirmishers.
As time went by, this village of military tents was enlarged, the constructions were made permanent, a small market was born, encouraging all sorts of exchanges with the local populations.
As the years passed, this military and administrative post grew so much that in 1931 it covered an area from Telouet to Boumalne-Dadès de Agdz to Foum Zguid. Then from 1934 extended to Todgha and Tazenakht without forgetting the whole Draa valley.
This modest but nevertheless strategic military post made up of tent canvases in 1928, became a few decades ago this provincial capital, now a privileged destination for an increasing number of tourists treading the tarmac of what is now a small international airport…
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