South to Figuig

The journey south by road is long, monotonous, and very hot and is to be avoided if possible in summer. Only the initial part of the road, climbing up towards the Col de Guerbouss and the mining district of Jerada is green and varied. The rest of the route crosses the eastern edge of the vast Rekkam Plateau, which extends across into the high plateaux of Algeria. A low carpet of esparto grass and wormwood stretches to the horizon. Travel by bus is punctuated by frequent stops to pick up and set down shepherds who miraculously survive in this scorched, windswept emptiness. The only towns along the route are Guenfouda, Ain Beni Mathar, Tendrara, and Bouarfa, none of which holds much interest other than their remoteness and an opportunity to stretch the legs and buy basic provisions. 

Figuig

Figuig itself, tucked away in a remote southeastern corner of Morocco, right next to the Algerian border, is 400 km south of Oujda. The 4WD hordes have no reason to make the trek this far east, so you can enjoy the oasis and desert environment. The charms of Figuig are not instantly apparent in the new administrative centre, however, some exploration away from the centre of town should make your trip worthwhile. 

Figuig's frontier location has given it a strategic significance, and it has often been fought over by the Moroccan sultanate and the powers to the east. Most recently, in 1963 and 1975, there were clashes between the armies of Morocco and Algeria. The closed border has resulted in even fewer visitors to this least-frequented of the southern oases. There is also not much of a livelihood for its inhabitants, apart from small-scale farming and the date harvest.

Figuig comprises seven distinct villages situated on two levels: the upper level consists of Ksar el Oudaghir, which straddles the main road where most shops and facilities are located, and the adjacent villages of El Maiz, El Abid, Ouled Slimane, and El Hammam Foukani; the lower plain, or 'Baghdad' as it is known here, supports a large area of palmgroves connected by a network of alleyways, with Zenaga, the largest of the
ksar
, in the middle. The two levels are separated from each other by an escarpment, the Jorf.

Sights

Until recently, each of the
ksar
of Figuig was independent, and their history was one of continuous feuding with each other, mainly over the issue of water. Centuries of management and protection of this precious resource have moulded the appearance of each
ksar
, with their watchtowers, high walls, and winding irrigation channels. Reached by turning between the hotels Sahara and Meliasse,
Ksar Oudaghir
has springs and an interesting round stone minaret which it may be possible to climb.
Of all the
ksar
, perhaps
Ksar Zenaga
has the most to offer, being the largest, most distinctive and also furthest from the administrative centre. Zenaga has a pleasant square with a café and a mosque from where several alleys radiate into the palmery. A platform with excellent views over the lower half of Figuig can be reached by turning right at the bottom of the main street, through the small market enclosure (
Friday souk
), and following a narrow path across fields. On the horizon is a gap between two mountains which marks the Moroccan/Algerian frontier. A good panorama of the Figuig ensemble can be obtained in the evening (for the best light) from the rocky pass situated on the road that encircles Figuig to the west.
Ksar el Maiz
with its vaulted streets and arcaded square is close to the main road and easily accessible.
Ksar el Hammam Foukani
('Ksar of the Upper Hammam') is so called because of its underground hammam, fed by hot springs and reached by a slippery flight of steps.

Possible trips (for fine views) include the
Oued Zousfana Valley
and the
Taghla Pass
4 km to the southeast of the administrative centre. To avoid any unnecessary arousing of border guards' suspicions, you are advised to notify the police station if visiting the Zousfana Valley and surrounding hills.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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