By Hassane Oudadene
Ouarzazate – The notion of space has always been one of the most important subjects for scrutiny and analysis in the field of cultural studies.
It is a fact that the world today has become a tiny village where economics, industry, culture, and even values have been brought closer. However, this does not debunk the truth that cultures and civilizations have always been, largely, in conflict through history. This cultural contact came into existence thanks not only to immigration, anthropological, and ethnographic studies of the Orient but also to tourism, travel expeditions and explorations. More remarkable is the fact that assorted expatriates fell in love with the “Other space” as a contrasting background to achieve selfhood and fulfill their identity.
Moreover, different cultures interplay due to media. Film directors, as far as cinema is concerned, have also contributed to the process of cultural contact and played a major role in bridging the gap between different geographies through the shootings of movies in settings that best suit their technicalities. Cinematography is an ancient art that mediates between civilizations through representation.
That is, a movie presents certain meaningful images and phenomena through figures belonging to different landscapes and spaces that do not necessarily represent the moviemaker’s origin or cultural background. On this basis, it would be worth considering Ouarzazate as a very relevant case in point representing a cinematographic space par excellence. Ouarzazate has served as a stage for world productions.
Ouarzazate (pronounced War-zazat) is a small town in the middle of a bare plateau in southern Morocco. It is mostly populated by Imazighen (Amazigh people), who are responsible for the construction of assorted fortified dwellings like Kasbahs and Ksours for which the whole region is famous. Politically, Ouarzazate was used during the 1930s by the French as a regional administrative center and taken as a station for their troops for the sake of pacification of the Amazigh tribes in the south of the country.
Before the colonizer’s interest in the town, Ouarzazate was merely a set of old clay constructions—Kasbahs and Ksours, the most prominent of which was the Glaoui Kasbah of Taourirt at the Eastern end of the modern city. Ouarzazate is usually described as a quiet and nondescript place except for the Kasbah.
After the Riffian war ended, the Protectorate administration set up a military plan to integrate “Non-beneficial Morocco” for many reasons. First, the French intended to speed up with the domination of the south before 1934 at the aim of reducing the Moroccan military arsenal which would be used later in WWII against the Germans. Second, the colonizer was worried about the surveillance and control over the south wanting to prevent it from being a haven for resisting militants.
Therefore most of the older large constructions were used for political reasons like these and so it is safe to argue that Ouarzazate was a French political product for imperial reasons, which meant it was developed without a distinctive and well-designed plan. Nevertheless, the government today has been working hard to promote Ouarzazate as an important destination or at least as a launching pad for excursions along Daraa and Dades Valleys.
History can be read both as document and monument. In fact, Ouarzazate’s historical monuments are an indication of an outstanding civilization of the past. Looking back at the designs and architecture of the old fortified dwellings made of adobe and rammed earth, we can imagine but scarcely believe the hard and dedicated work accomplished by the local people at a time when there were not the conveniences of modern technology.
Those old Kasbahs and Ksours, some of which go back to 11th century, are very significant standing cultural edifices that incarnate much about the history of the region. The monumental earth architecture is actually the outcome of an exceptional know-how, and a perfectly mastered use of high quality materials.
Furthermore, it is a valuable heritage, a vivid living memory that reflects not only a specific environmental design but it also reflects the artistic abilities of the local people, their social organization in the area, and their daily life.
The cultural heritage is primarily made up of stately residences (Tighremt-s in Berber, Kasbah-s in Arabic) and of community villages (Ighrem-s or Ksour). This cultural patrimony, with numerous architectural masterpieces, represents the cultural values of many generations.
Accordingly, these human settlements were structured on the basis of established community rules and regulations that were thought of as the original bonds existing between Man and his social and natural environment. Particularly, The Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou is one of the most remarkable constructions in the region, and was recently classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In fact, the Ministries of Culture, Habitat, Public Works, Education, Tourism, in partnership with some other NGOs such as UNESCO, have been trying hard to set up an experimental project of restoration and conservation of the architectures existing in these valleys to preserve their uniqueness and fragility. The richness of this heritage is affected by the factors of degradation. Thus, the conservation of the splendors of these ancient structures has been an extreme necessity in order to keep a genuine antiquity, which coexists with the modernization of life and the improvement of the living conditions of those who reside in them.
Edited by Jasmine Davey
Hassane Oudadene is Doctoral Candidate-Cultural Studies Department- at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdullah University in Fez, Morocco, He is Morocco World News’ Contributor. He can be reached at: ([email protected])
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