We evolve in a unique way: instead of adapting to the environment, we transform it so that it adapts to us. However, there was a time when this did not happen, as in fact it still happens sometimes in Morocco. In the place we are talking about today, Tamegroute, the climate continues to dictate the lives of its inhabitants. Tamegroute as a city dates back to the 11th century.
History of Tamegroute
Tamegroute dates back to the 11th century and was established as a religious centre, although its personality began to be forged at the beginning of the 16th century, with the founding of a Koranic school and a religious order with Sufi characteristics, a branch of Islam that was more spiritual and centred on an austere life that allowed a better approach to God.
With the aim of spreading this new approach, both the founder and his descendants focused on its propagation, writing writings and making trips to establish contacts with other Muslim communities to whom they could pass on the philosophy of Sufism, also taking advantage of the opportunity to collect written documents in these places.
All this allowed Tamegroute to position itself as a religious point of reference in Morocco and to become the focus of attraction and pilgrimage for the surrounding locals.
The passing of time and the sum of two other fundamental elements such as the climate and its geographical location linked to the Saharan commercial routes – as the sign “A Tombouctou 51 jours” at the entrance to the city says – will end up defining the city.
What to see in Tamegroute
No doubt, a way of living that requires discipline, but which finds its reward in an interior climate much more pleasant than the exterior. Reward enough for hundreds of families to remain established here, in their windowless homes.
In Morocco, modernity and the global economy are still struggling to assert themselves, which means that many places are still sustained by a century-old trade. In Tamegroute, it is its characteristic ceramics of Phasic origin – since expert craftsmen were brought from Fez – that continues to drive the city’s economy.
If we decide to visit it, we will first observe a large open-air esplanade where the raw material is arranged: clay extracted from underground galleries, to which water is added and which is then sifted, kneaded and left to rest. Here the most elementary pieces are moulded, mainly tiles, using moulds and masters as tools.
Then we visit one of the surrounding interior spaces, where the curious way of modelling the most complex objects is shown: a manual lathe moved by the feet and sunk into the ground. In this way, a pleasant temperature is maintained from the waist down – something necessary considering the temperatures of Tamegroute and the continuous effort that has to be applied to the mechanism – while from the waist up the entire surface of the floor is available as a work space.
If you wish, you can try to replicate the operator’s feat, and in fact you are more than likely to be invited to do so. It is also more than likely that the result we obtain will not pass any worthwhile quality control.
We then go to the cooking centre, a small patio surrounded by small stone and adobe ovens in which a mixture of desert herbs and palm wood provide the high temperatures needed.
Here the pieces, already left to rest for several days in the shade, are covered with a grey enamel composed of copper, khol, ground stone and flour. They are put in the oven and when they are extracted they are ready to be marketed: the chemical processes due to the heat have vitrified them and provided the characteristics and varied greenish tones for which they are known.
Another treatment is to apply a similar solution but without copper, generating ochre and brown tones. Sometimes the ground stone is also obviated, resulting in a flat ochre without shades, and then decorated with hennah.
A zaouia is a Muslim centre that brings together different religious rooms. The one in Tamegroute is configured around two patios, one of which is generously sized but not very ornate, with a fountain in the middle and a perimeter corridor that connects with different administrative spaces and a mosque that holds the remains of the founder.
Despite the fact that the mosque, as usual, is forbidden to non-practitioners, the picturesque human flow in its corridors is well worth a visit: dozens of people remain there for days, waiting for Allah to help them or some family member. They also have the blessing of the community, providing them with food cooked in huge pots.
The smaller courtyard serves a small school and a library, the latter being the most valuable asset of Tamegroute. Previously it is necessary to make an appointment with the person in charge of the place and custodian of the keys, a man of great longevity in a wheelchair, accompanied by another who pushes it and acts as an interpreter.
Continent and content are diametrically different, as simple rectangular spaces and industrial furniture house more than four thousand centenary manuscripts, both of the culture of Arabic and Islam and of tangential doctrines (geometry, calligraphy, mathematics, astrology, …), highlighting an 11th century Koran in gazelle skin. And although the library has no control mechanisms. the contents are in enviable condition, probably thanks to the low humidity of Tamegroute.
The old man will detail the most remarkable ones and, despite the language barrier, his wisdom and passion will be evident every time he points to a document. Considering the experience as a whole, it could be said that this is nothing more than the spirit of the centennial writings that he treasures made flesh.
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to document the visit: no photos or videos can be taken, with or without flash, nor can any other form or resource be used that we can think of, interpreting at our convenience the warnings of those responsible and the prohibitions that we will find at the entrance and inside.
Therefore, we can only keep the memory and the perception that Morocco always surprises, and that testimonies of ways of living today almost extinct in a modern and increasingly globalized world, is still possible to find.