Marrakech & Ourika Valley

Program Overview
Country: Morocco

Located on an oasis at the base of the High Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is the gateway city to the Sahara. Legend and fact both contribute to the explanation of Marrakech’s unique character.  The town’s origins are attributed to the development of an oasis, which grew out of the refuse of caravans from the south, whose food supplies contained dates.  The palm groves that sprang up provided an ideal place for the Saharan nomad Almoravids to settle.  Since that time, Marrakech has seen many dynasties and fortunes rise and fall, resulting in a remarkably beautiful city that has not only become the capital of southern Morocco but an integral city to the Islamic world.  The cultural, natural and historical attractions of this traditional Berber capital, seat to nearly all of Morocco’s dynasties over the last thousand years, make Marrakech the top tourism destination in North Africa.

The Ourika is a narrow valley that cuts deep into the High Atlas Mountains.  As you move further south into the valley, the mountains rise ever more precipitously, and the area of cultivation diminishes further.  At the head of the valley, constricted terraced gardens are productive throughout most of the year since the Ourika stream, which drains the northeast face of Jbel Toubkal, seldom runs dry.  In the past, people of the Ourika Valley were in a powerful position since they controlled the water supply to the city and gardens of Marrakech.  At the time, Moroccan law did not acknowledge the rights of any user downstream.  In practice, this meant that no ruler of Marrakech could afford to have a hostile power in control of the valley.