Sijilmassa
About
Sijilmassa (pronounced see-jill-moss-uh), a national historic site recognized by Morocco's Ministry of Culture, was the fabled and ancient Berber capital of the Tafilalet Kingdom located at the northern edge of the Sahara desert that once rivaled Marrakech. Founded in A.D. 757 on the banks overlooking the Oued Ziz, a river in the oasis region of the Sahara desert, Sijilmassa grew wealthy and powerful during the Middle Ages as a gold-trade-route city strategically located at the exit-point of the western Trans-Saharan caravan trade route -- which extended from the Niger River in the Sudan to Tangier in northern Morocco. From the 10th to the 12th centuries Sijilmassa was the center of the Gold trade between Morocco and the Sudan, and its legendary glory owes much to this position. Even after its fall as a great commercial center and caravan endpoint, the region of Sijilmassa remained instrumental in the minting of gold brought from the Sudan. Until the 10th century, control over the right to mint coins was held by the central government in the Orient as a means to control the vast expanses of the Arab world. Gold became a key resource in managing the growth of Arab and European economies in the North, and when confronted with the lack of it in their own territories, they started spinning myths about the abundance of gold south of the Sahara that greatly increased caravan commerce. As the flow of gold increased, the temptation to refine and mint it on the way, rather than at its final destination also increased. The minting of gold in Sijilmassa was one of the first acts of rebellion of the Fatimid dynasty, who originated from what is modern day Tunisia (Ifriqiya). In doing so, they directly opposed the ruling government in Baghdad. Sudanese gold refined in Sijilmassa also made it to Europe, where it was minted into European coins. The identical quality and gold proportion between European and Moroccan coins attests to the importance of trade between these regions- and it seems that Europeans minted similar coins precisely to purchase Maghrebi luxury goods. Sijilmassa was initially destroyed in 1363 and rebuilt by Sultan Moulay Isma'il, one of the first rulers (1672 - 1727) of the Alaouite dynasty that governs Morocco today. Ultimately, the city of Sijilmassa was conquered by Ait Atta nomads in 1818. The Roman ruins and Grand Mosque, which was last rebuilt in 1796 and serves as the central feature of this medieval town, are made of unbaked brick that require continual maintenance to preserve. In 1996 Sijilmassa was included on the very first World Monuments Watch "List of 100 Most Endangered Sites", a list created to focus international attention on the cultural significance and threats to endangered locations worldwide, as well as to help raise the necessary funds for preservation. The Watch is a program of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting endangered works of art and architecture around the globe.
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Peter R
Dartford, UK1,228 contributions
Sep 2022
On our walking tour of Rissani we walked around the ruins of the old Berber city of Sijilmassa. There is not much left of the buildings of this once great city, other than one walled area.
The site is recognized by Morocco’s Ministry of Culture, but there is no protection and you can wander wherever you wish. As you walk through the site you discover broken pottery, which litters the ground and can just be picked up and carried away. Sad that the Ministry does not protect the site better.
Written October 31, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

jonahNJ
Pennington, NJ11,562 contributions
May 2014 • Couples
During our visit to Rissani we visited the Sijilmassa ruins. We learned that this was an important and vibrant trading center during the Middle Ages. Considering the dust storms and other natural elements that have caused erosion over the past several centuries, it is amazing how much of the former Berber city is still very evident.

Also located in the area is a Ksar which dates back to the 18th century and is obviously better preserved than the Sijilmassa Ruins. The Ksar is so well preserved that families still occupy portions of the Ksar as evidenced by the multi-colored doors dotting the adobe buildings. One of the buildings in the Ksar is a souk which was teeming with schoolchildren when we visited. This particular souk now appears to be a popular convenience store type of establishment.

Note that there will be a number of vendors in this area hawking their wares. I actually purchased a sheathed knife for what I believed was a great price; plus, my wife and I kind of liked the elderly gentleman who I bargained with.

These ruins are not as expansive or as impressive as Volubilis, but if you are in Rissani, it is well worth a stroll to see these ruins and the Ksar.
Written July 9, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Shilia
Husser, LA6 contributions
Jun 2012 • Couples
The city was located in present day southeastern Morocco, the ruins of which can be found along the river Ziz in the Tafilalt oasis. The city served as the terminus for the Trans-Sahara trade route till the 14th century and was one of the most important centers for trade during the Golden era of the Berber dynasties.

Excavations in the area have revealed a lot of information about the city from pre-Islamic and Islamic times. In the 14th century the city was made of magnificent palaces, huge gates and high buildings. The city was completely destroyed in 1363 and rebuilt in the 18th century but was once again conquered and destroyed by the tribes of Ait Atta in the 1818. The ruins of the city are preserved under the Moroccan Ministry of Culture. Today travelers can see the ruins of this once charming city.

Written June 7, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

CPaM68
Texas660 contributions
Sep 2021
The route leaving Erfoudon on our Trafalgar Tour took us near Sijilmassa where we stopped and explored an old well (cave). The well was part of the ancient khettara irrigation system that dates back to the 11th century. Some of the wells (caves) have been opened to the public to visit. The one we toured had a large opening with a pulley system above it and a ladder that led down to an underground channel/tunnel. On the surface, you could see a series of these wells dug in a line 40-60 ft. apart. As I understood it, the wells were not dug to find water but to get deep enough underground that they could dig tunnels to connect one well to another. Also, if the underground channel became clogged, someone could easily get in to fix the problem. I compare it to a modern-day city drainage system with giant concrete pipes underneath the streets, but then has covered manholes every so often, so if there is a problem, someone can go down the manhole and fix it. Just imagine the amount of work it took to build these, since it was all done by hand. Our guide said that at one time there were over seventy-five different channel systems that fed water from the High Atlas and the Ziz River. Ultimately, insufficient water resources and unsustainable practices dramatically lowered the water table, drying up many of the khettara. Some khettara continued to function until the early 1970s, when new technologies and government policies forced changes, resulting in a loss of local control over water resources and a total abandonment of the khettara irrigation system. (PaM)
Written June 5, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

toursinmorocco
ouarzazate5 contributions
Aug 2014 • Family
The city was located in present day southeastern Morocco, the ruins of which can be found along the river Ziz in the Tafilalt oasis. The city served as the terminus for the Trans-Sahara trade route till the 14th century and was one of the most important centers for trade during the Golden era of the Berber dynasties.
In the 14th century the city was made of magnificent palaces, huge gates and high buildings. The city was completely destroyed in 1363 and rebuilt in the 18th century but was once again conquered and destroyed by the tribes of Ait Atta in the 1818. The ruins of the city are preserved under the Moroccan Ministry of Culture. Today travelers can see the ruins of this once charming city
Written August 23, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

milliesmum2016
Christchurch, New Zealand1,811 contributions
Apr 2019 • Friends
Near Rissani and Sijlimassa there is an irrigation system dating to the 11th century. You can visit it as parts of it have been opened to the public. There arestairs leading down into the underground channels and from there you can see how the wells which can be seen from the road, are fed. There were elaborate pulley systems at each well, made of wood and rope to bring the water to the surface. Just imagine the amount of work it took to excavate this by hand. It is long and very extensive and fed from the High Atlas and the Ziz River.

On line I found an interesting article about the system and I have included the Abstract of the article so you can follow up if you want better information than I can give:

Moroccan Khettara
Dale R. Lightfoot
Abstract A 300 km network of khettara (qanat) subsurface irrigation channels was excavated in the Tafilalt basin beginning in the late 14th century. More than 75 of these chains provided perennial water following the breakup of the ancient city of Sijilmassa. Khettara continued to function for much of the northern oasis until the early 1970s, when new technologies and government policies forced changes. Data on origins, maintenance, and current use were collected from archival sources, aerial photographs, Landsat imagery, and from interviews.
Written June 1, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

KiwiKerry53
Wellington, New Zealand4,633 contributions
Oct 2017 • Couples
Not a lot left, and sadly the ruin is neglected and delapidated as it sits open to the harsh reality of the desert sands and scorching sun. Really is quite sad.
Written February 20, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

worldseeker2014
San Francisco, CA295 contributions
Apr 2016
Siljilmassa, built in the 8th century on Oued Ziz in the Tafilate oasis with approx 30K people living there throughout its history. Sijilmasa became a vital trading post located on the Trans-Saharan trade route and became the trade Mecca of Maghreb through salt and gold in the Middle Ages. Sultan Moulay Ismail, rebuilt Sijilmasa in the 18th century but then it was destroyed again in 1818 by the nomadic tribes of Ait Atta.

Supposedly this site is recognized by Morocco’s Ministry of Culture, but as you walk through the site with ancient and new broken pottery, you can’t help but wonder how the site is protected with its constant exposure to the natural elements that is eroding what is still standing of the remains of an amazing historic city. Definitely worth a visit.
Written May 13, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

TheGlacierist
Windsor, Canada2,258 contributions
Dec 2015 • Friends
I passed through these ruins, not much of it left, on my way from Merzouga to Erfoud. The place was once an important trade town and harbors a rich history for the Gold trade. It was a pivotal town also for the two important dynasties in Morocco: Almoravids and Almohads.
Written January 6, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

t1nkud
London, UK3,440 contributions
Dec 2015 • Friends
Sijilmassa, which predates Marrakech by a few centuries, came into prominence as the harsh direct caravan routes between Egypt and Ghana and old Sudan slowly turned indirect, via the North African coast line and then southwards onto Sijilmassa and further southwards into Mali and Ghana. The city, as a frontier city before Saharas, became a pivot in the gold trade between Ghana and Europe. Europe used to get most of it's gold from Ghana those days. The gold trade made Sijilmassa rich and it was a real African El Dorado those days.

The city was important as a conduit through which Islam spread to west Africa and also in the spreading of Islam in Maghreb. In the process, it has seen a few massacres of Jews by the Almoravid dynasty.

What stands today is nothing more than ruins of a fabled past. But it is intriguing
as I stood at the gateway and wondered about great traveller Ibn Battuta starting on his Black Africa travels from here via Timbuktu. He loved the city, then in it's prime.
Written December 29, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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