Ziz Valley & the Tafilalt

Little remains of the once-great city of Sijilmassa – just two decorated gateways and a handful of semi-collapsed structures. But go back to the 8th century and it was a major staging post for trans-Saharan trade, when caravans of up to 20,000 camels would depart for the salt mines of what is now modern-day Mali, then continue to Niger and Ghana, where a pound of Saharan salt was traded for an ounce of African gold.

Its foundation is lost in myth but it was the capital of the first virtually independent Islamic principality in the south. By the 12th century, Sudanese gold refined in Sijilmassa had made it to Europe, where it was minted into European coins. The identical quality between European and Moroccan coins attests to the importance of trade between these regions. But as Imazighen (Berbers) say, where there’s gold, there’s trouble. Internal feuding led to the collapse of the city in the 14th century, and although it was rebuilt by Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismail in the 18th century, it was finally destroyed by Aït Atta nomadic warriors in 1818.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Ziz Valley & the Tafilalt attractions

1. Zawiya of Moulay Ali Ash Sharif

2.28 MILES

About 2km to the southeast of Rissani is this cheery yellow shrine built to honour the Alaouite dynasty’s founder. The Islamic garden is open to non…

2. Ksar Abbar

2.39 MILES

About a five-minute drive south-west of the centre, along a dirt track behind the yellow shrine you’ll see the fantastic crumbling towers of this 19th…

3. Ksar El Fida

2.54 MILES

This enormous, restored Alaouite kasbah (1854–72) served as the palace for the local qaid (chief) right up until 1965, after which it housed a museum of…

4. Ksar Oulad Abdelhalim

3.13 MILES

Around 2km south of the yellow shrine on your right, this ruin once called the ‘Alhambra of the Tafilalt’ was built around 1900 for Sultan Moulay Hassan’s…

5. Tahiri Museum of Fossils & Minerals

4.43 MILES

For a good introduction to Morocco's fossils head to Brahim Tahiri's private museum. Scientifically important specimens are exhibited beside their lesser…

6. Ksar Tinheras

4.55 MILES

For a glimpse in to life in a living ksar (fortified village), a resident is sure to find you and offer to show you around its warren of alleyways. It's a…

7. Erg Chebbi

20.63 MILES

Shape-shifting over 28km from north to south and reaching heights of 160m, the great sand sea of Erg Chebbi is extraordinarily scenic. The rose-gold dunes…