M'Hamid El Ghizlane

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Tourist café and shop in M'Hamid, a starting point for exploring the dessert by four-wheel drive cars and/or camel tours

M'Hamid El Ghizlane (Arabic: كتاوة for 'plain of gazelles') is a small oasis town in southern Morocco (Zagora Province in the Souss-Massa-Draa Region) with about 7500 inhabitants.

Location[edit]

Mind the Camels on the road to Zagora and Ouarzazate

M'Hamid lies at an altitude of about 500 meters above sea level and about 24 kilometers from the Algerian border at the edge of the Sahara. M'Hamid can be reached at the end of the cule de sac national road N9 from Ouarzazate (260 km) via Zagora (approx. 97 km). Mhamid lies on the Wadi Draa, which rarely contains water.

History[edit]

About the early history of the place is little is known because of the lack of written records. The spacious palm oases, however, make an early settlement support (about 3000 BC) likely. Due to the growth of the desert, the settlement is threatened since the 2nd half of the 20th century by siltation, and the population is declining steadily. Until the end of the 1980s a special permit was required to enter the area because it is close to the strategically important border with Algeria. Even today, many soldiers stationed in the area of Mhamid.

Economics[edit]

Oasis of M'Hamid

The people of M'Hamid lived according to the principles of self-sufficiency for hundred of years but due to reduced or even absent winter rains since the 1970s agriculture provided and less income and was abandoned almost entirely. In addition, a fungal disease (Fusarium oxysporum) has significantly affected the date palms which were already weakened by the drought.

In addition M'Hamid was always a center for traveling nomads and caravans. Today the town is the starting point for tourist camel and 4x4 safaris into the desert.

Townscape[edit]

Decaying adobe buildings in a side street of M'Hamid

The original adobe buildings of M'Hamid are mostly dilapidated and only a few mostly poor families live in those. In recent decades new houses have been built in M'Hamid in the typical construction of the Marrocan South on concrete floors with walls of hollow concrete blocks which are painted bright red. Desert winds carry always masses of sand in the city.

Surroundings[edit]

Hidden in the palm oases of M'Hamid are seven old, now almost uninhabited, and decaying Ksars. Approximaltel 50-60 kilometers away lie the sometimes more than 100 meters high sand dunes of Erg Chegaga, which are less often visited by tourists than those in Merzouga.

Coordinates: 29°49′20″N 5°43′15″W / 29.82222°N 5.72083°W / 29.82222; -5.72083