Figuig to Ziz
Caravane Route
Ziz Valley

Leo notes

Caravan notes

Cristel notes

A Treacherous Valley

The beauties one contemplates in the Ziz Valley today are not without hiding a somewhat cruel past. From every hill top one can look out onto miles of river bed, and easily imagine a time when ruthless, money hungry inhabitants used these natural lookouts as means to spot innocent caravans coming their way. If they were not out to rob them, they made sure to make each traveler pay a toll for both him and his merchandise.
                                                                             From this tower, one sees miles into the valley

Leo documents these treacherous practices. In his days the "Ziz hills" were inhabited by Berber tribes who lived in Ksars, or fortified villages.                                                                                 

" The Ziz hills are inhabited by a tribe called the Zenaga, terrible and ruthless men, who fear neither cold nor snow. (...) They are the world's greatest thieves and assassins. Their hatred for Arabs is so great that they chase them at night. For lack of a better idea, they throw the latters' camels over the ridge.(...) Though the Arabs sometimes attack them with great armies of horses, these mountain people are courageous and never give in to the enemy." (Leo, 317)

Since the Muslim conquest of Morocco in the 8th century, the country was been inhabited both by Berbers (the original dwellers, that Leo refers to as "Africans"), and the Arabs- different nomadic or sedentary tribes who emigrated from Egypt or from the Gulf to settle in Morocco. The Arabs he is referring to here were the tribes who lived in the desert, just South of the Ziz Valley, and staffed most of the caravans (either as guides or camel drivers). This enmity amongst races had a great impact on commerce and trade:

" Sometimes, [the mountain dwellers] travel to Sijilmassa, to sell wool and butter. But they only go there when the Arabs have moved back into the desert." (Leo, 318)
"They have gotten into the habit of asking for "payment for protection" from Arabs, who do the same to them. This same payment is expected of caravan merchants who must pay a toll at many stages of the trip, otherwise their caravan will be pillaged." (Leo, 318)

To monitor this traffic of Arabs and Caravans through the Ziz Valley, the Zenaga tribes people built fortified villages on top of canyon passes. These Ksars enabled them to see miles into the Valley floor (see picture): "This town was built to serve as a fortress to control the route into Numidia [the desert]." (Leo, 318)

But all this trouble was well worth it, as it made the difference between rich and poor.
As Leo says:"Amongst these inhabitants, some are vassal to the Arabs, others are independent. The first are so poor that they have to beg, the others are tremendously rich as they control the passage on the route from Fes to Sijilmassa, and exert a high payment from all merchants." (Leo, 426)