Given the strategic location of the Telouet mountain pass (the historic Tizi-n-Telouet), it is not surprising that the cradle of the influential Glaoua family was at Telouet. The French constructed the relatively modern mountain road pass, at the Tizi-n-Tichka, but the Telouet pass was the main route for the sub-Saharan caravans travelling to Marrakech, via the Ounila Valley.
The Kasbah at Telouet was built in various stages from around 1860 and remained an unfinished project when it was abandoned in 1956.
Some of the central reception rooms of the Kasbah can be visited, they have been restored in part. They offer a superb example of Moorish craftsmanship and architecture, which seems incongruous in such a remote and dramatic mountain setting.
There are of course further iconic Glaoua ‘fortresses’ in the south of the country (e.g. Tamdaght, Taourirt) and there is a ruined fort above the entrance to the local salt mines (salt started the family on the road to power in the region). In our experience, the best way to approach Telouet, is by foot – 2 days/1 night trekking from Ait Ben Haddou, up through the Ounila Valley. Without that luxury of time, we visit the Kasbah by vehicle, on a tour south to the Sahara Desert.
The Glaoua were a warrior, Berber tribe, who did not come into prominence until late 19th century (notably the two brothers, Madani and Thami – Madani was head of the family until his death in 1918, succeeded by Thami). The family have since been referred to in modern works as the ‘Lords of the Atlas’.
Historically, the Moroccan system of ‘government’ followed a feudal system and the Glaoua family held a small political role in the High Atlas region (i.e. the mayor, or ‘caid’, of Telouet).
It was the Glaoua who rescued the ruling Sultan in a snow storm in 1893, for which they were handsomely rewarded with further power in the South of Morocco (covering great tracts of land across the southern oases towards the Atlantic coast) and a bronze Krupp cannon (which they subsequently used to subdue rival tribes). This was the only such weaponry outside of the imperial army.
After the French took control, Thami El Glaoui (with the role of Pasha of Marrakech, until the French left), sided with the French and had rule over much of the south of Morocco. His wealth and influence increased to such a degree (also by virtue of enjoying the south’s economic riches – the olive and saffron trade, salt and mineral mines) that he was one of the wealthiest men in the world.
However, while the independence movement was gaining strength in Morocco, Thami remained opposed to it. He had a role in overthrowing the reigning Sultan but was later betrayed by the French when the Sultan was reinstated. He died in 1956, shortly after independence, and his property was seized by the state and the Kasbah has been left empty, he is considered a traitor by nationalists.