Monday, August 03, 2009

Focus on Oujda - Morocco's frontier city

From time to time The View from Fez turns the spotlight on our favourite Moroccan towns and cities. Today we focus on Oujda - an ideal destination for the perfect weekend escape or longer vacation.
(click on image to enlarge)

The capital of eastern Morocco, Oujda stands on the border with Algeria. Its privileged geographic position makes it a center for Maghreb tourism and a meeting point of routes between Morocco and other North African countries.

Oujda was founded in the tenth century by Ziri Ben Attia, chief of the Meghraoua tribe, and remained the capital of his kingdom for 80 years. It successively housed the Almoravide and Almohade dynasties, both of whom fortified the city. King Merinide Abou Youssef rebuilt the city in 1297, constructing new walls and a Kasbah, mosque and palace. Moulay Ismail was one of the sovereigns who did most to develop the city.

Oujda is the only place in the country where you can move from a mountainous landscape to the sea and the desert in a single day. Oujda was built on the plain of Angad, which is surrounded by one of the most beautiful mountainous regions in Morocco: the Beni-Snassen Mountains. The mountains reach 450 metres and include the Zegzel valley with its gorges, waterfalls and caves. Many streams run from the northern slopes to irrigate the well-kept gardens and orchards. Crossing these imposing mountains affords a magnificent panoramic view of Oujda.

The old medina walls

The old medina in Oujda is separated from the new city by walls which are evidence of the city's past, and in which there are four monumental gateways: Bab Ouled Amran, Bab Sidi Aissa, Bab Sidi Abdelwahab and Bab Ahl Jam Al. The Grand Mosque (Al Kabir) built in the thirteenth century is one of the city's finest monuments and has three magnificent fountains. The Merinid medersa dates back to 1335.

Bab Sidi Abdelwahab

A walk through the medina is an agreeable experience and leads to the "Kissaria", where shops vie with one another with their local handicraft displays. Through a gateway at the end of this square a courtyard flanked by arches houses the weavers working away enthusiastically on their traditional looms to sounds reminiscent of African rythms.

The Place du Souk El Ma (The Water Market), where market gardeners used to come to draw water to irrigate their land, is worth a visit. A stone's throw from here is Souk El Knadsa, selling a wide range of traditional items. Oujda market is also nearby. Along the city walls surrounding the Kasbah stretches the Lalla Meriem Park, perfect for a rest amid the beauty and freshness of exotic vegetation. The Museum of Traditional Arms of the Oujda region is located in the park. Take time to check out Dar Sebti, a fabulous palace built in 1938 by a local businessman. It is now a centre for cultural activities.

Lalla Ai'cha Park, close to the medina, covers more than 20 ha. It was created in 1935 and contains swimming pools as well as tennis and horse-riding clubs.

To experience a local market visit the oasis of Sidi Yahya on a Friday. The village is just 6k from Oujda and is a meeting place for a range of religious and ethnic groups. Other nearby towns worth a visit include Tafoghalt (60k) at the heart of the mountains, Sidi Maafa, from where you can climb Jbel Alhamra, Tgafai't, 25k east of the mining town of Jerada, has beautiful gardens and gorges.


Further afield (60 km) is the beautiful seaside resort of Saidia. Nicknamed the "Blue Pearl", Saidia is located on the delightfully named Kiss wadi, a natural border between Morocco and Algeria. The 14km long beach is not only the longest in Morocco, but its fine golden sand make it one of the finest in the country

The entire region is becoming much easier to visit thanks to the new motorway between Oujda and Fez as well as the expansion of the Oujda airport.

The locals.

The people of Oujda have a reputation for being rather reserved, but their hospitality is indisputable. Take time to get to know them and their directness translates into a real sincerity. The local dialect is also different - with the absence of the verbal prefix "ka" in the progressive present tense.

Musicians in Oujda

The Music.

The music is as varied and rich as the region itself, with rai, chaabi, Berber, Rifian and Andalusian influences. The Chiouks are guardians of the local traditions and perform both religious and secular music. Laalaoui or Regada dancing is popular and involves dances standing shoulder to shoulder in lines. There are also several Goums (fantasia) groups on horseback and Bardia who were once foot soldiers.

Info snapshot

The semi-desert climate means that from mid-May it gets hot! Up to 45 degrees Celsius in summer.

Film Festival in March
Rai Festival in July

Railway links include Algeria to the east and Fez, Rabat and Casablanca to the west, and Bouarfa in the south.

By Air, Oujda is serviced by a certified international airport, Oujda Angads, 13 km to the north of the city. A new terminal is to be added which will bring the capacity to 2 million passengers a year.

Taxi services are the same as in all Moroccan cities, with red "petits taxis" and the white "grands taxis".

Tags blogsherpa, Morocco

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is the train line between oujda and algeria really open?