Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Ancient Library of Tamegroute

In the south of Morocco, near Zagora, only about 10 miles (18 km) along the Draa Valley, is the town of Tamegroute. The name itself means “border town” as this area was once part of Algeria's frontier. The town does not appear interesting at first glance, but it contains a rare treasure that is worth visiting.

Tamegroute - more than meets the eye!

Tamegroute has a history as an important center of learning and religion through its famous Sufi zaouia, historical center of the Nasiriyya Sufi order, one of the most influential - and at one time one of the largest - Sufi orders in the Islamic world. It was established by Sidi Mohammed Ben Naceur.

The Naciri brotherhood is monk-like in their devotion to this sage. And, surrounding the area are various patients praying for a cure to their ailments, whether mental or physical. Sidi Ben Naceur was an important leader of the area, considered a saint, and revered for his scholarly and peacemaking abilities.

The librarian at the Tamegroute Koranic library
(photo: Suzanna Clarke)

The Zaouia Naciri contains the tomb of Naceur and still contains the famous medersa, or Koranic school, dating back to the 1600s. The Koranic library is also impressive as it once held nearly 50,000 Arabic works that have now either been lost, are still in use, or have been sent to various museums across the country. The pre-university school is still in use and was once a major hub of learning in Morocco. Young scholars had access to amazing works, including that of math, philosophy, biology, astronomy, and even their very own Amazigh (Berber) poetry.

The library is being renovated, but at this stage the conditions in which thousands of priceless books are being stored is less than perfect. Although photography of the texts is forbidden, they are on display on small shelves protected by glass. The gold calligraphy and the extraordinary illustrations are superb. One exhibit is a Koran more than 900 years old. As we said, it is worth a visit.

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