Rissani or Sijilmasa ( سجلماسة Sijilmassa, Sidjilmasa, Sidjilmassa, and Sigilmassa) was a medieval Moroccan city and trade entrepôt at the northern edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. The ruins of the town extend for five miles along the Ziz River Ziz the Tafilalt oasis near the town of Rissani. The town’s history was marked by several successive invasions by Berber dynasties. Up until the 14th century, as the northern terminus for the western trans-Sahara trade route, it was one of the most important trade centers in the Maghreb during the Middle Ages.
Stop and stay in Rissani to see and feel the small desert town. By spending time in Rissani, you will get a sense of traditional Moroccan life in a quiet town on the edge of the Sahara Desert. During this tour, Abdellah will give you an intimate view of Rissani, showing you parts of the town and its surrounding neighborhoods that are often inaccessible or overlooked by tourists. You will discover the rhythms of everyday life by visiting families, local architecture, the historic monuments of Sijilmassa, and workers and merchants in the rural souk.
The Sahara unfolds next to Rissani, and part of experiencing the great desert is encountering the nomads who live and travel through the Sahara. The desert, with its changing light, colors, temperature, and blowing sand reshaping the dunes are powerful elements of the environment. The dunes of Erg Chibbi and the flat desert floor surrounded by many other dunes–30 minutes from Rissani–are beautiful and dominate the landscape .
Rissani has been transformed by modern life, but remains a poor and conservative spot in eastern Morocco, far from the larger and more Westernized northern cities of Marrakesh and Casablanca. Its history is illustrious but little remains visible except the crumbling ruins of Sijilmassa. Between 757 and 1400, Sijilmassa was the site of the kingdom of the south, the capital of a virtually independent Islamic principality in the early days of the Arab conquest of North Africa. The city thrived and its great wealth came from its location, the last stopping
point on caravan routes to the south. Caravans, sometimes as large as 20,000 camels, stopped here to trade gold for slaves in the Sijilmassa souk.
Today, Rissani is still an important center for trade but is considerably reduced in scale. Its large souk sells all varieties of animals, products, and produce. There are individual markets within the souk for the sale of sheep, goats, mules, and donkeys, the traditional transport of goods and people. Fresh fruit and vegetables brighten the souk’s aisles along with stacks of spices of assorted colors. Clothes, shoes, and backpacks hang from horizontal bars attached to stalls, drawing in the eye of the shopper. Rissani and its souk retain their traditional relationship to the desert since, in addition to locals, nomads converge at the thrice-weekly souk, after traveling long distances for the benefits of the size and specialties of the souk.
The center of Rissani is a simple modern town and has three-story apartment buildings. The historical architecture can be seen along the circuit road outside the center of town–on the Route Touristique de Rissani. The ksour, large fortress-like squares or rectangulars with interconnected structures built with towers, simple crenelation, tall entrance gates, and interior doors of painted metal with decorative swirls of relief work or plain metal are visible from the road The structures are earth-colored from building with a combination of dirt, mud, sand, and straw made into free forms or bricks. In this rural part of the country, a ksar, a single ksour, is a much-simplified version of the high-style buildings you see to the north and west. The historical ksar is home to many people on a scale comparable to a village.
Rissani Guided Tour
Depending on your arrival time, you will explore Rissani (Sijilmassa, Tafilalet), a historical city. We will visit the most important community villages and the 17th-century «Ksar» and visit houses and families, before visiting the Sijilmassa historical monument. We will continue through the Jewish quarter «Elmallah» to the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, the first sultan of the Kingdom of Morocco. We will visit the local market «Souk», which sells all variety of animals, products, produce, and crafts. We will show you how we prepare our local food, a pizza called Medfouna for lunch.