Rissani, a stressful stage town
We think we’ve found a nice town, but it’s quite big and the proximity of Merzouga spoils it. Even before entering the town’s main gate, we want to guide you to one of the hotels on the edge of the dunes. When it comes to unsellable misadventures, Rissani has them all. We’d therefore like to take the liberty of placing here the chapter that’s so irritating in Morocco.
Carpet merchants and individual travellers
The biggest problem with this type of off-season travel is that you’re definitely in the minority, while the majority of sellers of all kinds of things are looking for these few “individuals” to sell their wares. We have the impression that all the other rare tourists travel in October in an organized fashion, and these groups are led directly to merchants chosen in advance by the local guides. This is all the more serious in low season. It can ruin a vacation, and the few people who do it leave a bad impression.
But it only takes a simple experiment to understand that a tiny minority of Moroccans are just like that: go shopping in the local souk hebdo, preferably at the greengrocer’s. They sell you fruit at the same price as their Moroccan “cousins”. They sell you fruit at the same price as their Moroccan “cousins”, so they don’t double or quintuple the price when we wouldn’t realize it as tourists. It’s the same in the little street restaurants that only sell soup (so for the poor), they’ll make you eat for 8 dirham (EUR 0.80) and that’s for two people.
The biggest problem is the rental car, as the “hotel agents”, carpet sellers, fossil sellers, date sellers and others know all about them. No Moroccan drives a white Fiat Palio. Even full of dust, you’re recognizable from 20 kilometers away against the light. The country is flat in places. In short, even when warned, we were treated to an uncounted number of aborted carpet and fossil sales, four visits to “desert merchants” in the middle of nowhere (Tasla, Zagora, Rissani, Tinerhir), a hotel (Rissani) and a restaurant (Rissani again) we didn’t want, a fake police officer (Merzouga), a fake parking lot (Marrakech), a fake supermarket (Agadir). A good place to “learn” how to deal with this problem is Tafraoute. It’s a small town, and in one evening you get to know the 3 tour operators, who are all nice and funny. But it’s not like that everywhere!
Rissani particularly excels in these three:
the fake car guards want to collect something when you return to the vehicle. It’s perfectly useless in Morocco, they won’t steal anything from you, so why have a car guard? If they offered to wash it, it would at least be worth discussing.
restaurants that sell omelettes and call it pizza.
wholesale carpet sellers are more harassing than elsewhere.
In short, you have to keep your eyes open here. This is particularly unfortunate after the good times we had at Lamdouar and the luxurious and inexpensive Baha Baha, which didn’t fit into our day’s schedule. We stay at the Hotel El Filalia for 100 dirhams a night for the two of us. It’s really not expensive. The room is simple and tidy, but the discussions in the middle of the night and the shower on (literally) the toilet are less so. The owners are a bit more of a rip-off when you ignore their other offers (the carpet deposit, excursions, etc.).
Most of the photos on this page are taken from the terrace overlooking the city. It’s on the fourth floor, and the building is one of the tallest in the city.
In front of the hotel is the unofficial bus station.
We usually have breakfast in the hotel and even in the cheap ones, this meal is pretty good: bread, jam and black coffee are always available, butter and milk less so.
Morning view. The square is empty, but it’s market day. You’d think the market would start early in the morning, but it doesn’t. From 11 a.m. onwards, the market fills up. It’s only from 11am onwards that the market fills up, as we can observe in all the towns we visit. Perhaps it’s more pronounced during Ramadan (which had just ended a few days earlier).
The market is largely covered and is located behind the minaret visible on the right in the photo below.
The Rissani ksar is the oldest in the region and is still in good condition. The municipality bears the name of the founder of the Alaouite dynasty (Moulay Ali Chérif), whose mausoleum is a cultural, religious and tourist attraction. Rissani is the ancient capital of Tafilalet. In the 13th century, it welcomed the ancestor of the Alawite dynasty from Saudi Arabia. A former major caravanning center, Rissani remains one of the region’s major commercial centers, with a large souk that is particularly lively on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Gold, ivory, slaves and salt, once imported from Mali, made up the bulk of the trade with Africa.
On this site, the debris of a destroyed house is being sorted. The old mud bricks (pisé) are salvaged and reused in the wall visible at top rightAlthough it’s hot in Morocco, public life doesn’t really get going until around 10am, and really picks up from 4pm onwards. Even the big weekly souks don’t really start until 11 a.m.
The photo below shows merchants bringing their wares with donkeys to the Sunday souk. On the left, a modern CTM bus.
These buses go to the weekly market in Rissani. It’s not uncommon to see such animal transports.
Before leaving, we take a tour of the market (no photos). It’s quite amusing to see, with so many different kinds of dates to buy. The “donkey parking lot”, described in our guidebook, is not really used to full capacity. One thing surprised us: the prices of fruit and vegetables. We bought two full bags and the price was only EUR1,-. We wouldn’t have realized if the shopkeeper had quintupled the price for us tourists. The same goes for small stores selling basic necessities or for the baker: they don’t add to the price. It’s the opposite of those who have direct contact with tourists.
Many towns in Morocco have this kind of gateway on their main access road. These arches are always decorated, and more often than not they constitute a perfect obstacle to traffic, even for pedestrians.
Leaving the town in the morning, we take the Circuit Touristique, which can be accessed from the western exit of Rissani. Several large Ksour are located in the large palm grove, often with sumptuous entrance gates.