The city of Sijilmassa, gateway to the desert and one of the first settlements of Islamic Morocco, was for centuries an important trans-Saharan trading station, and a fascinating town that has made many historians and archaeologists of various backgrounds write about it.

Sijilmassa was an important stopover for trans-Saharan trade during its glory. It had numerous kasbahs: the main one housed the emir’s residence, the big mosque, a massive trade market, and a mint for producing coins.

Buried under the ground, only a few ruins of this great city exist today. However, its spirit, culture, and tradition will live on in the memory of Tafilalet and Maghrib Al Aqsa.

The Advanced City

In 757–58 the Zenet tribe of Meknassa, under the rule of Abu al-Kassim Samgou Ibn Wassolo Miknassi called Midrar Ben Abdellah, established Sijilmassa and its Kharijite State in the left bank of Oued Ziz. The city afterward attracted people of the surrounding area and and grew through time into a political capital and a flourishing intersection of traders from many areas. Concerned by the increasing regional powers of that era, such as Kairouan’s authority under the Abbasid caliphate, the Almoravids finally seized Sijilmassa in 1055, putting an end to his emirate, and thus controlling the famous gold road of Bilad Soudan. Due to the golden quality of the Almoravid dinar, it was the most wanted coin on both shores of the Mediterranean.

The city, which was created before Baghdad and was the capital of the Abbasids (706), alongside Fez, the capital of the Idrissids (808), would lose influence over the centuries due to the region’s political instability and the development of sea lanes and new roads. Although it has surrendered by the end of the 14th century, its monuments were destroyed, and its inhabitants were dispersed from the ksours, the region was still used as a point of departure for Morocco’s reunification in the modern era under the Alawite sheriffs, particularly under the leadership of Sultan Moulay Rachid (1664-1672), and that after a long period of anarchy.

A mysterious archeological site

The Sijilmassa site extends between Rissani city and Oued Ziz over a hundred hectares. Sijilmassa has been rebuilt multiple times throughout the centuries, which has left the fallen remants of mud walls. Since 1973, several archaeological studies have attempted to explain the secrets that surround this yet splendid, but enigmatic past.

The site is open to visitors, and the High Royal Instructions have launched a program for the protection and improvement of its archeological and historical heritage.

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Did you know?

At its peak, the city of Sijilmassa was an international trading town. This is confirmed by the great explorer Ibn Battuta, who claims to have met Sijilmassians during his voyage to Mongolian Yuan in China. In the story of his Rihla, he devoted an entire chapter to this city.

Ibn Battûta has spent some time in Sijilmass during his voyage to Bilad Sudan in 1352, which he described as metropolitan radiation. He also emphasizes its resemblance to Basra, the Iraqi city, notably in terms of dates’ quantity, while underlining that Sijilmassa’s are much better. He continues his journey to Timbuktu in 1353 with a multinational commercial caravan.

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