Stars, Manuscripts and Green Pottery

Exhausted after our Sahara adventures, but utterly satisfied and happy, we left our Caravan-de-Rev crew and drove to meet our long missed ‘little Mr. Sunshine’ Mohammed in M’Hamid to head to our next destination. On the way we hit a bit of a sandstorm, which was kind of cool.

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We stopped at the riad called Sahara Sky, not too far from Tamegrout. Tamegrout is a village not too far from M’Hamid, in the valley of the Draa River. It has a history as an important center of learning and religion through its famous Sufi zawiya, historical center of the Nasiriyya Sufi order, one of the most influential – and at one time one of the largest – Sufi orders. Tamegroute library still contains many ancient manuscripts, some as old as 1063, with most being written between 11-15th century. There is a 14th-century Quran with beautiful calligraphy in Kufic script, writings of Avicenna (Ibn Sina), a translation of Pythagoras, treatises on theology, astronomy, geography and pharmacology. All books are handwritten and some are written on skins of gazelle. The library comes with an ancient man in a wheelchair, who speaks just enough English to explain you what books are all about, that’s about it. It’s such an amazing treasure for such tiny little town in the middle of nowhere… Now they have built a koranic school, adjoined to the library, where kids spent many years studying koran and becoming religious scholars.

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Even a menu in a local restaurant is written on a gazelle skin

Tamegrout is also famous for the type of pottery, particularly its greed glaze, which has infinite variations, thanks to the ancient techniques. The founders of the religious brotherhood Nasiriyya wanted to raise the status of the village of Tamegroute to that of a ‘Medina’, or a city. They assembled the merchants and craftsmen that they had brought from Fes. But even though Tamegrout is a small village again, there are still a lot of potters whose families has been doing pottery for many generations and it’s exported all over Morocco and the world.

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Glazed, ready to be fired

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Finished product

But the main reason we stayed in that particular hotel, is because of the stars. The hotel is built by a quirky German dude, who used to be an entrepreneur in the US and then advised king of Morocco on economic and business development, and now retired. He told us that he was always interested in astronomy and decided to build his own observatory as a hobby. And since he is a born entrepreneur, he also built a riad, so he can share his passion with others. The riad is literally in the middle on nowhere, in order to avoid light pollution. He has few serious telescopes and a professional astrologer on staff to educate those like us, who have never seen a telescope up close before (OK, we did. Once).

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We were worried about not being able to see anything, because the sky was clouded for an entire week which is very unusual for October in this area. Plus the moon was almost full and bright, so if we wanted to see anything, we had to catch it before the moonrise. So, right after dinner we went upstairs to the roof, where the astronomer, who is originally from Belgium, showed us some pretty cool things. We got to see Andromeda, the galaxy closest to ours, couple of nebulas — ring and dumbbell — and Mars, which was pretty far and it appeared as a tiny orange dot. But the coolest thing was the moon. By that time the clouds started to move in and hang pretty low, but there was a small gap between the clouds and the horizon. We could see the moon in that gap, and it was so amazingly clear and beautiful, you could see every crater, every line. And partially hidden by the clouds it even looked even more intriguing and demure. As it was rising it was moving so fast, you could literally see it rolling higher and higher behind the clouds with the speed of a mad roadster. It was magical.

In the morning we got to see the sun through the telescope too, which was pretty cool. Having a professional astronomer was an icing on a cake – it’s always so much fun to talk to someone who is so passionate about their job.

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