Fes, Morocco

Landscape and Nature in Regions of Morocco

Introduction for Landscape and Nature in Regions of Morocco

Morocco is a country of some 446,550 square kilometers with a combined Mediterranean and Atlantic coastline about 1,835 km long. In shape and size it is not unlike California, only somewhat larger.

In the north its diagonal width can be as much as 1,809 km, while in the south it is around 525 km. This vast area includes an enormous variety of landscapes, made up of at least four distinct mountain ranges. From north to south: The Rif along the Mediterranean, The Middle Atlas stretching diagonally from Kenifra to Taza, the High Atlas starting east of Agadir and stretching all the way to Mount Ayachi near Midelt, and finally the Anti-Atlas range starting near Tiznit and stretching northeast to near Zagora.

As for the borders with Algeria to the east, the land is lush from the sea until one goes south of Oujda where Hamada and, eventually, desert take over. Two Ergs: Chebbi and Chigaga dominate the Algerian desert border areas with a more intensely stark Hamada characterizing border areas along the southern Western Sahara.

Morocco is blessed with an abundance of natural water sources, all of which it has learned to put to good use. Starting during the French colonial period around 1920, Morocco began building reservoirs to contain and use the melt water from the snowy mountains, as well as from the torrential rainstorms that occur mostly during the January-April period. There are now approximately 128 such reservoirs of varying sizes supplying fresh water for human consumption, irrigation for agriculture, and fish populations for food.

In addition to melt water and abundant winter rain sources, Morocco has a substantial number of rivers, many of which originate from giant aquifers.

April and May, when the country is lush and filled with wild flowers and their pollinators, the bees and butterflies, are the best months for the kind of photography I love doing. Beginning in June everything starts to heat up and dry out, transforming a green landscape into a largely yellow-brown one. It remains very hot and dry until mid-October or early November when days shorten, temperatures go down, and the first rainstorms begin. By mid December the colour of the land is back on the green side, and by January spring bulb flowers are in bloom.

Most of my work is done while exploring the back roads of Morocco on a 50cc motor scooter. Over the past 6 years I have become quite familiar with the northern parts of the country, Kenifra and Midelt being the southern borders of these intimate explorations. My other photographs date from visits made between 1985 and 2005, the year I bought the house now named Dar Balmira. In future I need to go further and further away from the Fes Region to continue my work.


The Themes Emerge

By simply spending time exploring the back country of Morocco, certain themes surface for the photographer by virtue of their repeated variations. Foremost, Morocco is primarily an agricultural country struggling to feed its own population as well as export a growing list of fruits and vegetables (including the ubiquitous mandarin, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes). Natural spaces are gradually being squeezed out as efforts to cultivate land become ever more intense. One amazing aspect of this country’s farming is that much of it is still being done by humans working with their hands and their beasts of burden, mainly the donkey.

The sheer vastness of cultivated fields is often a moving sight to behold, with alternating expanses of wheat, fava beans, and chick peas among many other vegetables, all in a patchwork that rises and falls over undulating hills or suddenly ends when the cultivated land falls away into a deep eroded gully.

Moroccans can be a very superstitious lot; when it comes to photography it’s often not easy to take either portraits or close ups of people going about their daily chores without someone objecting or turning their back to the camera. Some of this is solved by the telephoto lens, some by offering a bit of money.

The mountainous regions offer the sort of vistas that mountains all over the world do.  The difference here is that except for Toubkal National Park, which has been on the radars of hikers and climbers for several decades, the rest of the mountains see few visitors from outside the country. Ironically, this may be truer for the Rif and the magical Beni Snassen ranges, both of which lie closest to the Mediterranean, and therefore Europe itself. Most guidebooks to Morocco actually suggest avoiding the Rif, a region best known for Cannabis cultivation.

Not only do these mountain ranges have their individual characters, but within larger ranges, the topography can morph into dozens of completely different environments, all with their special beauty and unique plant and animal species.

During decades of travel I have felt the spell of nature many times, usually in places seldom visited by foreigners, or even the locals themselves. I can testify that most of the places in Morocco where I have sensed the magic that comes from the harmony of nature (which includes people but not in vast numbers), I have never seen another foreigner, except perhaps in a rental car going quickly between points on the well beaten tourist trail.

I look forward to being able to spend more time in the many regions of Morocco I know little of. This includes the deep south, the entire Atlantic coast, all desert areas bordering on Algeria, the Sous River valley, and the two mountain ranges I know least of all, the High and Anti-Atlas. All in all, I hope my photographic work will give the viewer a deeper sense of Morocco beyond the usual handful of tourist destinations.

Jearld Moldenhauer


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