The historic Kasbah transformed into Hotel Tomboctou

The building transformed now into Hotel Tomboctou is a real soil Kasbah, built in 1944 by Sheikh Bassou Ou Ali, the first dweller of Tinghir who dared to leave the Ksar Ait Barra with his family and settled near the palm-grove and the path communicating the souk to the track of Ouarzazate. This mud Kasbah had two floors and was surrounded by an enclosure wall that also included several annexed buildings, like stables, a garden, Meshui ovens and a Riad for accommodating guests.

The objective of the master not being more the defense, as in ancient Kasbahs, but the reception of guests, the prestige and the representation, this building was giving a luxurious and modern sight for its time. A central enough large patio, besides of three meters on three, was being surrounded of pillars and of arcades in plaster preceding covered galleries and large rooms.

On the ground floor, these rooms were reserved for women, as other parts were used to store food. Upstairs was a long room for receiving guests —because the sheikh had a significant political activity—, and another of similar dimensions to the people. There was also a room where they kept teapots, silver trays, glassware imported from Europe and other valuable materials; only the master of the house had its key.

On the terrace, in the four rounds, four small rooms were used for unmarried young of the family. The servants, on his part, lived and labored in an annex attached to the Kasbah from the south, which also included the kitchen and its own patio surrounded by galleries, but without arcades.

The inside walls were plastered and false ceilings of the same material covered on the first floor roof of reeds. Outside finish remained traditional, clay and straw, but it was protected by green tiles made in the pottery of El Hart. The wrought iron windows were quite large, up to 70 x 100 cm. in the first floor. Room pine wood doors were of a clearly city style.

Before and after the independence of Morocco, the Kasbah has experienced glorious days. One still remember the days when they had reached forty sheep slaughtered in a single day to make Meshuis, so important was the number of guests.

In 1966, Rom Landau wrote: «For my first expedition on the following morning, the Supercaid himself joined me. For reasons of etiquette, he had selected the Kasbah of Sheikh Bassou, one of the wealthiest men of the district. His Kasbah was quite new, built in 1944, and I soon discovered that it differed greatly from the Kasbahs of Skoura. Though the entrance gate was relatively low it looked impressive, for the door was covered with metal, painted snow-white, in striking contrast to the light brown of the walls surrounding it. Beyond the Kasbah gate, we found ourselves in a formal, square-shaped courtyard. The Kasbah building itself was square, symmetrical and formal in design, suggesting a Ksar rather than a Kasbah.

«It was interesting to see this modern interpretation, but I had not intended to include many very recent structures in my survey. However, there were some structural features worth looking at. The Kasbahs further west, usually of much greater age, showed signs of dilapidation, bore evidence of successive additions, and in consequence had lost their original symmetry, though not necessary their formality. Sheikh Bassou Kasbah had none of the zigzagging alley-ways, diminutive courtyards, mysterious little entrances, and steep stairways disappearing in utter darkness, that characterized so many of these western Kasbahs. The building material was pisé; however, the walls were reinforced with the trunks of date palms, and the ceilings, too, were made of palm wood. The rooms gave onto an inner patio in typical Moorish tradition.

«Sheikh Bassou led us up the staircase to a first floor room probably reserved for the entertainment of guests. To my surprise I found that it was furnished with a sofa, a carpet, several tables and table lamps and other comforts quite exceptional in my experience of Kasbahs. Our host himself, a thickset elderly man, no longer worked on his land, but employed four laborers mainly for the cultivation of olives and dates. He paid them no money, just one fifth of the harvest and three meals daily: for breakfast mint tea and bread, for lunch meat, vegetables and bread, and for supper couscous. When I asked what was the purpose of the grimly defensive towers of his Kasbah, hardly essential in the mid-twentieth century, he admitted that they had been erected for pure decorative purposes, and with the object of keeping within the established tradition. Even the ramparts that enclosed his domain were there because they were «traditionally» correct.

«Though we had reached his Kasbah immediately after our own breakfast, Sheikh Bassou insisted that we share some of his mint tea, oven hot bread, butter and honey. The atmosphere of the place, the cleanliness and order were more like those of a well-found home of northern cities; the average Kasbah of the south is uncared for, grimed with dust and rubble, and as often as not quite primitive in conception».

The Sheikh Bassou lived in his Kasbah until 1978, then he left it for a new concrete house he had built near it and where he died in 1993.

This year began restoration work of the Kasbah, led by the Spanish writer Roger Mimó after praising among all its heirs. The objective was to transform the old housing in tourist accommodation.

The luxury character of the building permit to make an establishment of a high enough level. The big rooms were halved and all bedrooms equipped with bathrooms. This constituted an innovation in soil architecture and an example to follow by other owners of Kasbahs in the region.

Apart this, the original structure and materials were absolutely respected: soil mixed with straw for plaster, beams of palm wood, reed eaves, etc.. But the floor of the terrace was covered with a layer of lime and sand to improve sealing.

The success of this experience has encouraged other investors to restore and transform several Kasbahs in the region in tourist accommodations.