By the time caravans laden with gold and spices finally reached Skoura, the camels must have been gasping. After a two-month journey across the Sahara, blue-robed Tuareg desert traders off-loaded cargo from caravans in Skoura, where Middle Atlas mountaineers packed it onto mules headed to Fez.  Ouarzazate is now the region’s commercial center thirty-nine kilometers to the west, but Skoura’s historic mudbrick castles remain, and desert traders throng Monday and Thursday souqs (markets) brimming with intensely flavorful desert produce.  When market days are done and palm-tree shadows stretch across the road, no one seems in a hurry to leave.

Skoura’s defining features remain its mud-brick kasbahs and vast UNESCO-protected palmeraie (palm grove), earning the name “Oasis of 1000 Palms.”  Under this green canopy, a fifteen-mile patchwork of carefully tended garden plots are watered by an ingenious, centuries-old khettara system of locks, levers and canals.  More than one hundred bird species flourish here.  Morocco’s most coveted kasbah is the Amridil, a true seventeenth-century wonder that appears on Morocco’s 50-dirham note.  This living museum shows traditional life over the centuries, with hand-carved door locks, an olive-oil press, still-functioning bread ovens, and stalls where animals were once kept.

The Skoura Cultural Center, run by an enterprising NGO, showcases local ingenuity at its crafts center on the eastern edge of town.  Here Skoura residents sell items made with palm fronds, sustainably harvested without harming the trees.  For travellers who have admired Morocco’s majestic palmeraie, these sun hats, bread baskets, mats and glass-lined lanterns make meaningful mementos – and purchases support the center’s palm preservation efforts.

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