I passed through these ruins, not much of it left, on my way from Merzouga to Erfoud. The place was once an important trade town and harbors a rich history for the Gold trade. It... read more
Sijilmassa (pronounced see-jill-moss-uh), a national historic site...
Sijilmassa (pronounced see-jill-moss-uh), a national historic site recognized by Morocco's Ministry of Culture, was the fabled and ancient Berber capital of the Tafilalet Kingdom located at the northern edge of the Sahara desert that once rivaled Marrakech.
Founded in A.D. 757 on the banks overlooking the Oued Ziz, a river in the oasis region of the Sahara desert, Sijilmassa grew wealthy and powerful during the Middle Ages as a gold-trade-route city strategically located at the exit-point of the western Trans-Saharan caravan trade route -- which extended from the Niger River in the Sudan to Tangier in northern Morocco.
From the 10th to the 12th centuries Sijilmassa was the center of the Gold trade between Morocco and the Sudan, and its legendary glory owes much to this position. Even after its fall as a great commercial center and caravan endpoint, the region of Sijilmassa remained instrumental in the minting of gold brought from the Sudan.
Until the 10th century, control over the right to mint coins was held by the central government in the Orient as a means to control the vast expanses of the Arab world. Gold became a key resource in managing the growth of Arab and European economies in the North, and when confronted with the lack of it in their own territories, they started spinning myths about the abundance of gold south of the Sahara that greatly increased caravan commerce. As the flow of gold increased, the temptation to refine and mint it on the way, rather than at its final destination also increased. The minting of gold in Sijilmassa was one of the first acts of rebellion of the Fatimid dynasty, who originated from what is modern day Tunisia (Ifriqiya). In doing so, they directly opposed the ruling government in Baghdad.
Sudanese gold refined in Sijilmassa also made it to Europe, where it was minted into European coins. The identical quality and gold proportion between European and Moroccan coins attests to the importance of trade between these regions- and it seems that Europeans minted similar coins precisely to purchase Maghrebi luxury goods.
Sijilmassa was initially destroyed in 1363 and rebuilt by Sultan Moulay Isma'il, one of the first rulers (1672 - 1727) of the Alaouite dynasty that governs Morocco today. Ultimately, the city of Sijilmassa was conquered by Ait Atta nomads in 1818. The Roman ruins and Grand Mosque, which was last rebuilt in 1796 and serves as the central feature of this medieval town, are made of unbaked brick that require continual maintenance to preserve.
In 1996 Sijilmassa was included on the very first World Monuments Watch "List of 100 Most Endangered Sites", a list created to focus international attention on the cultural significance and threats to endangered locations worldwide, as well as to help raise the necessary funds for preservation. The Watch is a program of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting endangered works of art and architecture around the globe.