Morocco: Imilchil Marriage Festival

Morocco High Atlas, (photo by Ming Tang-Evans)
Morocco High Atlas

September witnesses one of the most famous Berber festivals in Morocco, the Imilchil Marriage Festival.

Imilchil, in the High Atlas, is a village wreathed in romantic myth and legend and is home to the Aït Haddidou, a tribe of semi-nomadic shepherds originating from Boumalne du Dadès in the 11th century. Every September this tribe meets to celebrate the feast day of Sidi Mohammed el Maghani, the patron saint of the Aït Haddidou, and also to remember the sad Romeo and Juliet-esque legend that inspired the festival.

The Imilchil legend

The story tells of two star-crossed lovers from rival tribes who were forbidden to see each other, let alone marry. Heartbroken, they drowned themselves in the nearby lakes of Tislit (the woman) and Isli (the man), which were formed from their tears. The families of both tribes later decided to establish a day every year on which men and women of different local tribes could meet and later marry each other.

The festival today

Today, dozens of potential brides, dressed in blue, white and red shawls, their cheeks rouged and their eyes lined with kohl, come to sing, dance, feast and flirt with their white-robed male counterparts. Meanwhile, families negotiate the dowry a marriage might produce. Engagements are made and recorded, though actual marriages – contrary to popular belief – do not happen during the festival.

It is a time of great celebration and, though private in the past, is opening up more to tourism each year, drawing hundreds of visitors and tribes from the whole area.

Where to stay and what to do in Imilchil

The best place to stay in Imilchil itself (the festival is held a few kilometres south of the town) is Chez Bassou (tel: 212-023-44 24 02), which also has a restaurant and mountain guides who can take you into the surrounding Atlas. There are a couple of basic cafés and restaurants in town, too. There are gentle river walks beside turreted buildings or longer strolls on piste tracks across kilometres of pasture between the lakes.

Nearby attractions

Recommended vantage points near Imilchil are Amalou N’Tiffirt (2,470 metres/8,100ft), which takes one hour to climb, and Bab N’Ouayyad (2,804 metres/9,200ft), which takes three hours. Summits here tend to be merely long hikes rather than more challenging ascents. Msedrid (3,077 metres/10,100ft) is probably the most frequented, and takes two days without a four-wheel-drive vehicle.


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