"The History of Telouet"

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The history of the once resplendent Glaoui Kasbah, is both short and bloody. In 1893 – long before the Kasbah itself was built - the army of the Moroccan Sultan Moulay Hassan, was tracking back across the Atlas Mountains after a disruptive tax-collecting mission amongst the hostile tribes of the Sahara. Half-frozen by the weather and on the point of collapse the men unwittingly found themselves at the mercy of the infamous Glaoui, the wild clan who claimed exclusive territorial rights over the Tizi-n-tichka pass and the road back to Marrakech

But the Glauoi had other plans. Led by two scheming brothers, T'hami and Madani, the errant warriors saw an opportunity too good to miss. Rather than looting and dismembering the Sultan's ailing army, as had previously been their custom, they offered out the olive branch of food, shelter and safe passage. The skulduggery worked. The dilapidated army was wined, dined and entertained to their heart’s content. And, in exchange for the brother's "generosity", the aged and dying Sultan rather foolishly left them with a parting gift: a state-of-the-art British cannon.

It was a costly mistake. The Glaoui - who had previously been more attuned to decapitating their enemies had never seen a cannon before. They promptly went off and blew a hole in every Kasbah between Telouet and Timbuktu. A monster had been unleashed.
T'hami was a very powerful man, very evil man. There is a rags to riches tale of heads on spikes in Marrakech interplayed with the weekends spent hobnobbing with European royalty. The hundreds of slaves who were crammed into the dungeons of Telouet castle whilst Hollywood actors (Edward G Robinson was T'hami's brother-in-law) and French diplomats sipped champagne upstairs.

For the Glaoui, the cannon was merely the spark that lit the powder keg. With the arrival of the French in 1912 the two ambitious brothers, inspired somewhat by the disruptive power of their hidden weapon, decided to take things a stage further. The new French administrators were duped as quickly as the old. The Glaoui were supplied with arms and money and, in return for promises to "pacify the southern tribes", the brothers were given free rein to do pretty much as they pleased in the territories south of Marrakech.

And they did just that. Over the next 40 years T'hami el-Glaoui ruled the land between the Atlas and the Sahara as his own personal fiefdom and out-shone even the Sultan himself. Famous for his lavish parties which he hosted at the opulent Kasbah that he had proceeded to build for himself at Telouet - he became skilfully adept at toasting celebrities with one hand whilst he raped, pillaged and murdered with the other. In polite circles he became the talk of Paris an engaging maverick who had bribed his way onto the celebrity A-list. Amongst the anarchic and short-changed tribes of the Atlas, meanwhile, he remained reviled and feared.

He was regarded as a traitor too!! He stole from the people so he could live like a king. He was worse than the French." Moroccans today are notoriously cynical about the Glaoui myth and its burgeoning value as a tourist draw card. And this in part helps to explain the rapid and unchecked disintegration of the Kasbah itself. It's difficult to blame them, although such a crime against the preservation of beautiful architecture. T'hami's nemesis finally came in 1956. Abandoned by the retreating French and branded a traitor by the nationalists, he died a broken man a few months after the declaration of independence. The lynch mobs of Marrakech had arrived a shade too late. For many it seemed as if real justice would never be done.


Adapted from a piece written by Brendon Sainsbury