Ait Mansour Gorge and the painted blue rocks

Ait Mansour Gorge, near Tafraoute, Morocco
The peaceful and cool oasis in the Ait Mansour Gorge

Blue Painted Rocks, Tafraoute

I have a real problem with ‘modern art’. Whether it is dissected cows or gutted grand pianos on show in the Tate, or disturbing graffiti and political murals on the sides of derelict buildings and railway sidings, it really is all nonsense. What would Monet or da Vinci have thought of all these pretenders? So when I heard about the famous blue painted rocks at Agard-Oudada, just a few miles out of Tafraoute, I didn’t particularly want to visit.

Was it art, or was it vandalism?

I thought I ought to at least see the rocks for myself so I could earn the right to an opinion. We were staying at the delightful Auberge Chez Amaliya in the Ameln Valley and decided to spend an afternoon visiting the rocks a few kilometres away, and also the Ait Mansour Gorge, which was only half an hour (30 kms) from Tafraoute.

I asked our Wild Morocco guide Salah about the background to the blue monstrosities, and what date they were first painted. As he didn’t know the answers to all my questions, Salah was immediately on the phone to a friend, and within minutes I had the whole potted history! Now that’s what I call service.

The Blue Painted Rocks near Tafraoute, Morocco

Our Wild Morocco guide Salah at the Blue Painted Rocks near Tafraoute

The rocks in question were first painted in 1984 by Belgian artist Jean Verame as a tribute to his late wife. He had a little help from a team of firemen and their hoses – 18 tonnes was a lot of paint! The area did have a restful aura, and I can understand why Verame chose it for his work, yet I just can’t reconcile these blue blots on a previously beautiful and natural landscape, with art. Today the paint is faded and now some of the rocks even sport some more modern-day graffiti.

The Blue Painted Rocks near Tafraoute, Morocco

Is this art on top of art? Or just vandalism all round… at the ‘blue’ painted rocks near Tafraoute

Personally I think nature is imaginative enough all by itself, and should be left alone, not ruined by so-called ‘artists’. Definitely not my cup of tea.

Lizard at the Blue Painted Rocks near Tafraoute, Morocco

We interrupted a lizard basking in the sun at the Blue painted rocks.

Ait Mansour Gorge

For something rather more scenic and natural we headed off to explore the rock canyons and cool oasis of the Ait Mansour Gorge, a little further away from Tafraoute in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. It really is a world away from Marrakech down here. We passed just one vehicle all afternoon, the preferred mode of transport being the humble donkey whose braying echoed around the valley, the sound bouncing off the rocks creating an illusion of a whole host of the animals.

Ait Mansour Gorge, near Tafraoute, Morocco

The jaws of the Ait Mansour Gorge

It was a fun drive, and the scenery improved with elevation as we meandered our way up through the rocky canyon, which stretches for an impressive 17 kms in length.

Ait Mansour Gorge, near Tafraoute, Morocco

The rocky river bed of the Ait Mansour Gorge

Descending into the oasis hugging the valley bottom of Ait Mansour was something akin to entering a different world. The intense heat of the barren mountain landscape was replaced by cool shade beneath swaying date palms, the valley awash with pink flowers and little water irrigation channels feeding the plantations. The only sound was the trickling water, the occasional splash of a fish in the river, and the swallows nesting up on the cliff face.

Ait Mansour Gorge, near Tafraoute, Morocco

At the Ait Mansour Gorge, near Tafraoute

Salah drove along the length of the gorge, the dramatic orange-pink cliffs with their granaries and old watch towers looming far above us. Lower down, there were several tiny villages nestled amongst the groves, the inhabitants subsisting on date palm cultivation and agriculture, with the occasional little guest house for weary travellers wanting to spend a few days hiding from the rest of the world.

We were dropped off at the far end of the valley so we could walk back along the river through the oasis, and enjoy the breeze and tranquility by ourselves.

We had just a donkey and a dragonfly for company. It was perfect.

Ait Mansour Gorge, near Tafraoute, Morocco

Date palms in the Ait Mansour Gorge oasis

Tips:

  • It takes half a day to visit the rocks and the gorge, and can easily be fitted into a day with a morning walk in the Ameln Valley.
  • This route can be done without a 4×4, although the 5 minute drive on a dirt track from the main road at Agard-Oudada to reach the blue rocks will probably ruin your suspension…but you can always walk from the tarmac instead, which will take about 20 minutes.
  • There is no shade at the blue rocks so take plenty of water if you intend to linger.
  • For a longer day you can continue past Ait Mansour gorge and loop back through a couple of smaller gorges, but the road further on from Ait Mansour does require a 4×4.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Wild Morocco for our complimentary tour. All words, images and opinions, as always, remain my own.

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Exploring the Ait Mansour Gorge near Tafraoute, Morocco

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