Morocco earthquake: Marrakesh residents lament loss of priceless heritage

Some of the popular destination's most famous heritage sites, including cultural landmarks recognised by Unesco, have been severely damaged

The Morocco earthquake has so far claimed the lives of more 2,000 people. But human souls are not the only casualties of the 6.8-magnitude quake that has disrupted the lives of as many as 300,000 people.

Historic sites of Morocco’s top tourist city of Marrakesh have also been among the losses.

Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids, Marrakesh, which was close to the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake, is home to several monuments dating from that period.

So far, several of these have suffered substantial damage, while others have been completely destroyed. There are concerns this damage will worsen as the city braces for aftershocks, the latest of which was on Sunday at a magnitude of 4.5.

In Jemaa El Fnaa Square, at the heart of the Old City, the Kharboush mosque’s minaret has collapsed. The authorities have cordoned off the scene, as the whole mosque is believed to be at risk of collapse.

The nearby Kutubiyya Mosque, which is a spiritual centre for locals that plays hosts to nearly 50,000 during Tarawih prayers after the evening prayers at Ramadan, appears whole from the outside. But several media reports have said that its 77-metre-high minaret, which is known as “Marrakesh’s roof,” have suffered substantial cracks.

Meanwhile, the Tinmel mosque, which is 100 kilometres south-east of Marrakesh and dates to the early 12th century, has been destroyed.

Dr Ismail Shaouf, the deputy chairman of Marrakesh’s provincial council, has told The National that parts of the city’s walls which enclose the historic districts of the city and separate them from modern ones have been destroyed.

“This is a great loss for heritage, world heritage and Marrakesh in particular,” Dr Shaouf said.

Morocco is home to nine world heritage sites, including the city of Marrakesh.

“Marrakesh is not only a place for beautiful architecture, it is a witness to Morocco’s rich history and culture. Today, we stand before the painful loss of historic treasures that stood proudly for centuries,” said Moroccan journalist Soufiane Ben Lazaar.

“We call upon local authorities with support from Unesco to work together to restore the affected historical sites,” Ben Lazaar said.

“It is a shock. Our identity is defined by these sites,” was the sentiment of one resident of Marrakesh spoken to by The National, a sentiment shared by many in the city of more than a million people.

Several also expressed their concern over the economic impact of the earthquake on their livelihoods.

“The damage sustained by historical sites is a grave tourism disaster that will deeply affect low- and middle-income families, who rely on tourism,” said Abd Al Wahid Hamdouchi, 60, who has been worked as a traditional shoe maker for four decades.

Tourism is an important sector of the Moroccan economy.

In 2019, it contributed 82.1 billion Moroccan dirhams (7.1 per cent of the total GDP), before taking a hit in 2020 from the coronavirus.

Morocco has been projecting a tourism recovery this year, with the government earmarking 6.1 billion dirhams ($580 million) up to 2026 to develop its tourism sector.

At the peak of its tourism activity in 2019, Marrakesh was the top destination for tourists in Morocco with over three million visitors.

“Before even knowing the number of human losses, just waking up to the city in this state and seeing how historic landmarks have turned into rubble made us deeply sad,” said architect Nour Bodanja.

This story is published in collaboration with Egab

Updated: September 10, 2023, 2:37 PM