Trekking Through History: Discovering Ancient Berber Culture & Traditions

10/06/2024

As you travel through Morocco, you’ll find its coastlines, mountains and desert regions all populated by nomadic and indigenous people, referred to as Berbers. Berber culture dates back centuries, and their presence still remains in Morocco, Algeria, Libya and other parts of North Africa. However, the Berber people are usually divided into groups based on ethnicity and language. Having populated the Maghreb region of North Africa since 10,000 BC, there is plenty of history to explore.

We explore some of the cultural highlights you can discover on a tour of the Berber heartlands.

A mixture of traditions

Berber tribes are not typically linked together, meaning many of them have developed their own unique traditions. Crafts have been big in Berber culture for centuries, including weaving, pottery and jewellery making. These traditional crafts still form a big part of Morocco’s economy today, as tourists and locals alike flock to medinas and marketplaces to purchase them.

Music is also part of Berber culture, with many traditional instruments still in use today. The bendir, for example, is a frame drum used in celebrations alongside the enchanting melodies of the imzad, a single-stringed instrument not unlike a violin.

Ultimately, the Berbers live a simple life, but they have maintained many of their traditions to this day.

Various types of lamps for sale at a Moroccan marketplace.
Various types of lamps for sale at a Moroccan marketplace.

Bhalil Village

Found about 6km from Sefrou, you’ll come across the quaint village of Bhalil. The area is largely untouched, with few travellers reaching the village. You’ll be able to check out plenty of traditional Berber culture in Bhalil, from the unique cave houses.

Bhalil also offers another cultural highlight, as it is known for the production of Djellaba buttons. Women learn this craft from a young age, and it requires an incredible amount of skill to use a simple needle to knot sabra into beautiful button designs.

Boumalne Dades

When you visit the Dades Valley in Morocco’s Tinghur Province, you’ll be treated to so much traditional Berber culture. Boumalne Dades is a village located around 1500m above sea level, known for its terracotta buildings, imposing red cliffs, palm oases and eye-catching wildflowers.

While beautiful and scenic, it’s the culture on display in Boumalne Dades that forms the truly educational part of your journey. You can explore ancient forts, palaces, otherworldly scenery and adobe architecture. With art and music all around, you’ll learn a lot about the Berber way of life in Boumalne Dades.

Ait Benhadou

As you travel through a region known as The Road of One Thousand Kasbahs, you’ll find one of the highlights: Ait Benhadou. This is one of Morocco’s most well-known sites, especially since it has been used in multiple movies and TV shows over the years, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Game of Thrones.

The Kasbah of Ait Benhadou has been mostly unchanged since the 11th century and is known as one of the more picturesque ancient buildings in the country. The surrounding fortified village is a great example of traditional clay architecture.

Ait Benhadou is located along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.
Ait Benhadou is located along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.

Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech

Marrakech is one of the biggest cities in Morocco and is steeped in Berber culture. Strolling through narrow alleyways, you’ll encounter snake charmers, dancers, acrobats and much more. The city truly is bustling, but the ‘Red City’ also offers one of the busiest marketplaces in the world.

Djemaa el Fna is a square in Morocco, featuring a traditional Berber market. Here, you can explore the very best of Berber craftsmanship, and enjoy some of the finest Moroccan cuisine.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountain range separates the Sahara Desert from the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, crossing through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The ranges are mostly inhabited by Berber communities, representing an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in history and tradition.

Throughout the Atlas Mountains, you’ll be treated to spectacular views, lush landscapes and historic villages. For example, our Morocco tours take you to the village of Ourika, where you can learn about local cuisine and enjoy lunch with locals. Hike a little further to around and you’ll get a breathtaking view of the High Atlas Mountains, standing around 1900m above sea level.

The Atlas Mountains stand around 1900m above sea level.
The Atlas Mountains stand around 1900m above sea level.

Ready to discover Berber culture?

If you’re keen on travel experiences that offer more than the usual tourist attractions, Crooked Compass is your guide! We offer Morocco tours that take you deep into the Berber heartland. These immersive experiences allow you to meet the Berber people, learn about their culture and traditions, and explore a country like no other. Crooked Compass prides itself on delivering life-changing travel experiences with qualified local guides who show the best of the world’s unexplored regions. Contact Crooked Compass today to organise your next adventure.