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Kasbah Taourirt: Conserving Earthen Heritage in Morocco

The Getty Conservation Institute and CERKAS teamed up to save Kasbah Taourirt, a historic earthen site in Morocco. They developed a preservation plan, trained local professionals, and used traditional building techniques. This successful model can now help protect similar sites in the region.

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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] Over the last two decades, as part of its Earthen Architecture Initiative, the Getty Conservation Institute has worked around the world to preserve historic earthen sites. One of those sites is Kasbah Taourirt. Kasbah Taourirt is one of thousands of fortified earthen complexes and villages, known as kasbahs and ksour, found in southern Morocco. Unfortunately, these important and fragile sites are threatened by abandonment and are being lost. The kasbah is located in the city of Ouarzazate, which historically was at the intersection of trans-Saharan trade routes. The earliest parts of the kasbah date from the 17th century. Most of the complex was constructed in the late 19th century by Si Hammadi el Glaoui, ruler of Taourirt and part of the powerful Glauoi family, who controlled all of southern Morocco. Si Hammadi expanded the kasbah from a small group of buildings into a large defensive palace. It included stables, servants' quarters, workshops, a market, wells and baths, and residences for his wives and children. His private apartment was richly decorated. Wrought iron windows and intricate traditional designs adorned the exterior. Although the kasbah was designated a Moroccan national landmark in 1954, it suffered gradual deterioration over the years and was mostly abandoned until the 1990s. Currently, it is under the protection of CERKAS. [SPEAKING FRENCH] In 2011, the Getty Conservation Institute and CERKAS partnered to develop a methodology for preserving Kasbah Taourirt. The main objective of the partnership is in collaboration with CERKAS, a government organization, to design a comprehensive methodology for the rehabilitation of the Kasbah Taourirt that could serve as model for similar sites around southern Morocco. In the past five years, we have developed a plan and trained CERKAS personnel in each of the plan activities. That way, we assure a properly developed rehabilitation plan for other sites around this region. The project produced a conservation and rehabilitation plan for the site that respects the original structures, preserves local building traditions, promotes earthen architecture, and trains local professionals. The first part of the project included the documentation of the entire complex. Working with Carleton University's Immersive Media Studio, the GCI and CERKAS carried out a comprehensive survey of the various sections of the kasbah. [MUSIC PLAYING] Archival and oral history research was also conducted to understand the use of the site over time. The team developed models showing this evolution. [MUSIC PLAYING] The second phase encompassed the development of the conservation and rehabilitation plan, followed by conservation treatment. From the 1970s until 2010, many buildings were heavily altered through the demolition of historic walls and features and by the construction of new elements. Documentation and research helped to identify the original form and design of the buildings. The project team also worked with the community to develop priorities for the kasbah's reuse and to pinpoint features that should be preserved in the site's rehabilitation. Structures in the kasbah are now being stabilized and restored using traditional earthen construction and conservation techniques. This work includes reversing inappropriate alterations and re-establishing the traditional layout and form of the buildings. A workshop was established onsite to prepare earthen materials. Local materials from the Ouarzazate area are being used and skilled craftsmen are training laborers in traditional building crafts and techniques. Restoration work is addressing the problems of greatest priority. These include replacing damaged roofs, repairing structural cracks and damaged walls, and eliminating moisture problems and erosion. Wall paintings conservators are also working inside the richly decorated Caid Residence to preserve and protect important wall paintings. With Carleton University, conservators documented and assessed each painted surface to identify areas of deterioration. Treatments are being carried out to stabilize the paintings. The final phase of the project includes publication of the plan and dissemination of information about the site to local authorities, scholars, and the community. During the project, training was provided in documentation, rehabilitation planning, and analysis of earthen materials, and conservation of wall paintings. With the publication of the plan and completion of the conservation work, the rehabilitation of Kasbah Taourirt can serve as a model for conservation of similar earthen sites in the region. [MUSIC AND SINGING]