FESTIVALS & EVENTS IN MOROCCO

Moussems (festivals) that honour marabouts (local saints) pepper the Moroccan calendar. Although some are no more than an unusually lively market day, others have taken on regional and even national importance. These festivals are common among the Berbers and are usually held during the summer months.
Moussems exist on the frontier where Islamic orthodoxy and local custom have met and compromised. Although the veneration of saints is frowned upon by more orthodox Sunni Muslims, these festivals take their inspiration from a mix of pre-Islamic Berber tradition and Sufi mystic thought. Some of the more excessive manifestations, such as self-mutilation while in an ecstatic trance, were once a common sight at such gatherings. Today they have all but disappeared in the face of official disapproval of such Ďbarbarismí.
Itís worth making enquiries at tourist offices to determine when moussems and other such festivals are due to happen. Some of the most important festivals and events, in chronological order, are as follows.

February

Almond Blossom Festival

A very pretty festival held in late February to early March in the Ameln Valley near Tafraoute when the valley is awash with blossom .

March/April Marathon des Sables (www.saharamarathon.co.uk)

A six-day foot race 243km across the desert, held in March or April. It starts and finishes in Ouarzazate.

Nomad Festival

A celebration of nomadic culture in MíHamid every March or April, with street performances, food, crafts and camel trips .

Moussem of Sidi Abdallah ibn Hassoun

A procession of huge wax candle lanterns, carried by local brotherhoods to the Grand Mosque amid music and dancing. Held on the eve of Mouloud, the Prophetís birthday.

Festival of Sufi Culture

A spin-off from the Sacred Music Festival, this new Fez outing has concerts, workshops and cultural exchanges.

May/June

Rose Festival

A colourful local festival celebrating the huge harvest of Persian roses in the valley around Kela‚ MíGouna, close to Ouarzazate. Dancers are showered with rose petals and children sell fragrant garlands at the roadside. Usually held in May .

Festival du Desert (www.festivaldudesert.ma)

A celebration of music and dance held in May between Er-Rachidia, Merzouga and Rissani, with musicians from all across the Sahara.

Gnaoua and World Music Festival (www.festival -gnaoua.co.ma)

A passionate celebration held in Essaouira on the third weekend of June, with concerts featuring international, national and local performers, and art exhibitions.

Moussem of Sidi Mohammed Ma al-Ainin

Held at Tan Tan, in late May or early June, this is an occasion where you may see Tuareg nomads from the Sahara; it also acts as a commercial gathering for tribes people.

Moussem of Ben AÔssa

Held at MeknŤsí Koubba of Sidi ben AÔssa; one of the countryís largest moussems, full of medieval pageantry with illusionists and daredevil horsemen.

Festival of World Sacred Music

A huge nine-day festival in Fez with great (and deserved) international attention. Concerts are held at the Dar Batha Museum, Grand Mechouar and Volubilis.

Cherry Festival

Sefrouís annual festival held in early June lasting three days with lots of folk music and dancing. Culminates in the picturesque crowning of the Cherry Queen.

July

Festival International de Rabat

Features musicians from all over Africa as well as some traditional theatre. The festival is also the venue for an annual film festival.

Moussem of Sidi Bousselham

Held in Moulay Bousselham near Larache, this is another large-scale moussem commemorating the local saint, in a beautiful location overlooking the sea.

Festival of Casablanca

City festival focusing on street theatre, music and cinema.

Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival (www.maghrebarts .ma, in French)

A hugely colourful festival held in Marrakesh,celebrating Berber music and dance, and attracting performers from all over the country.

Moussem & Camel Market

A large camel-traders fair that brings Goulmime to life; it is as much a trade event as a religious get-together.

International Cultural Festival

An arts festival held in Assilah celebrating contemporary art with public art demonstrations and workshops (some for children), and other theatrical and musical performances.

Timitar

Agadirís annual day in the musical sun, with Moroccan and international performers.

August

Moussem of Moulay Abdallah

Held south of El-Jadida in the small village of Sidi Bouzid, this huge festival is a full-on fantasia with people gathering from all the surrounding villages.

Moussem of Sidi Ahmed

Held in Tiznit, this largely religious celebration sees devotees dedicating themselves to pilgrimage and prayer. September/October

Marriage Festival

A famous three-day festival held in late September at Imilchil, where thousands of people gather for the serious business of wedlock: women at this festival get to choose prospective husbands.

Moussem of Moulay Idriss II

The largest city moussem in holy Fez, held in late September or early October, when thousands gather to watch the processions to the saintís tomb.

International Film Festival (www.festival-marrakech .com)

A weeklong festival held in September or October that showcases Arab and African cinema, as well as films from elsewhere.

Date Festival

Held in Erfoud late in October to celebrate the date harvest, the lifeblood of the oases villages. Lots of music and dancing bring this corner of the desert to life.
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