Taza and Gouffre du Friouato
During the reigning era of the Almohad and Merenid dynasties, Taza was the capital of Morocco. Because of its key location directly in between the Rif Mountains and the Middle Atlas, those who controlled this city, also controlled the trade going on in between them. The area in between the two mountains is known as the Taza Gap and was pinpointed and captured by none other than Moulay Idriss before he headed through Fez and resided in his fortress in Meknes.
However, these dynasties never fortified it quite enough it seems. They all had the same plan of using it as a defensive post that would filter out attacks headed directly for Fez through the aforementioned Taza Gap. But, the local Berber tribes were always willing to attack the city and help whoever was coming through on their way to Fez. The Berbers were so fierce, in fact, that they finally took over the city and defended it from the mid-1800s until around the French occupation in 1914.
The Taza of present isn’t so highly guarded or even regarded. The town has a relaxing feel and is easy enough to explore. The market is known as a great stopover point for those entering Morocco through the farthest eastern Spanish enclave in the North, Melilla. It is also a good point to pick up any supplies you might need before heading into the highly worthwhile national park called Djebel Tazzeka. With your own car or via walking about the countryside following a map, travelers enjoy the waterfalls, expansive caves, and gorges that are often overshadowed by the much grander Todra Gorge and Dades Gorge in the south.
In the town of Taza, the medina is worth some exploration. The Andalous Mosque is one marker that can’t be missed due to its sheer size in comparison to the rest of the medina’s structures. Just behind the mosque is the Palais Bou Hamra, an interesting historical figure in Morocco’s history who claimed the thrown of the area in the early 1900s and had thousands of followers. Books have been written about his reign and his amazing miracles and feats that often involved strange rituals such as talking to the dead.
Before skipping over the Taza area on your way to Nador, Tetouan, Al Hocima, Fez, or to the east as far as Oujda, attempt the Djebel Tazzeka Circuit which combines views of canyons, waterfalls, and of course a glimpse into the Gouffre du Friouato, or the Friouato Cave. The pass is best viewed in the later fall or springtime when the stunning greenery is present and the waterfalls have more than a tiny stream. However, the Friouato Cave is best experienced when the weather is dry. It is by far one of the best reasons to stop, put on your oldest, dirtiest, but warm clothes, break out the headlamp and extra batteries, and to go exploring in what has been called the largest and deepest cave in all of North Africa. One story suggests that a group of German spelunkers came and explored the cave, mapping out what sections they could find. After a few days, they couldn’t find an ending, but did find an underground river. If you are a little nervous, you can ask for a guide who might charge upwards near 100 dirhams per person. While this might seem steep, he’ll be able to help guide you to some of the caves hidden sections, supposedly even one area where a canyon drops down hundreds deeper into the earth. The massive opening and somewhat decrepit stairways help get your mind ready for the adventure.
Overall, Taza is worth an afternoon stopover. The surrounding hills and trees that make up the Djebel Tazzeka Park provide refreshing air and scenery. Exploring the caves of the area can take an entire afternoon, so be sure to bring your most durable camera and any spelunking gear that you can pack.