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Earthquake in Morocco: the old town of Marrakech bruised

“That’s solid!”, taps Fatima Sanoussi with her wrinkled hand on the walls of her house.

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Earthquake in Morocco: the old town of Marrakech bruised

“That’s solid!”, taps Fatima Sanoussi with her wrinkled hand on the walls of her house. His withstood Friday evening's earthquake, dozens of others did not, and the damage was significant in the Moroccan city of Marrakech with its rich architectural heritage. Yellow jellaba and black kerchief on her head, the 68-year-old lady sweeps the stones and dust in front of the arch that leads to her modest accommodation.

On the 700 hectares of the medina, the old town, the damage is impressive in places, with gutted housing and, in the maze of alleys, mounds of rubble sometimes rising several meters high. The 12th century ramparts surrounding the imperial city, founded around 1070 by the Almoravid dynasty, are partly disfigured.

Also read: Earthquake in Morocco: five things to know about Marrakech, the “ochre city”

The province of Al-Haouz, epicenter of the earthquake which left more than 2,000 dead according to a provisional report, is approximately 70 kilometers southwest of this tourist jewel in central Morocco. “After a disaster like this, the most important thing is to preserve human lives. But we must also immediately plan for the second phase, which will include the reconstruction of schools and cultural assets affected by the earthquake,” comments Eric Falt, regional director of the UNESCO Office for the Maghreb. Marrakech is full of these places which have been listed as world heritage by the UN agency for education, science and education since 1985.

The Jemaa el-Fna square, for example, known in particular for its snake charmers and its henna sellers, is included both on the UNESCO world heritage list and on the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. . A few hours after the violent earthquake, a team from the United Nations, led by Mr. Falt, inspected the medina for two hours. “We can already say that they (the damage) are much greater than we expected. We noted significant cracks on the Koutoubia minaret, the most emblematic structure, but also the almost complete destruction of the minaret of the Kharbouch mosque” on Jemaa el-Fna square, notes Eric Falt.

A few meters from this mosque with weakened walls, merchants sit on their stools, waiting for the barge, and on the other side of the street, a 1960s café welcomes customers despite the wide crack that streaks the one of its interior walls. “The most obviously affected district is however the Mellah (former Jewish district) where the destruction of old houses is the most spectacular”, adds Mr. Falt. There, one-story houses with stone that turns pink in the sun have been reduced to nothing. Iron bars or other makeshift consolidations were placed to support the sagging walls.

If the historic sites have benefited in recent years from restoration operations and the know-how of master craftsmen, particularly in the art of tadelakt, an ancestral technique of applying lime coatings typical of Marrakech, this This is not the case for all the buildings in the area. "There are big disparities," says Sylvain Schroeder from the Douar Graoua district. This Frenchman owns one of the dozens of riads that have also contributed to the charm of the tourist town. The calm of its patio and the brilliantly colored zelliges clash with the desolation of the surrounding poor dwellings. “The water in the basin has moved, but that's all, the rest is intact,” he says, pointing to the walls, the beams and the lemon tree. “There are reinforced concrete frames here as in many riads which have recently been renovated, the structure has been reinforced,” he assures. On the other side of the alley, the large walls of an apartment building threaten to collapse. According to Mr. Schroeder, “with the slightest rain, they are likely to fall like a house of cards”.

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