Draa River

The Draa (Berber languages: Asif en Dra, ⴰⵙⵉⴼ ⴻⵏ ⴷⵔⴰ, Moroccan Arabic: واد درعة, romanized: wad dərʿa; also spelled Dra or Drâa, in older sources mostly Darha or Dara) is Morocco's longest river, at 1,100 kilometres (680 mi). It is formed by the confluence of the Dadès River and Imini River. It flows from the High Atlas mountains, initially south-eastward to Tagounite, and from Tagounite mostly westwards to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean somewhat north of Tan-Tan. In 1971, the (El) Mansour Eddahabi dam was constructed to service the regional capital of Ouarzazate and to regulate the flow of the Draa. Most of the year the part of the Draa after Tagounite falls dry.

Draa River
fleuve du Draa (French)
Río Draa (Spanish)
Course of the Draa
Native nameAsif en Dra / ⴰⵙⵉⴼ ⵏ ⴷⵔⴰ / واد درعة
Physical characteristics
SourceDadès River
2nd sourceImini River
Basin features
Official nameEmbouchure de l'oued Dr'a
Designated15 January 2005
Reference no.1477[1]
Official nameMoyenne Dr'a
Designated15 January 2005
Reference no.1482[2]
Dra is also the abbreviation for the constellation Draco.

The water from the Draa is used to irrigate palm groves and small farms along the river. The inhabitants of the Draa are called in Arabic Drawa, in Shilha Idrawiyn, the most famous Drawi (singular of Drawa) undoubtedly being Sultan Mohammed ash-Sheikh (1490–1557). Outside of the Draa region this name is mostly used to refer to the dark skinned people of Draa, which make up the largest portion of its inhabitants.

In the first half of the 20th century, the lowest course of the Draa marked the boundary between the French protectorate of Morocco and the area under Spanish rule.

About 225,000 people live in the valley of the Draa, which measures 23,000 square kilometres (8,900 sq mi). The valley corresponds with the province of Zagora, created in 1997, in the Souss-Massa-Drâa region. In the province there are 23 villages and two towns: Zagora and Agdz. The village of Tamegroute, near Zagora, is well known for its Zawiya.

The valley contains the Fezouata formations, which are Burgess shale-type deposits dating to the Lower Ordovician, filling an important preservational window between the common Cambrian lagerstätten and the Late Ordovician Soom shale.[3] In the fossilized fauna were numerous organisms previously thought to have died out after the mid-Cambrian.[4]



The pre-history of the valley of the Draa goes back thousands of years, as is evidenced by the many rock art engravings or petroglyphs in its surroundings and most of all by the find of the Venus of Tan-Tan. This statue is possibly the oldest human figurine ever found. It dates back more than three hundred thousand years. From all main periods of the prehistory of the Sahara rock-engravings and rock-paintings have been found. Foum Chenna (Tinzouline), Aït Ouaazik (Asguine Tarna, Tazzarine), and Tiouririne e Tisguinine (Zagora) are amongst the best known sites in the Draa region. At lghir N'tidri between Tagounite and Mhamid al-Ghizlane there is the necropolis of Foum Larjam. The necropolis is the largest of North Africa and consists of several kilometers of tumuli and dates back to prehistoric times. It is one of the few sites where not just rock-drawings but also rock-paintings were found.

See also: List of Stone Age art, Art of the Upper Paleolithic, Saharan rock art, Rock art of Figuig, Rock art of south Oran (Algeria), Tadrart Acacus, Rock art, Petroglyph, Neolithic

Before 1054

Ptolemy's map of Africa. The River Draa, Dara fl. is in the center of the map, just south of the mountain range, above the word Garamantes. fl. is an abbreviation for flumen, Latin river.

The original inhabitants of the Draa river valley were the Haratin, who are also called drawi in Morocco, during the Roman conquest of Mauretania, the Godala Berber tribe fled to the south and enslaved the indigenous Haratin.[5][6][7]

The first reference to the Draa River in historical times comes from Hanno, a navigator from Carthage (living around 550 B.C.), who set out for a mission to establish a colony on the west coast of Africa. The Punic text of the record of this journey (known as the Periplus) was engraved in the Temple of Chronos (Baal Hammon) at Carthage. There is only one Greek version, dating perhaps to the 3rd century B.C. These are the opening words of the Periplus:

"The Voyage of Hanno, King of the Carthaginians, to the Libyan regions of the earth, beyond the Pillars of Heracles..."

Having visited the Carthaginian colonies of the Atlas in Morocco, Hanno proceeded southward:

"Leaving this place we arrived at the great river Lixos which comes from Libya. On the banks nomads, the Lixites, were feeding their flocks. We stayed for some time with these people and made friends with them. Upstream from them lived the unfriendly Ethiopians whose land is full of wild beasts and broken up by high mountains where they say the Lixos flows from. They also say that about these mountains dwell the strange-looking Troglodytes. The Lixites claim that they can run faster than horses. Taking Lixite interpreters with us we sailed alongside the desert in a southerly direction for two days, then towards the rising sun for one more day. We then found at the far end of an inlet a little island five stades in circumference. We named it Cerne (Some scholars identify Kerne with the Island of Herne (23°50’N) on the coast of the Sahara) and left settlers there. judging by our journey we reckoned that it must be opposite Carthage, since we had to sail the same distance from Carthage to the Pillars of Hercules as from the Pillars of Hercules to Cerne."

It is generally agreed, the Lixos can be identified as the Draa (28°45’N). The Draa is the largest river in the area, and marks the southernmost limit of cultivable land. This well corresponds to Hanno's account. Certainly the area of Herne was known to the Carthaginians because they would hardly have sent a colony to an unknown place.[8]

The Draa River was also well known to the ancient Romans. It figures on the first world map in history made by Ptolemy (90-168 AD).

When in 680 Uqba ibn Nafi the governor of Ifriqiya came to Morocco with his Arab army, and fought the Masmuda a tribe of the Atlas Mountains, they consequently fled to the Draa river valley; Ukba pursued them and inflicted a crushing defeat on them there. Ukba continued his conquest to the Atlantic Ocean, but on his return march to Kayrawan he was defeated and killed. Thereafter part of the Draa river valley was inhabited by the (Sanhaja) tribe of the Masufa. Their city in this region was called Tiyumetin (modern day Tagounite). From this time until today also the presence of Jewish groups in the Draa valley is attested. Beni Sbih and Beni Hayoune are the villages that remain of that past.[9]


The Draa river

Four centuries later in 1053/54 the Almoravids began their advance on central Morocco. Their very first campaign was on the valley of the Draa river. The power in the valley had been, like in the city of Sijilmasa, for some 50 years in the hands of the Maghrawa (a branch of the Zenata). Here and elsewhere in Morocco this domination was resented. After the Almoravids had conquered the Draa and Sijilmasa they went on to conquer Adaghwast at the southern end of the trans-Sahara route. Yusuf ibn Tashfin took command of North Morocco, while Abu Bakr ibn Umar was leader in the Sahara, Tafilalt and the Draa. Today the remains of an Almoravid fortress can still be seen on the top of the Zagora hill.[10] There are still groups in the Draa valley that claim descendancy from the Almoravids: the groups of Mrabtine linked to the Arib and the Msouffa, part of the confederation of the Ait Atta. This integration in the empire of the Almoravids was also the first integration of the Draa valley into the whole of Morocco.

Many times, however, the Draa valley was the cradle of revolution and dissent. In 1255 the Beni Ḥassān (the Maqil Arabs) invaded the valley. The Maqil were quickly used by the ruling Berber dynasties. In the country-side however they were deeply disruptive, bringing ruin to many sedentary farmers. The domination of the Maqil in the south lasted to the middle of the 14th century, when a large part of them moved further north and many Berber inhabitants came back. Others like the Roha, Oulad Yahia and Ouled Malek (still a part of the population), which arrived later in the Draa valley, stayed there and continued the fight for the rule of the region. In the 15th century some struggle between Arabs and Berber continued.


At this time, the region was the home of many important religious figures and zawiyas. The Draa became part of the marabout movement against the Portuguese who had captured many towns at the Atlantic coast. The Draa made an important comeback in the history of Morocco with the rise of the dynasty of the Saadi or Bani Zaydan as their original name was. Its cradle was in the Draa valley in Tagmadert, the current district of Fezouata between Zagora and Tamegroute.[11] Although there is still a village called Timidert today, some historians think Tagmadert was situated at today's Amezrou, a village next to Zagora. Thanks to the Saadi Dynasty the Draa played an important role in the history of Morocco and the Sahara during the 16th century. In the middle of that century the Saadi Dynasty was at the height of its power. In that time the need for gold was increasing and the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur decided to undertake the conquest of the Sudan in 1590. According to some sources, this conquest had its cause in the events of 1545 when under the reign of Mohammed ash-Sheikh the palm orchards of the Ktawa in the Draa were captured by the Tuareg Oulmiden who were sent by Ishaq I, king of the Sudan. The campaign for the conquest of the Sudan started in the Ktawa, in the Draa valley. It was in 1591 that the troops gathered and took in food for the passage across the desert. After the military operations the trans-Sahara trade with the Sudan seems to have intensified. In the palm gardens of M'hamid between ksar Bounou and ksar Talha, the ruins of qsar El Alouj are still to be found. This was the old "customs office" where the gold powder arrived from the Sudan. There the gold coins were struck to be sent to Marrakech.[12] With the decline of the Saadi dynasty, especially after the death of Ahmad al-Mansur in 1603, the Draa fell back into anarchy.


Map of Southern Morocco, 1705, by Nicolaas Sanson (Province of Darha/Draa with pink borders in the middle of the map)

During the 17th century the Alaouite dynasty succeeds in establishing its authority in the valley. They conquer the Draa in 1642 where they, like their predecessors, construct numerous ksour. They rule by military force and it is no longer from Tagmadert that they reign the country, but from d'Aghlan, some 20 km North of Zagora. Amezrou, however becomes the seat of the governor. Later in the 17th century Mawlay Ismail Ibn Sharif sends his son to stay in Beni Zouli and also in the zawiya Nasiriyya of Tamegroute in 1675/76.[13] A military expedition sent by Moulay Ismail Ibn Sharif to suppress a rebellion in Mhamid Ghuzlan was led by an Englishman called Thomas Pellow who spent 23 years in Morocco. Pellow wrote a book with an account of his experiences.[14]

In the two next centuries the Draa remains the object of fights between warring (nomadic) tribes. Unfortunately sources have paid too little attention to the sedentary population to give a complete picture of its history and evolution. The officers of the colonising French were almost exclusively interested in the neighbouring resisting warrior tribe of the Ait Atta and neglected the Ktawa of the Draa. It is probable, however, that during these last centuries the nomad tribes in the Draa valley have integrated with the sedentary. Blood ties (real or imaginary) in which the determining factor whether one belonged to this or that tribe or sub-tribe make place for the determining factor of the qsour where one lives. Alliances are made between particular qsour and nomad groups which offer protection. At the end of the 18th century the power in the Ktawa is divided between three chiefs of three groups: the caid Mohamed in the qsour Beni Hayoun, sheik El Maati in the Beni Sbih and sheik Aamaou in the upper part of the valley. Around 1800 the security of these qsour was threatened by Arab nomads like the Ghenama and the Beni Mohammed and the protection of the Ait Atta was invoked. The price the sedentary groups paid for the protection was a part of their land. This method was custom at many places throughout the valley. Certain qsour however remained independent under the protection of their local chiefs or zawiyas (e.g. qsour Mezguita). Much of the history of the Draa valley is characterised by the warfare between different tribes and most of all by the crimes these tribes committed against the local Drawa population.

20th century

With the coming of the Glaoua at the beginning of the 20th century the domination of many of the ksour by the nomads (like Ait Atta) was brought to an end. Later in the 1930s the French colonisation slowly, but completely, ended the nomad influence, and social structures were radically changed. The jemaa was moved to Tagounite, the new administrative centre, and after a few years the region enjoyed a new kind of autonomy.


Kashbah in the Draa valley

The valley of the Draa is especially famous for its kasbahs. The most famous kasbahs in the region are (north to south):

  • The kasbah of Tamnougalt (the kasbah of Caïd Ali) and the kasbah of Aït Hammou Ousaid (or Mouha ou Hammou Zayani) near Agdz.
  • The kasbah of El Caïd Ouslim and the kasbah of Oulad Outhmane in Tamezmout.
  • The kasbah of Foum Achnna and the kasbah of N'Kob in Tinzouline
  • The kasbah of Tat Ifli in Beni Zouli.
  • The kasbah of Amezrou, of Aït Ali Tighramt Ouziguen and of Laglaoui in Zagora
  • The kasbah of Agouim Nouaadjou and the kasbah of Tagounite in Tagounite.
  • The kasbah of Aït Bounou, of LaAllouj, the kashbah of Oulad Driss and the kasbah of the Rgabi in M'hamid El Ghuzlane.


The Draa river supports light agriculture, including the cultivation of pomegranates and dates.

The Draa valley is famous as the date basket of Morocco. It grows more than 18 varieties. Fruit trees and vegetables are the main crops but henna is also a well known product of the region. The agriculture is very labour-intensive because it takes place on terraced fields. Seguias (small canals) transport the water from the river to the fields. Like some other ancient Berber oases in North Africa (Siwa, Kufra, Ouargla) the Draa valley was known for its qatarra, a sophisticated system of underground irrigation canals.


Two languages are spoken in the area: a local variety of Colloquial Arabic which is closely related to Hassaniya, and Shilha or Tashelhiyt, a Berber language.


Draa river in Agdz

The Upper Draa River valley, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) long, consists of six stretches of oases/palm groves from north to south:

  • The Mezguita oasis, with the Agdz and Auriz and south of it the Tamsikht dam
  • The oasis of Tinzouline, with Ouled Lagraier, Tinzouline, Ouled Yaoub and a dam south of it
  • The Ternata oasis with Zagora
  • The Fezouata oasis with Tamegroute and south of it the Azagha dam
  • The Ktaoua oasis (English Ktawa) with Tagounite, Blida, Tiraf and the Bounou dam south of it
  • The oasis of Mhamid el Ghuzlan with Mhamid el Ghuzlan

The width of the "green zone" is on average 3 kilometres (2 mi) but varies from 100 metres (330 ft) to 10 kilometres (6 mi). Because of the terrain the agriculture is very labour-intensive. Dates are the main product, but also cereals, vegetables and henna are cultivated.


Ksour in the Mezguita

  • Ait Abdalah
  • Ait Hammou Ou Said*
  • Ait Lahcen
  • Ait Ouahi
  • El Hart
  • Irherrhar
  • Tamkasselt
  • Tiguit
  • Zaouit Boulhassane
  • Asselim
  • Rbat
  • Tarmast
  • Zaouit n Griourirane
  • Aboussas
  • Ait Ali
  • Ait El Caid El Mir
  • Aouriz
  • Asselim Izdar
  • El Hara
  • Ikherazen
  • Irhrem Azougarth
  • Tafergalt
  • Takatert
  • Talat
  • Talemzit
  • Tamnougalt*
  • Taourirt Caid Ali
  • Zaouit n Sidi Bou Mediane
  • Zaouit n Souk
  • Ait El Kharj Jdid
  • Ait El Kharj Lkdim
  • Aramd
  • El Borj
  • Igamoudene
  • Roudat
  • Tassoukt

Ksour in Tinzouline

  • Akhellouf
  • Ez Zourgane
  • Bounana
  • Ed Dwairat
  • Oulad El Megddam
  • Oulad Moussa
  • Timasla
  • Zaouit Timaslas
  • Ighrem Tansikht
  • Zaouit Ikhf n Ouzrou

Ksour in Ternata

  • Beni Khlil*
  • Mansouria
  • Tiguit Nait Boulman
  • Tissergat*
  • Amezrou

Ksour in the Fezouata

  • Agni
  • Agrour
  • Ait Aissa ou Brahim
  • Ait Beloualid
  • Ait Bou Lkhlad
  • Arhla ou Drar
  • Asrir Nignaoune
  • Kasbah Il Mechane
  • Izkhnnioun

In the Ktaoua/Ktwawa (the southern stretch of the valley between the Azagha and the Bounou dam near Tagounite) there are 55 villages, mostly consisting of ksour (plural of ksar). These villages are:

  • Centre Tagounite
  • Bani Sbih
  • Zaouia Sidi Salah
  • Nesrate
  • Kser Tiraf
  • Ait Gazzou
  • Bani Hayoune
  • Ouled Amer
  • Knazta
  • Tabourite
  • Bani Mhamed
  • Khassouane
  • Adouafil
  • Zaouia Jdid Zrahna
  • Ait Rbaa
  • Gourguir
  • Kasbat Aamamou
  • Bani Semguine
  • Ksar Hammad Tahr
  • Ouled Youssef Drawa
  • Loughlade
  • Ouled Ali
  • Regba
  • Bani Hnit
  • Zaouia Moulay Chrif Tahtania
  • Blida centre
  • Ksebt Ramla
  • Takchourte
  • Ksar Bani Mhammed
  • Ksar Lakbir
  • Ksar Jdid Zrahna
  • Ksar Jdid Ignaoun
  • Bani Skouken
  • Zte. Sidi Yahya
  • Ait Ali Ignaoun
  • Zaouia Moulay Chrif Foukania
  • Zaouia Koudia
  • Taarchate
  • Ait Boutbratine
  • Zaouia Lansar
  • Zaouia Dakhlania Zhahna
  • Ait Zemrou
  • Ksebat Nani
  • Ksar Aarib
  • Ouled Youssef Ait Isfoul
  • Zaouia Sidi Madani
  • Zaouia Dakhlania
  • Ait Talaarifte
  • Ait Aissa Obrahim
  • Najia
  • Ksar Ait Rardi
  • Ait Boumhamed
  • Ikddarne
  • Tahramet
  • Bnou Khettal

Source : Recensement général du Maroc, 1994


The Draa has attracted the attention of a number of notable explorers including Frenchman Charles de Foucauld who travelled throughout Morocco disguised as a Jewish merchant in the 1800s, Jeffrey Tayler who wrote a book about his experiences and most recently Scottish Adventurer, Alice Morrison, who became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Draa in 2019.


  1. "Embouchure de l'oued Dr'a". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  2. "Moyenne Dr'a". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  3. Van Roy, P.; Orr, P. J.; Botting, J. P.; Muir, L. A.; Vinther, J.; Lefebvre, B.; Hariri, K. E.; Briggs, D. E. G. (2010). "Ordovician faunas of Burgess Shale type". Nature. 465 (7295): 215–8. Bibcode:2010Natur.465..215V. doi:10.1038/nature09038. PMID 20463737. S2CID 4313285.
  4. Gill, Victoria (13 May 2010). "BBC News - Fossil find resolves ancient extinction mystery". BBC Online. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  5. Ennaji, Mohammed (1999). Serving the Master: Slavery and Society in Nineteenth-century Morocco. Macmillan. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-333-75477-1.
  6. Hsain Ilahiane (1998). The Power of the Dagger, the Seeds of the Koran, and the Sweat of the Ploughman: Ethnic Stratification and Agricultural Intensification in the Ziz Valley, Southeast Morocco. University of Arizona. p. 107.
  7. Chouki El Hamel (27 February 2014). Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race, and Islam. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111–112. ISBN 978-1-139-62004-8.
  8. The topography of Hanno's journey has recently been discussed by W.F.G. Lacroix in the fourth appendix of his Africa in Antiquity. A linguistic and toponymic analysis of Ptolemy's map of Africa (1998 Saarbrücken)
  9. A legendary history of the Jews in the Draa valley in the early middle ages can be found in: The Chott el-Maghzen, contributions to oral history collected by rabbi Jacob Moïse Toledano of Tibériade in 1910 and in the Manuscrit of Tiilite (Dadès), in the possession of the rabbi of Tiite Abraham Cohen in 1900. For a summary of that legendary history see D. Jacques Meunié « Le Maroc Saharien des origines au XVIe siècle » Librairie Klincksieck, 1982, pp 175-187. see also: Les tribus oubliées d'Israel - L'Afrique Judeo-Berbere, des origines aux Almohades by Didier Nebot
  10. Allain (Ch) & Meunie (J.), La fortress almoravide de Zagora, Hespéris, 1956, vol. xliii, fasc. 2, pp. 305-325.
  11. Saadian funerary stele (A.D.1580) (cf. the steles of the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech) with Arabic inscription: 'This is the tomb of (..) Fatima (..) the wife of Caid Abdallah of Tamdart'. Tamdart refers to Tagmadert of the Draa valley. Also inscribed on the stele are the Quaranic verses 26 and 27 of Sura 55.
  12. Example of a golden Saadian dinar. This coin, struck by Moulay Zidan (AD 1603–27), was made at the time of the reign of the son of Ahmad al-Mansur. (Numismatic Museum of the al-Maghrib Bank, Rabat, Morocco):
  13. Four of the sons of Ismail Ibn Sharif have been khalifa of the Draa:
    • Mulay Muhammad as-Sharif bin Ismail as-Samin (s/o full-brother of Muhammad al-Alam). Khalifa of the Draa 1703.
    • Mulay 'Abdu'l-Malik bin Ismail as-Samin. b. ca. 1677. Khalifa of the Draa. He was k. for plotting against his father, 1696.
    • Mulay Nasir bin Ismail as-Samin. Khalifa of Draa 1702-1703, and of Tafilalt. Rebelled in 1711-1712. He was k. 1714.
    • H.M. Sultan 'Abu Marwan Mulay 'Abdu'l Malik, Sultan of Morocco, etc. b. at Meknes, after 1696, son of H.M. Sultan 'Abul Nasir Mulay Ismail as-Samin bin Sharif, Sultan of Morocco, educ. privately. Khalifa of the Draa 1701-1703, and of Sus 1717-1718. Proclaimed Sultan on the deposition of his elder half-brother 13 March 1728. Deposed at Meknes 18 July 1728. Fled to Fez and arrested there 23 December 1728. He was k. (executed) at Meknes, 2 March 1729 (bur. there at the Mulay Ismail Mausoleum).
  14. The narrative of his experiences appeared in 1739. There are strong reasons, both external and internal, for believing that the kernel of Pellew's narrative is founded upon fact, but it was evidently edited with a great deal of latitude and with some literary skill. In addition to the incorporation of Stewart's Embassy, the book is padded out by long extracts from Windus's Journey to Mequinez. It is probable that other volumes on Morocco were pirated in the same way, especially for the somewhat hackneyed details given of the 'miseries of the Christian slaves’. Perhaps the most genuine and also the most graphic portion is the account of Pellew's flight, which affords a vivid picture of the state of the country under Mawlay Abdallah. (For further information see bibliography)


  • Bahani, A., La nouba d'eau et son évolution dans les palmeraies du Draa Moyen du Maroc: CERES. Les oasis du Maghreb, Tunis: pp. 107–126, 1994
  • Philip Curtin (ed.), African History, London: Longman, 1988
  • M. Elfasi (ed.), General History of Africa III, Africa from the Seventh to the 11th century, UNESCO, 1988
  • Charles de Foucauld, Reconnaissance au Maroc, 1888, 1 vol. in -4 and atlas
  • Hammoudi, A., Substance and Relation: Water Rights and Water Distribution in the Dra Valley. In: Mayer, A.E. (Ed.), Property, Social Structure, and law in the Modern Middle East. New York: pp. 27–57, 1985
  • Marmol Caravajal, Africa, 1667 3 vol. in 4
  • Thomas Pellow; Josephine Grieder, The History of the long captivity and adventures of Thomas Pellow, in South-Barbary : [written by himself], 1973 (repr.of the 1739 edition with a new introd. for the Garland ed. by Josephine Grieder) ISBN 0-8240-0583-X
  • W.D. Seiwert (ed.), Maurische Chronik, München: Trickster Verlag, 1988
  • Jacques-Meunié, D., Le Maroc Saharien, des origines à 1670. Thèse d'État. 2 tomes, Librairie Klincksieck, Paris, 1982
  • G. Spillmann, Villes et Tribus du Maroc vol. IX, Tribus Berbères Tome II, Districts et Tribus de la Haute Vallée du Dra, Paris, 1931
  • Jeffrey Tayler, Valley of the Casbahs, 2004
  • Ahmed Zainabi, La Vallée du Dra: Développement Alternatif et Action Communautaire, 2001 (Background paper WDR 2003)

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