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High Atlas Bride Fair, Imchlil, Morocco


Dear Gurus and Travel Gumbo friends, I beg your indulgence. Our friend and colleague contributor PortMoresby started me searching through some veeerrry old photos upon which I came upon these that I would like to share with you. I must firstly apologise that they are not of today's digital quality as they were taken in 1980 on print film that has been duplicated and scanned, messed around with and generally resurrected... But here is the story....


Back in 1980 I happened to bump into a National Geographic article now indexed as: Hunt, Carla, and Nik Wheeler. "Berber Brides' Fair." National Geographic (January 1980), 118-29. It was totally fascinating as it described and showed in the usual beautiful photos a little known annual "Berber Bride Fair" which is held in Imchlil some one and a half hours travel behind Marrakesh up into the High Atlas mountains.

Bride Add 1


Here the boys and girls of the Berber tribes of the local High Atlas villages come down to this point (Imchlil) for a Moussem (a meeting on neutral ground) where potential brides and grooms helped by their friends would introduce one another with a view to becoming "wed" in front of the local Magistrate.


Girls who had not been married before traditionally wore a pointed hat, and those that were coming back for a new match wore flat hats. If a union made this year did not work out, then apparently, wearing the appropriate hat you were entitled to coming back again next year for another try!





Apparently fearless, we, with two friends, set out in my aged Renault 16 (shown on the day) and just drove up the mountain to Inchlil. The road was only loose gravel and quite narrow. I remember even now my fear of meeting a laden goods lorry coming down the mountain the other way. We arrived, the only Europeans, and set up our modest tents and just watched the events unfold. We were immediately accepted as friendly by all those attending the Moussem and were, in reality, just ignored.


Unfortunately some of my better photos of "brides" were lost in food rioting in Casablanca a year or so later, but I hope that these pics are fun for our Travel Gumbo readers as they are of a "certain period" and perhaps of an event that is no more. I have tried to Google "Imchlil" but come up with only occasional historic entries. Maybe the Bride Market exists no more...












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Images (14)
  • A bridal band
  • The travellers
  • The Magistrate
  • Traders
  • Seeking a bride
  • A brides camp
  • Brides
  • untitled-0041
  • A visitor
  • Another visitor
  • Bride Add 1
  • Bride Add 2
  • Bride Add 3
  • Bride Add 4

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."  Henry Miller

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Comments (4)

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Excellent photos of a tradition I knew nothing about !

It's in events like weddings that we see how much our customs vary.

In the UK there's an outcry - when a family of  Asian origin return from vacation with their 13 year old daughter married to an older man. And legally not acceptable.

I remember when I was kid, hearing stories of how English fathers were keen to get their daughters married off too. Tales from around 1900 I suppose!

Last edited by GarryRF

I'm planning to go back to Marrakesh and 'beyond' for a 10 day photo shoot in October and will try to find out whether the Bride Fair still runs. The young girls resplendent in their rouged-cheek make up were so pretty and with their enormous amber beads were virtual "dolls" and I would love to go back and see it all again.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."  Henry Miller

GarryRF raises an interesting point about how our perceptions change and differ on the age of "maturity." In Jewish tradition, a boy at 13 becomes an adult, and in older times could hold property and begin to form a family; today, the ceremony remains, but no one believes the boy has become a man.


Louis XIII of France became king at 8; he assumed full power at 15, then the age of majority. His son, Louis XIV, followed the same path; at 15 he returned from exile during the revolt of the Fronde and began to impose his will on the court.


I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that in the 35 years since Mac took those pictures, there has likely been more change through more contact with the external world; it will be interesting to see what he finds!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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