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The Moroccan Earthquake and Its Impact on Morocco's heritage sites

On September 8, 2023, Morocco was struck by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, resulting in substantial damage to the nation's cultural heritage. The seismic event left over 300,000 individuals affected, claiming the lives of more than 3,000 and leaving at least 2,000 injured. The earthquake also left an indelible mark on Morocco's national treasures—wreaking havoc on several esteemed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Among the severely damaged were:

The Tinmel Mosque: The Tinmel Mosque, a 12th-century architectural gem near the quake's epicentre, symbolised the Almohad dynasty. Built by Abd el-Mumin, the first caliph of the Almohad caliphate, this historic monument has been on UNESCO's Tentative World Heritage list since 1995. Tragically, the mosque suffered severe structural damage, with some walls reduced to rubble and its towering minaret almost entirely obliterated. Notably, it was the site of the Almohads' final stand against the Marinids empire in 1275.

A view shows Tinmel Mosque which was damaged by the deadly earthquake in Tinmel, Morocco, September 11, 2023. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The Medina of Marrakech: Marrakech's Old City (Medina) earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1985 and was later augmented on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009. Founded by the Almoravids between 1070-1072, the Medina comprised a labyrinth of narrow alleyways adorned with invaluable traditional Moroccan heritage. The earthquake left a trail of devastation, impacting numerous Medina structures, including the revered 12th-century Kutubiyya Mosque—the city’s most iconic landmark; the minaret of the Kharbouch Mosque in Marrakech's Jemaa El-Fnaa Square lays almost entirely in ruins; the Mellah of Marrakech (Jewish quarter); and sections of the city's historic red sandstone wall bore significant damage. Additionally, cultural treasures from the Almoravid era, such as the Koutoubia Mosque and the Kasbah—a walled complex built in the 18th century, suffered varying degrees of cracks.

The structure of the historic Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakesh city of Morocco was badly damaged

Ksar Aït Ben Haddou: UNESCO-listed site Ksar Aït Ben Haddou is an ancient fortified city along the Sahara-Marrakech route that drew tourists for its historical significance. It was the backdrop for most scenes in the 1962 film "Lawrence of Arabia." The earthquake damaged several structures within Ksar Aït Ben Haddou, including its outer walls.

Relief Efforts by the Creative Community

In the wake of the earthquake, various art initiatives and charitable endeavours have emerged to aid those impacted by this catastrophe and restore Morocco’s damaged cultural treasures. One such endeavour is the limited edition print sale by the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, to raise funds dedicated to supporting Morocco’s earthquake relief efforts and the reconstruction of the Medina of Marrakech.

Another commendable initiative is the Artists for Morocco print sale, spearheaded by GQ Middle East‘s Editor at Large, Samira Larouci, in collaboration with photographer Anass Ouaziz and designer Ismail Elaaddioui. This curated shop will showcase 24 artworks from 24 esteemed Moroccan artists and photographers, with all proceeds from this sale allocated to the Rif Tribes Foundation and the Amal Women's Training Center, a charitable institution based in Marrakech, tirelessly labouring to provide sustenance and aid to the victims of the quake.

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The Moroccan Earthquake and Its Impact on Morocco's heritage sites

September 21, 2023

Fredrick Favour

2 min read

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