Suitcase and World: Ifrane. إفران/يفرن

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ifrane. إفران/يفرن

On our way from Fes to Marrakesh, we'll be passing through the Atlas Mountains and one of the towns we'll pass along the way is Ifrane ("e-frahn"). I had never heard of the place before so I Googled "ifrane" and was surprised by the images I first saw. The town didn't look remotely either Moroccan or African; the buildings were distinctly European in style and there was snow on the ground! Thinking I had made a mistake, I redid my search but this time adding the word "morocco" to the search query. The same images came back. Now I was getting really curious.

"An African town of European birth " The modern town of Ifrane is ski resort lcoated in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco. It sits at an altitude of 1665 meters (5,460 ft), high enough to see snow in the winter.

The town was established by the French in the late 1920's as a “hill station”; a place for the European expats living in Morocco to find relief from the oppressive heat that blankets much of the country during the summer months.  Fifty hectares of land were appropriated to create the town.
The town was deliberately designed to remind the Europeans of their distant homelands and so Ifrane was planned according to the “garden city” model of urban design that was fashionable in Western Europe between the two world wars.

The concept of the garden city centers around low density housing consisting of fully detached or semi-detached single family homes surrounded by gardens and tree lined streets.  Garden cities were designed to convey the illusion of county life to people who lived in the big industrial cities of the day.  So, garden cities are characterized by village-type architecture, winding streets and lots of gardens and trees.

Ifrane’s initial garden city plan was designed in 1928 in Rabat by the Services Techniques of the Bureau de Contrôle des Municipalités, a division of the Direction des Affairs Politiques. The layout for Ifrane had typical garden city features: streets named for flora (Rue des lilas, Rue des tilleuls,etc.), and houses built in traditional European styles.  Trees and flowering plants were also imported from the European home country. In Ifrane, lilac trees, plane trees (platanes), chestnut trees (marronniers and châtaigniers) and linden trees (tilleuls) were all mported for this purpose.  You have to admit, the look of the town is definitely more like Switzerland relocated to the Middle Atlas than North Africa.

In winter, Ifrane is a popular ski resort for Moroccans and aside from that I don't think there's much else to see or do.  Just as well, since none of us will be prepared to hit the slopes and I think this will just be a quick stop for us.

"A lion in Morocco " It's unusual for a lion to be a symbol in Morocco since none exist in the country but apparently, Ifrane’s landmark is the stone lion that sits on a patch of grass near the Hotel Chamonix. It was carved by a German soldier during WWII, when Ifrane was used briefly as a prisoner-of-war camp, and commemorates the last wild Atlas lion, which was shot near here in the early 1920s.  We need our photo op with the lion.

"Monkeying around "The region around Ifrane is home to the Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus), the only primate found north of the Sahara desert, the only primate that can be found in Europe (Gibraltar) and the only species of the Genus "Macaca” that can be found outside of Asia.
The Barbary macaque is an extremely adaptable animal that can live in very cold and very warm weather conditions.

The Barbary macaque used to be widespread throughout North Africa but the species is currently under threat by habitat destruction and in Morocco, by the illegal trade in infant macaques from Morocco to Europe.

Today, the largest population of the Barbary macaque can be found in the cedar forest area of Parc National d'Ifrane in Morocco, but this population, like the other population, is declining rapidly.  I hope we get a chance to see the Barbary macaque in the wild.
I don't think we'll get to spend in Ifrane but it should be an interesting visit nonetheless. It will be late December when we're there and I, for one, am hoping there will be lots of snow! It would be so pretty to see the place draped in white fluffy snow; a stark change in landscape from the dry Sahara that awaits us a day later.