In new three part series From Morocco To Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure, Arabist, writer, explorer and Marrakech resident Alice Morrison follows the Salt Roads – once one of the world’s richest trading networks to the fabled sandstone city of Timbuktu.
Travelling by any means possible – camel, donkey and sometimes just on foot – it’s a journey that takes her deep into the history, culture and civilisation of both ancient and modern North Africa. Alice’s adventure reveals the extraordinary history, anthropology and landscapes of some of the most mysterious, beautiful and ancient cities in the world.
In this first episode Alice sets off from Tangier, Europe’s gateway to Africa, and learns how gold was in high demand in North Africa, to be minted into coins and adorn palaces. Its source was the gold mines of sub-Saharan Africa and so the routes across the desert were forged.
Alice passes through the Islamic city of Fes, home to the world’s oldest university, where she stays in a caravanserai, the ancient traders’ version of a motel with mule and camel parking, and helps prepare the merchant’s dish of the day, camel meatballs.
She catches the Marrakech Express to the other Northern terminus of trans-Saharan trade, the great market town of Marrakech. Here she gets her hands dirty learning ancient methods of making leather. And in the grand square, Djemaa El Fnaa, she hears tales of the traders of old and their perilous travels across the Sahara.
She continues on foot, trekking across the mighty Atlas Mountains dotted with Berber villages, home to the Berbers, or Amazigh, the indigenous people of Morocco. On the other side of the Atlas Alice discovers ancient caves of salt, the commodity which gave the salt roads their name. Further south, the valleys are lined with Casbahs, fortresses where the traders could stay in safety along the route with their valuable goods.
In the barren landscape of the Jebel Saghro, she enlists the help of Berber nomads. They still graze their animals there and live the same traditional lifestyle. They help her on her way to the ancient city of Sijilmasa, whose ruins sit on the edge of the great Sahara Desert. A lost city, it was once a great trading post, a sanctuary for merchants arriving after the long trek across the Sahara from Timbuktu.
From Morocco To Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure Episode 1 (of 3) airs on Thursday 11 May 2017 from 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC Two.