(nicknamed Little Switzerland
) is a town and ski resort
A ski resort is a resort developed for skiing and other winter sports. In Europe a ski resort is a town or village in a ski area - a mountainous area, where there are ski trails and supporting services such as hotels and other accommodation, restaurants, equipment rental and a ski lift system...
in the Middle Atlas
The Middle Atlas is part of the Atlas mountain range lying in Morocco, a mountainous country with more than 100,000 km² or 15% of its landmass rising above 2,000 metres. The Middle Atlas is the northernmost of three Atlas Mountains chains that define a large plateaued basin extending eastward...
region of Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...
(population 13,000 in December 2008).
Ifrane is 1665 metres (5,460 ft) in altitude and is part of the Meknès-Tafilalet
Meknès-Tafilalet is one of the sixteen regions of Morocco. It is situated in north-central Morocco, bordering Algeria. It covers an area of 79,210 km² and has a population of 2,141,527...
region. In Tamazight, the regional Berber
The Berber languages are a family of languages indigenous to North Africa, spoken from Siwa Oasis in Egypt to Morocco , and south to the countries of the Sahara Desert...
language, "ifran" means caves.
Developed by the French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
during the protectorate era
French Protectorate of Morocco was a French protectorate in Morocco, established by the Treaty of Fez. French Morocco did not include the north of the country, which was a Spanish protectorate...
for their administration due to its Alpine climate
Alpine climate is the average weather for a region above the tree line. This climate is also referred to as mountain climate or highland climate....
, this Morrocan town has a remarkable European style, as if it were an Alpine village. Because of its elevation, the town experiences snow
Snow is a form of precipitation within the Earth's atmosphere in the form of crystalline water ice, consisting of a multitude of snowflakes that fall from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material. It has an open and therefore soft structure, unless packed by...
during the winter months and a cool climate during the summer. Ifrane is also the place where the lowest temperature was ever recorded in Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...
, -24 °C
in 1935. Animals to be found in the vicinity include the threatened Barbary Macaque
The Barbary Macaque , or Common macaque, is a macaque with no tail. Found in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco with a small population, of unknown origin, in Gibraltar, the Barbary Macaque is one of the best-known Old World monkey species. Besides humans, they are the only primates that...
. Among the local tree species are the native Atlas cedar
Cedrus atlantica, the Atlas Cedar, is a cedar native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco . A majority of the modern sources treat it as a distinct species Cedrus atlantica, but some sources consider it a subspecies of Lebanon Cedar Cedrus atlantica, the Atlas Cedar, is a cedar native to...
, Scrub oak and the introduced London plane
Platanus × acerifolia, the London plane, London planetree, or hybrid plane, is a tree in the genus Platanus. It is usually thought to be a hybrid of Platanus orientalis and the Platanus occidentalis . Some authorities think that it may be a cultivar of P...
The first permanent settlement of the area dates to the 16th century, when a saintly sharîf by the name of Sîdî 'Abd al-Salâm established his community in the Tizguit Valley
The Tizguit Valley is a river cut landform in the Middle Atlas mountain range, in the Meknès-Tafilalet Region of eastern Morocco.Much of the valley is characterised by basaltic rock...
, seven km downstream from the present town. By the mid-17th century the zâwiyah was well enough established to receive an extensive iqtâ' (land grant) from the 'Alâwî sultan Mûlây Rashîd b. Muhammad. While the founder's lineage was ethnically Arab, the inhabitants of the village today mostly speak Tamazight.
Ifrane is a colonial “hill station,” and a “garden city.” It is also an “imperial city,” a mountain resort, a provincial administrative center, and a college town.
The modern town of Ifrane was established by the French administration in 1929 on land expropriated from the inhabitants of the zâwiya. The town was to be a "hill station," a cool place for colonial families to spend the hot summer months, and it was initially planned according to the "garden city" model of urban design then in vogue. The plan called for chalet-type summer homes in the Alpine style, laid out among gardens and curving tree-lined streets. A Royal Palace was also built for Sultan Muhammad b. Yûsuf. The town's first public buildings consisted of a post office and a church. Moreover, a penitentiary was built which served as a POW camp during WWII.
As elsewhere in Morocco, a shantytown called Timdiqîn soon grew up next to the colonial establishment. It housed the Moroccan population (maids, gardeners, etc.) that serviced the French vacationers. Timdiqîn was separated from the colonial garden city by a deep ravine. After independence the French properties in the original garden city were slowly bought up by Moroccans. The town was enlarged and endowed with a mosque, a municipal market and public housing
Public housing is a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. Social housing is an umbrella term referring to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by non-profit organizations, or by a combination of the...
estates. Furthermore, the shanty neighborhood of Timdiqîn was rebuilt with proper civic amenities.
In 1979 Ifrane became the seat of the administrative province of the same name and some government services were established. In 1995 Al Akhawayn University
Al Akhawayn University is a university located in Ifrane, Morocco, just 60 kilometers away from the imperial city of Fez, in the midst of the Middle Atlas Mountains. The creation of Al Akhawayn University was largely funded by the King of Saudi Arabia from a large endowment intended for the...
, an English-language, American-curriculum public university opened and this has helped re-launch Ifrane as a desirable destination for domestic tourism. Consequently, Ifrane continues to develop as both a summer and winter resort. Old chalet
A chalet , also called Swiss chalet, is a type of building or house, native to the Alpine region, made of wood, with a heavy, gently sloping roof with wide, well-supported eaves set at right angles to the front of the house.-Definition and origin:...
s in the center of town are being demolished and replaced with condominium complexes, while vacation centers and gated housing estates are springing up on the outskirts.
The Middle Atlas Mountains consist mostly of a series of limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....
plateaus. Not far from Ifrane in the Middle Atlas is Cèdre Gouraud Forest
Cèdre Gouraud Forest is a woodland area in the Middle Atlas Mountain Range in Morocco. This forest was named for a French military officer. This forest is located along the Azrou to Ifrane road. The forest is notable as a habitat for a sub-population of Barbary Macaques, Macaca...
. These plateaus receive
considerable precipitation—averaging about 1000 ml/year in Ifrane—and are naturally
wooded, with scrub oak forests alternating with cedar. The Middle Atlas lies in the center
of Morocco and constitutes its natural water tower, as many of the country’s most important
river systems: the Moulouya, the Sebou, the Bou Regreg, and the Oum Rbia originate in
it. Historically, however, despite its centrality, the Middle Atlas has been an “empty quarter.”
Though the area was regularly crossed by traders, and though the alpine summer pasture
was used by herders, the harsh climate and relatively poor soils long impeded permanent
human settlement. Today the Middle Atlas is still one of the least densely populated parts
of Morocco, even when compared to other mountainous regions such as the High Atlas
and the Rif
The Rif or Riff is a mainly mountainous region of northern Morocco, with some fertile plains, stretching from Cape Spartel and Tangier in the west to Ras Kebdana and the Melwiyya River in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the river of Wergha in the south.It is part of the...
The modern town of Ifrane was established by the French administration in 1928. A small
fort overlooking Oued Tizguit (now part of the palace precinct) had already been built
during the period of military conquest in order to secure the Fez to Khenifra
Khenifra is a city in northern central Morocco, surrounded by the Atlas Mountains.-External links:*...
road across the
mountains. The gently rolling landscape, with fresh springs and wildflower
A wildflower is a flower that grows wild, meaning it was not intentionally seeded or planted. Yet "wildflower" meadows of a few mixed species are sold in seed packets. The term "wildflower" has been made vague by commercial seedsmen who are interested in selling more flowers or seeds more...
s, was judged
to have potential as a summer resort for colon families from the Saïss Plain, Meknes
and Fez. Fifty hectares of agricultural land upstream from the zâwiyah, in an area
originally designated as Tourthit, or “garden,”was expropriated for the project.
Ifrane was conceived as a “hill station” or colonial type of settlement. It is
a resort town set high up in the mountains so that Europeans can find relief from the
summer heat of tropical colonies. The British were the first to develop this type of resort in
India, the best known of which is Simla in the Himalayas which served as their “summer
capital.” The French built similar hill stations in Indochina, such as Dalat established in 1921.
Ifrane was not the only hill station to be built in Morocco. The French also built one in neighboring Immouzer, as well as at Oukaimeden in the High Atlas. Hill stations
share some common characteristics. As they are intended for expatriate
An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing...
families, and they are often designed in such a way as to remind their foreign inhabitants of
their distant homelands. The architectural style adopted is imported from the mother
country in order that the place look like “little England” or “douce France.” This is
the case in Ifrane where various mountain styles such as “maison basque” “Jura”
and “Savoy” were used. Moreover, trees and flowering plants were also imported
from the European home country. This too was intended to heighten the appearance
and feeling of home. In Ifrane, lilac trees, plane trees (platanes), chestnut trees
(marronniers and châtaigniers) and linden trees (tilleuls) were all imported for this
Located in the Atlas Mountains, Ifrane has a mild Mediterranean climate
A Mediterranean climate is the climate typical of most of the lands in the Mediterranean Basin, and is a particular variety of subtropical climate...
, shifting from cool in winter to warm days in the summer months of July–September. The nights are always cool (or colder in winter), with daytime temperatures generally rising about +10~14 C° (+18~26 F°) every day. The winter highs typically reach only 9.4 °C (48.9 °F) in December–January, whilst owing to the city’s altitude rainfall is very heavy whenever frontal systems affect the region, averaging twice as much as in Casablanca
Casablanca is a city in western Morocco, located on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Grand Casablanca region.Casablanca is Morocco's largest city as well as its chief port. It is also the biggest city in the Maghreb. The 2004 census recorded a population of 2,949,805 in the prefecture...
Ifrane is well-known for having the coldest temperature ever recorded in Africa, having recorded as low as −24 C on February 11, 1935.
The first permanent settlement of the area dates to the 16th century, when a sharîf by
the name of Sîdî ‘Abd al-Salâm established his community in the Tizguit Valley, seven
km downstream from the present town. In Tamazight, the regional Berber language, yfran
means “caves”. Sîdî ‘Abd al-Salâm’s village, called Zaouiat Sidi Abdeslam (or simply the
zâwiyah), consisted at first of cave dwellings hollowed out of the limestone valley wall. Only
in the last fifty years or so have its inhabitants build houses above ground. The caves which
now lie under these houses are still used as mangers for animals and for storage.
By the mid-17th century Sîdî ‘Abd al-Salâm’s zâwiyah was well enough established to
receive an extensive iqtâ’, or land grant, from the ‘Alâwî sultan Mûlây Rashîd b. Muhammad.
The iqtâ’ extended from upstream of present Ifrane down the Tizguit valley all the way to El
Hajeb escarpment. Late in the 19th century agro-pastoral groups of the Amazigh Senhadja Beni
M’guild and Zenata the Ait Seghrouchen, crossing the Middle Atlas from the upper Moulouya Plain, started
grazing their herds of sheep and goats on the surrounding plateau. The livelihood of the zâwiyah was based on irrigated agriculture on the valley
floor, livestock grazing and forest resources.
The agricultural plots were held as private property (mulk) but the grazing land was
under collective tribal jurisdiction (j’maa). The tribally organized populations of the Ifrane-
Azrou area submitted to colonial rule after a period of resistance (1913–1917). Resistance
continued higher in the mountains (Timahdit, Jebel Fazzaz) until 1922.
Ifrane "Garden City"
Ifrane was planned according to the “garden city” model of urban design fashionable in Western Europe between the two world wars. The concept of the garden city was originally developed in Britain as a model of social reform to solve the problems of 19th century industrial cities. By the 1920s however it had lost its social purpose to become an urban design type. Garden cities required low density housing consisting of fully detached or semi-detached single family homes
surrounded by gardens. Furthermore, in order to break with industrial-era grid plans, garden cities were always laid out with curving tree-lined streets. In fact, most garden cities were affluent suburbs, not true cities in their own right. They catered to the tastes of the upper middle class
The upper middle class is a sociological concept referring to the social group constituted by higher-status members of the middle class. This is in contrast to the term "lower middle class", which is used for the group at the opposite end of the middle class stratum, and to the broader term "middle...
es who could afford to own a private automobile and property in the suburbs. They gave the illusion of county life, with village-type architecture, curvy streets and lots of trees, to people who in reality worked in big cities. 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 1928 plan - for the neighborhood known as Hay Riad today - had typical garden city features: curvy streets named for flora (Rue des lilas, Rue des tilleuls,etc.), and chalet-style houses. Houses could occupy only 40% of plots; the rest had to be planted as a garden. Moreover,large parts of the center of the town consisted of public gardens. Some of the original architecture can still be seen, especially in the neighborhood around
the town hall and the Perce Neige Hotel.The summer homes built by the colons were designed by many of the same architects who built the European parts of Casablanca and Rabat. Whereas the European architecture in these big cities was innovative and intentionally modern, Ifrane’s houses were built in traditional European styles and resembled those in the suburbs of contemporaneous French
Ifranes’s first public buildings were a post office and a Catholic church. The church, consecrated in 1939, was designed by Paul Tournon
Paul Tournon was a French architect. He was born in Marseille and died in Paris.He was an architect in chief of many French civil buildings and national palaces, and a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts....
(1881–1964), a recipient of the prestigious Prix de Rome who had also designed the Sacré Coeur Church in Casablanca. The resort function of the new town was consolidated with the building of a number of hotels. Ifrane’s first flagship hotel was the Balima, which was demolished in the 1980s. The other main hotel was the Grand Hôtel, which has
recently been refurbished. A Royal Palace was also built for Sultan Muhammad b.Yûsuf. Ifrane is thus an “imperial” city in that it houses a palace and benefits from royal patronage.One final institution of Ifrane’s early years worthy of mention is the penitentiary.The penitentiary served as a Prisoner of War camp during WWII. The most likely story of the origin of Ifrane’s lion sculpture involves an Italian inmate of this prison voluntarily sculpting the lion out of an
outcrop of limestone. The penitentiary no longer exists. The site, across from the Police Academy and the new police Commissariat, has been redeveloped as a summer camp for the Ministry of Justice.
The garden city hill station high in the Middle Atlas was always going to be an illusion of suburban middle class France. The colonial reality of the place was manifest in two ways. First of all the inhabitants of Zaouiat Sidi Abdeslam, the original owners of the land on which the town was built, were never properly compensated for their loss. Secondly, the initial town plan was incomplete. Provisions were made for the housing and infrastructure of colon home-owners, but
not for the Moroccan maids, gardeners,or guards who worked for them. Finding no housing in the official allotments, these people had to build their own houses some distance away, across a ravine north of the town. As elsewhere in Morocco at the time, a shantytown thus grew up next to the colonial town. This is the origin of Timdiqin (officially called Hay Atlas).