How to grow a palm grove in a desert?


What are those mini volcanoes we see around the palm grove in Marrakech? No lava or water comes out of them. As a local proverb says « water follows air », Marrakech Insiders tells you everything about khettaras…

This technique comes from the 6th century in Persia was invented by the Romans and made its way to Morocco thanks to the first dynasty of Almoravides. It consists of tunnels built to bring water to the city from afar. As Marrakech was just a oasis maintained for travellers, it turned into a city around 1050 and its growth of population asked for more water than the oasis could provide for. The creation of khettaras was then the best solution to this challenge.


Marrakech Insiders - palm grove


Built by men, it allows to respond to greater demand for water by bringing via underground canals built in a slight slope with wells dug at a regular distance form one another water from water tables from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. Each khettara ends on a pond surrounded by gates which each belong to a family who has helped built and maintain it. Following the pace of daily prayers, each family can in turn open its gate to get water for its crops and animals in sufficient quantity. It is said that the families who had provided the bigger efforts in building the khettaras were given the best slots in a day between two prayers. Those khettaras can still be found around Marrakech as well as in its palm grove, its wells can go as deep as 20 meters from the ones we’ve found.

In Marrakech, the last wells dried out in the 1990’s. The maintenance of 14 golf courses, of the gardens of hotels, resorts and private villas as well as a growing agriculture to feed the 1 million inhabitants of the city have gotten the best of this ancestral system. Water used to be 5 to 10 meters below the surface; one will have to dig about 100 meters to find water nowadays. The palm grove was the garden feeding Marrakech. The ground was cultivated and everything needed was grown here. Nowadays, only a few farers still persist in growing crop between winter and spring with no guarantee of seeing anything coming out of the ground.

By 2020, Marrakech will have a water shortage, water tables can hardly fill up and the rain season gets shorter every year. The building of water storage and dams by Hassan ll were visionary but turn out to be insufficient with the city’s actual population. Some new measures have been taken: golf courses will be watered by a dedicated water plant and drinkable water will go only for individuals and agriculture. Word has it that his Majesty Mohammed Vl has signed a contract with a Chinese company to build an aqueduct to bring water from northern Morocco to Marrakech.

So, if you would like to explore Marrakech off beaten track, drop us a line now and we’ll show you our favourite khettaras and so much more!


Marrakech Insiders, the most authentic tours Marrakech has to offer


Thomas Chabrieres