Spring has sprung in Morocco as the town of El Kelaat M’Gouna prepares for the Festival of Roses after a two-year hiatus. A five-hour drive from Marrakech through the High Atlas Mountains, visitors are engulfed in the deep aroma of the Centifolia or Damascene rose.
Legend has it that Amazigh pilgrims brought the rose to El Kelaat M’Gouna in the 10th century upon returning from their haj in Mecca. Others have it that the French imported the rose in the 1930s during the French protectorate. Regardless of how the world’s most popular, fragrant flower arrived in Morocco, celebrating the rose has become an annual tradition and trademark of this small town located at 4,070 meters, right at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.
The annual Festival of Roses is Morocco’s most colorful and fragrant festival. In the past, it has attracted some 300,000 people. Although it has not been held for the past two years during the pandemic, this year, the festival is happening once again, scheduled for the second week of May.
According to Ali Ouarmassi, a chemist and entrepreneur in the manufacture of natural cosmetics who is also a native of the Valley of Roses but based in France, the festival is “the annual occasion where families from the surrounding villages (some 30 to 40 kilometers) converge at Kelaat M’gouna to party and enjoy the local folk groups, those from the neighboring regions, and to dance and have fun.”
During the three-day festival, dance troupes and musicians perform traditional rhythms throughout the festival such as Ahidous, the dance of the bee. A petal-strewn parade of flower-decorated floats passes by, and street vendors offer various crafts, soaps, perfumes, lotions, oils, and dried roses.
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